Horror games have come a long way since creaking floorboards, blood-soaked walls and the occasional ‘boo!’ scared us silly. The genre has had to adapt as giving us terrible nightmares is a complicated job these days bearing in mind the extremes that films and TV have already gone to and our subsequent thick skins. I don’t know about you but the throat of a pretty teenager being slit ear to ear does absolutely nothing for me. That’s just murder. True horror is found in the mind. It’s psychological. It’s the fear of what you think is there, of the unknown, of what might happen, of that happening to you or those you love. The best horror soaks into your brain like blood into a sponge and keeps you awake at night. The Park is a psychological horror game that taps into a broken mind and asks what is real and what is more frightening – a creepy house of horrors or something far far deeper, darker and real.
In The Park you take on the role of a mother who has lost her son in an amusement park. It’s a terrifying thing to happen at the best of times, but this is no ordinary park, or so it seems. It’s clear from the beginning that Lorraine is looking back at something from her past and her story begins at the park gates. It’s closing time, but a friendly park employee allows her re-enter to search for her little boy. It won’t be long before you twig that there’s something profoundly wrong. Either the tourists have extremely low standards or this is an amusement park that has long since been abandoned. The sun suddenly setting, the dilapidated state of the rides and the almost complete lack of colour is completely at odds with the childish fun, excitement and happiness an amusement park would normally bring. This is, I believe, the game’s first clue that all is not what it seems and it immediately puts you as the player on edge. There’s a lie here. What the hell is going on?
There are no weapons, danger of death or puzzles in The Park. It’s a trigger game. Exploring and picking up items will activate events and monologues. As you chase your son and listen to Lorraine’s inner thoughts you can start to piece the story together, or so the game would have you initially believe. I’m not going to spoil anything more about the story, but it’s safe for me to tell you that there’s a supernatural aspect to the game. This paranormal activity (couldn’t seem to avoid that pun) is, again, at odds with the story. Is this game about a lost boy, an evil amusement park or something even more sinister?
The Park is a short game, coming in at under two hours taken at a steady pace. This could be considered a little too short, but actually it feels about right. In that two hours you’re given a lot of information, some of it relating to the park itself, its history and clues to its spooky happenings, and also information about Lorraine’s life and what has led up to this day. In a sense, you’re hearing two stories, one more blatant and one that takes a little more thinking about. Given the lack of puzzles and activities within the game, the narrative needs to be a strong one, and it is. There is a lot to think about and the story will hit hard by the end. Not for softies. There are some dark themes hiding behind the supernatural parts of the tale and it’s likely you’ll go to bed thinking about its ambiguous and distressing climax.
As scary games go, this is not the scariest you’ll play this year. It is unnerving, however, and later on there are some jump scares that will frighten the life out of any small pets that happen to be fast asleep on your lap (sorry, Penny) Graphics are nice, albeit very dark, but they do a fantastic job of setting an uncomfortable scene. Framerate operates perfectly and the controls are smooth and simple. There is an interesting mechanic in the form of calling out for your son. Pressing circle will have Lorraine cry out for her little boy and if there is a clue nearby that part of the environment will swell. It’s very helpful for simplifying the exploration side of things so that you don’t lose sight of the story because you’ve got lost behind the bumper cars. Similarly, the environment is extremely intuitive and it’s impossible to get completely lost, plus both walking and running speed are pretty quick so no Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture lean-on-the-controller-and-have-a-nap pace to spoil the story.
There are fourteen trophies to collect and you’ll probably get most of them without much searching. I only missed two which took a guide and a mere ten minutes to go back and get. It’s a quick and easy 100% that won’t take more than two hours including the playthrough.
There’s a school of thought that claims reality is whatever you perceive it to be. That’s actually a very scary concept and certainly something to consider while you’re playing The Park. With its intelligent narrative and disturbing notions, The Park may be a short and mechanically simple game, but it hits hard and leaves a dent.
S J Hollis Rating – 8/10