Monday, August 15, 2016

The Park Review (XONE)

Everyone lately has been pooh-poohing so-called “walking simulators”, but I have to say I’m
becoming a fan of the genre, particularly for horror games like Layers of Fear and the subject of this review, The Park.  You get to experience the horror elements without dealing with the stress of managing a character and (usually) crappy clunky combat and I really like that.  The horror elements and general exploration have to be strong enough to carry the lack of meaningful gameplay, however, or else you end up with an experience that is just boring, which is, unfortunately, where Funcom’s The Park ends up.  Psychological horror in a creepy amusement park shouldn’t be this boring, but The Park somehow manages it.  We have all of the details here in our full review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Funcom
  • Developer: Funcom
  • ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
  • Genre: Horror Adventure
  • Pros: Interesting story; great creepy atmosphere; easy achievements
  • Cons: Mostly boring; not very scary; extremely short
  • MSRP: $13

Set in an amusement park, The Park features a woman looking for her son who ran back into the park right as it was closing.  This particular amusement park is next to Silent Hill, apparently, as the clean fa├žade quickly fades away into a dilapidated horrorscape where nothing is as it seems. 

Except none of it is actually all that scary or creepy.  It is surprisingly tame, for the most part, with a jump scare here and there and a shadowy figure popping up here and there.  The first 2/3rds of the game is pretty boring, to be honest, but it really picks up in the final section where you go into a haunted house.  Much of the game is spent learning about the woman’s past and her struggles with raising her son and it all pays off in the final area of the game.  I don’t want to give away too much, so I won’t go into more detail, but the story build up fantastically well and makes the whole experience mostly worth it.

One complaint I have with the story is that a lot of it is told through newspaper clippings and doctor reports and stuff you find all over the place, but the text is tiny and there is no way to zoom in and actually read any of it.  It really takes the impact away from some of the reveals late in the game that really seem like you were supposed to know what was going on and have an “a ha!” moment, but since the text is so hard to read you’re just like “oh, I guess”.  With that said, the game still gives you plenty of context so you can infer what everything means, but looking at page after page after page of tiny text is utterly pointless.

The actual gameplay in The Park is pure walking simulator.  It plays in a first-person-perspective and you can walk, and run, and look at stuff, but that is pretty much it.  To progress the story you have to ride on some of the rides in the park, but they are pretty run of the mill and far from exciting thrill rides.  These sections are where your character monologues and fills in the backstory, however, so they are important and interesting, even if they are technically boring.  The real focus and draw of The Park isn’t the gameplay, however, it is the story.  As long as you understand that, you can enjoy it. 

The Park advertises itself as a 2-hour experience, but I actually beat it in closer to 1 hr and 15 min, so it is very, very short.  There aren’t any alternative endings, either, so you’re just in for the ride, which makes the replay value pretty poor.  I also earned all but 2 of the achievements in that first playthrough, but the ones I missed were right at the start of the game so I earned all 1000 Gamerscore in just about 90-minutes total.  Achievement hunters should definitely give The Park a look.

Visually, The Park isn’t all that impressive despite using Unreal Engine 4.  The park itself is just really bland and honestly seems like it was probably the worst amusement park ever even in its heyday.  The sound, on the other hand, is very well done and really contributes a lot to the creepy atmosphere of the park with fantastic sound effects and great music.  The voice acting is also well done and the increasing audible distress in the voice of your character as she calls out to her son over the course of the game is fantastic.

Like the roller coaster you get to ride in the game, The Park is a series of ups and downs that ultimately leaves you disappointed at how tame it was.  I’m all right with it not so much being a game as it is just an experience, but it is just plain not very scary or interesting for far too much of its brief runtime.  The story really ramps up at the end, though, which does make the experience mostly worth it since it deals with subjects most videogames don’t really bother with.  I would say I like it but can’t deny that it’s mostly boring, which makes it a hard sell at the $13 asking price considering it is less than 2-hours long.  The Park is a tough game to recommend, but if you go in knowing what to expect – that it is a very short walking sim – it can be enjoyable and it is a very easy 1000 Gamerscore, which sweetens the deal a bit.