The horror genre has seen a bit of a renaissance in gaming of late. That's not a bad thing for the many fans of the genre like myself. And with the rise of environmental storytelling (also known as "Walking Simulators"), there are ample opportunities to deliver solid, genuinely scary games. Games such as P.T. and Outlast are excellent examples of this. You can't fight, all you can do is run and hide (much like I would in these situations). So when I heard about new title The Park from developer Funcom, I was incredibly excited.
The Park centers around Lorraine, a mother who's son goes missing in an Amusement Park. It's a fascinating premise, one that is very rarely covered in gaming. That's something this game does extremely well. Not only is the setting unique, the thematic elements the game deals with are fairly unique as well. Being a parent is oftentimes a difficult endeavor, but most entertainment properties gloss over some of the darker themes of parenthood. Lorraine is not a good mother, though, it's not entirely her fault. The games story is an interesting one, but unfortunately isn't entirely fleshed out. There are various items littered throughout the abandoned park to find. Newspaper clippings and accident reports give little in the way of story to flesh out the mothers plight of what exactly happened at the park. These aren't necessarily required for the story, though, as most of the information is given through monologues from Lorraine.
This is where one of the issues of the game arises. While the dialogue isn't great, the voice acting from Lorraine is even worse. It could be because the dialogue isn't great because the main villain (the boogeyman/guardian/Babadook (seriously though, he looks exactly like the Babadook)) is fantastic.
The sound design is fantastic throughout. The game tells you at the beginning of the game that the game is best played with headphones on, and it couldn't be truer: the rustling of leaves behind you as you walk down the paths, the boogeyman's subtle whispers, Lorraine's son Callum's increasingly ominous answers to his mother.
The game is classified as a horror game, but it's not really "scary". Aside from a view well placed jumpscares, there's very little in the way of actual horror in the game. The last third is unsettling in a P.T. kind of way (possibly because it's a direct ripoff of P.T.'s formula) and themes can be quite unnerving. Bu, it's by no means your typical horror game. It doesn't help that the game is visually awful.
The game's visuals are dated. The character models would fit right in on the PlayStation 2, and the world has substantial pop-in. The game as a whole has an outdated feel to it, which can bring the player completely out of the experience.
Having the game set in an abandoned amusement park wouldn't feel right without allowing us to actually ride some of the rides. It's a very cool concept with some genuinely creepy moments, but many of the rides outlast their welcome. Especially the Swan boat ride. You get into one of the boats and slowly sit while we're told the story of Hansel & Gretel. It's a story most of us have heard countless times, so the fact that we have to sit and listen to it again for a full 6 minutes is mind boggingly frustrating. It's a curious decision, especially with the games incredibly short play time.
The game is only around 90 minutes long, and that's if you're thoroughly searching the grounds. It could easily be beaten in less than an hour. I'm not one to question game lengths compared to price. Some of my favorite games have been less than 2 hours long (Journey, Gone Home, Everybody's Gone To The Rapture). But The Park feels incredibly short. The games I referenced all left an impact of some sort, while The Park simply leaves you.
The Park does certain things very well, but doesn't quite deliver on the growing horror genre. With muddy visuals, poor dialogue and voice acting and no real threat, it can't quite stand up to the rest of the industry.