(Editor’s Note: The screenshots in this review are provided by Funcom to the press. While I wanted to provide my own shots, none of my screenshot grabbing tools or even Steam were able to capture screenshots for some unknown reason)
With all the news about Funcom’s death spiral, being one of the few game developers to actually be charged and convicted for misleading the public (specifically investors) about their game, the recent flop that was Lego Minifigures Online, and the company’s ongoing and increasingly seemingly desperate financial situation, it’s nice to finally be able to talk about the Funcom that you and I know and love most: The one that tells a really good story.
The Park is, as previously discussed, the first in a line of experimental products by Funcom to put out games on a very low budget, at higher frequency, and to allow the team to gauge community reactions and see what works. Funcom’s first dive into the experimental market comes in the form of a $10 atmospheric walking simulator along the lines of Dear Esther or The Stanley Parable. If I had to sum the game up solely by it’s functions, it would be this: You walk around, get spooked, read things, ride rides, and get spooked.
Players take the role of Lorraine, self professed worst mother ever, as she goes searching for her lost son Callum in the spooky Atlantic Island Park that will be very familiar to those who have played The Secret World. In order to uncover the truth behind Callum’s disappearance, you’re going to need to dive into the deepest recesses of Lorraine’s disturbed mind, not to mention dig into the bloody past of the park itself. Not only does the park have a lot of secrets to hide, so does Lorraine as it becomes evident from the start that your narrator isn’t exactly reliable.
Like most good horror sets, The Park holds off on the spooky just long enough to lull you into a false sense of security, in the form of a long and (looking at the forums) divisive scene where the game tells the entire story of Hansel and Gretel while you ride through a spooky tunnel of love. It is at this point where the game starts to play the spooky dial like an instrument, turning it up and down at just the right moments before breaking the knob off at 11 for a final crescendo.
Now, those of you who know me are aware that I tend to be pretty hard on the horror genre, I regard a majority of horror media as lazy and uninspired, and have very little patience or regard for games/movies that consider sudden, loud screaming noises and spooky pictures as “scary.” Good horror involves getting into the player’s head, making them afraid to continue rather than simply being anxious in anticipation of the next loud noise/spooky image jump scare.
With that, I have to say that The Park has a lot of great, genuinely creepy scenes in it. Yes, the game does have a few jump scares and they are lame, easily spotted, and predictable, but they’re overshadowed by the park’s other attractions, each one given a fair amount of buildup and prolonged fright that is lacking even in other horror “walking simulator” games. I’d even go as far as comparing The Park to Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
One place where the game falls short, but not really, is in the danger zone, the fact that the game doesn’t have a fail state or any real threat to pile on to the player. Ultimately, it’s like a haunted house at a theme park. You’re spooked but there’s the lingering thought in the back of your mind that nothing you encounter will actually harm you. Hopefully.
The pendulum swings both ways, as going back to my previous comparison, while the monsters in Amnesia added heavily to the immersion and terror, hunting down the player and rattling endlessly, death also tended to break the flow that the game had taken so long to establish and build up. It’s an issue that has supporters on both sides, but The Park will play towards those that don’t want to worry about having to reload a level multiple times in order to progress.
Where the game truly shines is in the voice acting of Lorraine, whose demeanor swiftly cycles through frightened, terrified, and downright deranged over the course of the game’s events. Her internal monologues err on the side of hit or miss, some offering useful missives about whatever is going on on-screen, the others apparently being the random thoughts of a questionable mind. The “right click to call Callum” function, as hyped as it was in the game’s advertising run, is functionally useless and serves no purpose to the game other than to break immersion. It does, however, highlight the relatively poor voice acting of Callum and probably spoil the ending for those of you steeped in horror tropes.
While Lorraine’s voice actress does an impeccable job, I simply couldn’t get involved in the story of the duo, and in this sense the story writers at Funcom might be insane geniuses. The entire plot revolves around Lorraine’s apparent desperate attempt to save her son, a narrative that doesn’t exactly work when you’re constantly stopping to play in the park. It doesn’t help that Callum immediately presents himself as a character worth hating, leaving me to wonder several times why anyone would bear this nightmare in order to save his useless and evidently ungrateful ass. As it turns out, that’s exactly what the game is going for, as Lorraine actually doesn’t seem to be in too much of a rush to save her son and even contemplates leaving him there.
And that’s where it all comes full circle into The Park being a narrative about the nightmare that is parenthood, sacrificing your life and sanity all for a being that isn’t grateful and is never satisfied. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to Silent Hill and I get it, the two share a lot in common thematically. The Park, like Silent Hill, isn’t centered on the spooky location, that’s basically a side character in the whole plot. The real plot is in the head of the protagonist, and how the world changes to mirror their experiences.
While The Park is a pretty full experience, those who haven’t played The Secret World will be let down by an ending that doesn’t wrap things up as much as it should. In order to fully understand the plot, you’ll need to play through the area as it exists in the MMO.
For a one hour, $10 game, I found The Park to be well worth its money. It looks good, plays decently, and makes me look forward to Funcom’s next experiment.