The Park is an interesting title that offers as focused, almost streamlined experience that is immersive story that I enjoyed quite a bit over its short run. It raises some interesting questions and does a nice job of delivering some quality scares, especially near the end. However, despite the things it does right, there are enough other factors that hold The Park back from being a great horror game.
Atmosphere. The Park has this in spades, and it is the title's saving grace. It constantly plays with the very edges of your senses, leaving you to wonder 'did I see something over there?' and if so 'what was it?'. These are excellent qualities in a horror game, because The Park is continually tickling your senses. I never played this on PC, but I feel as though the PlayStation 4 is probably the better version of the title if for no other reason than the vibration feedback that the controller can provide. I do feel that there is the potential for a missed opportunity however, in not leveraging the speaker in the controller in some way. Understand that the audio design is one of this title's strongest points and using surround sound speakers or a quality headset are the best ways to enjoy the game, but I think the speaker in the controller could have been used to help the experience.
You absolutely want to play The Park in a darkened room as well. The game is full of shadows and darkened landscapes, and the dark room helps the contrast and will allow you to note those shadowy fringes at the edge of the screen when something moves subtly nearby, only to melt away without ever being seen clearly. The actual park is well realized, with dilapidated rides such as a Ferris Wheel missing a single cart or a run-down bumper cars game. The setting is a place where children should go to have fun and enjoy themselves, so it is a great twist to take something like that and give it an eerie vibe - sort of like a razor toothed clown and the way it plays at our childhood fears by twisting something meant to be great into something darker.
As potentially awesome as this unique scenario is, the game ratchets up the tension significantly later when it transitions from outdoor scenery to a more traditional indoors situation that gives off a very heavy PT vibe for fans of that now scuttled downloadable. Given the confines of the indoor setting and the way characters can be herded in more linear fashion (narrow halls, doors that close behind you), the scares improve dramatically over the more subtle ones introduced during the park stages. If anything, I was a little disappointed that more effort did not go into making the park areas more terrifying. The Park relies heavily on jump scares throughout, but since this is something of a walking simulator where you simply interact with the environment from time to time with no real threat of death or punishment, the tension is somewhat diminished.
One of the elements that works to the game's favor in the park scenarios is that you can ride some of these old amusement park attractions. Your line of sight is never forced, you have full control over which way the protagonist's head moves. This works for the most part, leaving you to feel as though you are still there and in charge of your character, but I think it proved more challenging for the developers as well to script good scares when compared to the confines of the indoor location later in the game.
While the lighting and overall environments look very good, especially the use of mirrors in the indoor stages, the character models look pretty rough at times. Thankfully you spend the majority of your time in a first person perspective, but when the introductory scene has our protagonist running her fingers awkwardly through her hair as things overlap strangely between hand and head, you realize that this is in fact still an indie title. Other small details such as frequent pop-in on objects - especially outdoors - are a slight distraction but never a complete immersion breaker. Of greater concern are the small details, like an inability to skip a ride you've already been on before (there is a swan boat ride that was interesting the first time, but I would never want to sit through again).
Another is a seemingly clever navigation tool where your character calls out for her missing son. If there is an item of interest nearby, the screen gives you visual clues to key in on, which is great for those such as myself who do not want to walk up to and try to press a button on every last piece of decorative environment. I do wish however, that there was some sort of a zoom option. The Park was first designed for the PC, and with that comes the expectation that you are seated somewhat close to the screen. Playing on a 42 inch television several feet away meant that the small notes and documents littered throughout the game required me to stand up and walk up to the television to read them. Some sort of audio voiceover of the text or a way to zoom in on the documents would have been appreciated.
Probably the largest elephant in the room for The Park is the incredibly short play time. I completed the game in under two hours and got almost all of the trophies and felt as though I had done a pretty good job of finding the key objects along the way. I appreciate that the narration is streamlined and that the developers provided the shout method of navigation to keep me from feeling as though the game was unduly padded, but at its current asking price, some people may come away questioning the title's value. When it winds up on sale for Halloween this year, it is a very easy title to recommend for horror fans, but at its current asking price, the lack of content could be bothersome.
I enjoyed my time with The Park, and could appreciate the excellent overall job that the team did in building a tense atmosphere while delivering a nice psychological twist there at the end. Some polish around some of the rougher edges would certainly improve the overall package, which is admittedly fairly short but still quite entertaining for horror fans such as myself. The setting is genuinely creepy and I appreciate that the developers valued my time in offering a concise and interesting story, though I did find myself wishing that the experience had gone on at least a little longer.
Article by Nick