There is nothing quite like an amusement park, the sights and sounds always provide excitement and you can’t wait to see what lies ahead of you. We must consider an amusement park as a kind of story, but there is also a story that is not always told. We have all heard of the horrors of the amusement park, the dark story that transpires by a freak accident, but what other stories are told? By the time the sun sets, a darker side of the amusement park can surface, and these stories can be quite frightening.
The Park is a short narrative driven horror experience that only lasts for about two hours which sees us playing as Lorraine, a mother who must search the Atlantic Island Amusement Park to find her son, Callum, who ran off looking for his teddy bear. As the game begins very little is explained, Lorraine tells us a little about herself and explains that Callum loves the amusement park but the game leaves the rest up to you to discover, this includes elements that seemed purposefully set and make no sense in context.
The core mechanic of The Park is your ability to call out for Callum, this is the primary means of navigation throughout the environment that helps to build a sense of direction. You can call out and Callum will often respond with some cryptic message helping to tell us where we need to head, and in some cases these also are used to lead us in circles as things become slightly stranger. In all, this mechanic acts as a sort of hint system, but it also urges us never to rely too strongly on it as Callum’s trail of breadcrumbs becomes harder to follow.
Proceeding becomes more about our own personal instincts rather than reliance on Callum himself, and part of this for me came down to the way The Park is presented. It never quite feels safe in the dark grounds of the environment and it was never certain whether we were being told something truthful, or whether it was simply the game trying to mess with my mind, there were too many false leads which made me uneasy about relying on the system too much.
Yet it is impossible to deny how clever this mechanic is, despite being often unreliable, calling for Callum still encouraged me to explore every detail of The Park, and it became even more interesting as we see Lorraine’s intensity change as you progress. What begins as a somewhat calm demeanour progressively evolves into one of desperation allowing for the player to feel her pain and concern, however, this is also an instance where the game begins to fall apart. On certain occasions, Lorraine’s demeanour turns to anger due to certain events and this can be inconsistent on most occasions, it is easy to be drawn out of the experience due to her quick switches between anger and fear.
Little snippets of information are revealed as you explore, as Lorraine narrates her journey, providing key moments of self-reflection upon her own history and her personal thoughts. In a way that is reminiscent of Gone Home, hitting a certain point in the world or interacting with an item causes Lorraine to narrate. As the game begins these narrations are simple, but as you continue they become increasingly more disturbing and troublesome, often making it easy to question the truth of who Lorraine really was.
Further development also occurs from your discoveries as The Park’s tragic history is further explored adding to the tense nature of the game's setting, what begins as a park seemingly abandoned becomes a creepy tale of sanity and fear. Every instance of The Park’s story seems purposefully placed to further put the player on edge as new discoveries are made that impact both Lorraine, as well as the player.
The Park seems like an illusion built in the mind of our protagonist, a fever dream built into her memory from a combination of tragic events and a place where her life fell apart. The game never quite makes it clear how much of the game is real, and the setting itself assists with this, it simply feels like a waking nightmare captured through our protagonist and her fears, (which in turn) is captured by the essence of The Park’s design.
What begins as a relatively calm experience quickly becomes quite creepy, a big part of this is due to the nature of The Park’s design. The Park’s rides which you are able to go on, stand as daunting obstacles beckoning you to ride them, but also questioning their operation, especially as the creepy feeling that you are being followed pursues, and further questions about Lorraine’s own mindset as a seemingly innocent and dull Swan ride transforms into something sinister. Every ride in The Park that would seem innocent and fun by day, but becomes scary and dangerous by night. This helps put the player on edge, especially as more of the story is revealed.
In the end, however, The Park is a narrative driven experience, and for better or worse, the game falls apart within the confines of its own narrative. The Park feels like a tale of two games that use the same mechanic and general story, but from around the halfway point it becomes in-cohesive and feels like it has a complete tone shift. It feels bad by the time the game is almost at its conclusion, and I found it hard to believe I was playing the same game, the essence of fear presented by the game's narrative turns to confusion and the very thing that made the narrative interesting felt like it was put to the wayside.
The narrative turns into a more direct horror experience about halfway through and seemed to remove a big chunk of the story, this did give it room to explore the more psychological element of the story, but it didn’t seem to make complete sense. A lot of the previous narrative just seemed unimportant in the long term and it became more of a hard look at the questions of sanity, with only a minor note to The Park itself. In the end, the game leaves you scratching your head, and very few questions are actually answered, for a psychological horror experience this may work, but from a narrative standpoint, this seemed to just hurt the experience especially with what seemed like an abrupt and even disappointing ending. What actually happened in this game is a difficult question to answer.
The Park feels like two different games thrown together, they share a similar aesthetic end goal, as well as general experience, but for a game that openly admits to being heavily narrative focused it often feels disjointed and disconnected. There is certainly an enjoyable game here, and The Park offers an enjoyable horror experience which will leave you on edge thanks to certain plot reveals, however, don’t expect to exit this experience feeling completely satisfied if you are a narrative enthusiast.