So on Friday as part of Halloween I did a full playthrough of The Park by Funcom.
Now before we begin getting into the meat of this game I need to warn you - this Second Opinion is likely to be spoiler heavy. I will try my best to avoid them when possible, but I can not in good conscience guarantee that it will be spoiler free.
What is The Park?
Ok so The Park is the latest in pseudo first person horror games similar to Dear Ester and it's ilk.
Make no mistakes, The Park is not the next Alien: Isolation, Amnesia or Outlast. It's not even the next SOMA.
A word I have seen thrown around a lot is 'walking simulator', as in you the player go for a walk and stuff happens around you that you have no control or influence over.
Now this might sound like a bit of a negative, and to an extent it kind of is, but it's important that we get that out of the way. While The Park has jump scares and a creepy atmosphere, you will not be running for your life or bashing in the heads of monsters. If that is what you want out of this game, then this is not the game for you.
In this game you play the character Lorraine who is searching for her lost son in an amusement park after hours.
It's a simple idea, all about taking a place that should be shiny and friendly and twisting it into a horrid nightmare that most parents harbour as a terrible deep seated fear of experiencing.
I should also say that this game has a lot of ties into Funcom's MMO The Secret World, however you do not need to have played this to play The Park.
What sort of horror is this game about?
See this is where the game begins to get a little vague.
At the very onset it appears that the 'horror' present is the creepy atmosphere of the park itself, however that quickly shifts into the horror of loosing a child, which then shifts into the horror of the realising the events that Lorraine has been through, or done to end up where she is.
I have to be honest; it's not great in that way. It results in a series of events that are played out that actually rather incoherent, and as a player there were more than one occasion where I didn't really feel that my character knew why she was there, or worse; cared.
Ok but what is gameplay like?
Gameplay in The Park is a semi mix of brilliant crossed with redundant.
Throughout the game you stumble across notes and interact able objects which are used via a Left Mouse Click. How do you know where an interact object is? By Right Clicking! In doing so a visual queue presents itself over any objects in view. At the same time your character will call out to her son. The idea being that as the game progresses what she says and her tone of saying it becomes sadder and more panicked.
This is a genius idea, but I found the reality actually worked against itself. As you speed through the park (because after all, if you are desperately searching for your lost child, you would run not casually walk) you're field of view is changing every few seconds, therefore you end up spamming the shout button a lot, and frankly hearing the same voice shouting the same number of 'contextual' lines repeatedly begins to just become background noise.
Then there is the park itself.
As you progress you encounter rides, these rides include but are not limited to: swan boats, bumper cars, Ferris wheel and roller coaster.
The first ride you encounter is the swan boats. You see your son hop onto one and ride off on the set circular path through a spooky cave. Another boat arrives with a prompt for you to jump into it as well.
The thing is, you can see that the boats come out on the other side of the cave and circle back to where you are, so my reaction was that I wanted to stay put, wait for the child to return, tap my foot, give him a stern look, grab him by the collar and drag him back to the car. Of course the game doesn't let you do that. If you want it to progress you have to ride a swan and at this point my sense of immersion was broken. The choice of riding a freaking swan which would force me to stay far enough behind the child that he would have time to run away again once he gets to the other side was not only ridiculous, it was totally ludicrous.
Shortly afterwards you then encounter yet more rides which you hop on, and unless you do certain scripted events do not happen do you are unable to progress. However I need to point out; there is no reason to jump on these rides. Your son isn't on these rides. You don't use these rides to try and look for him from a vantage point, you ride them because you want to and so you can indulge in your own self pity(*).
What's up with that asterisk?
Ok I need to explain this.
Throughout the game you encounter moments where the character enters a moment of monologue.
These moments are supposed to be poignant and thought provoking as you explore the deaths the character has had to endure of those around her and her own 'home truths'.
One example of these home truths that has been widely publicised is about the day her son was born, and how after months of build up and friends/family shoving the 'wonders of childbirth' down her throat she held her son and thought "is this it?".
I have read a lot of people saying about how it really touched home for them, that for the first time ever a 'game' got them.
My reaction? Cry me a river bitch!
Those who are long time readers will be familiar with my early Adventures of Geek Dad posts, and you will remember myself talking about this exact topic only from a male point of view. The point is that this sort of thought and/or realisation is not novelty, it is not thought provoking. It's normal.
This is pretty much how it continued, line after line of the lead character feeling eternally sorry for herself and blaming everyone else in her life for her own choices in life.
I understand that there is a deeper side to this, that there is more going on behind the scenes, that we are looking at post-natal depression, but Jesus! Did they have to make her so pathetically annoying?!
The more that happened within the story the more I disliked the character and the more I wanted her to show even an ounce of regret for her being a totally shit mother. But no, all we saw was yet more blaming of everyone who was not her.
Lorraine is supposed to be a victim in this story, and that is how she came across.
The game wanted you to feel sorry for Lorraine and they tried too hard. I left having no sympathy, no empathy and no pity for her. I wanted to see her burn! Not because of her actions, but her inactions. Her inability to take any responsibility for her actions beyond feeling sorry for herself, and personally from my view there is nothing worse than a protagonist who as a player you can not stand.
Ok so the game is developed in the U4 Engine, and it's all the better for it. At it's best it is atmosphere rich and quite unnerving.
The rides and the park itself. It serves no real purpose.
The worst part of all of this? The thing that is most unacceptable of all?
The final third/quarter is really really good! Once you leave the park behind and delve into your apartment, the game really comes into it's own and is all the better for it. However before this point you have the park itself which feels redundant.
It is my understanding that the game began life as a tech demo that someone made at Funcom and someone up high saw and said "we should make a game of this!"
The park itself feels like that tech demo, the loose fitting storyline, the lack of a reason to be riding the rides and the forced narrative all lead to this. It is as if that was created, then they came up with the story, superimposed that over the top and added the more coherent and really good final third/quarter.
Why is this so bad? Because if they had abandoned the tech-demo content and instead made the entire game about the apartment then the game could have been so much better!
It's a terrible thing to say it, but the worst part of The Park, is the park itself.
So there you have it.
The Park is a short game, rocking in at about 1.5 hours, and when it is good, it is really good, with a fair few chilling moments; especially if you are a parent yourself. When it is bad however it is very bad and will leave a nasty taste in your mouth.
Or at least that is how I found it.
- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley