Running at a little over two hours, your time spent in The Park is rather brief. In that short space of time though, you’ll have been on at least three rides and had even more hair-raising experiences. If it wasn’t so dark, empty and ominous you could almost forget why you’re there in the first place: to find your son.
The Park places you in the shoes of Lorraine, introduced as a doting mother whose son, Callum, simply adores the local amusement park. When preparing to head home after their latest visit however, Callum realises he’s left his favourite teddy somewhere inside. Leaving her son in the car as she heads back to the reception to enquire whether it had been handed in, Callum is seen mischievously running back into the park. Heading in after him, it’s clear rather quickly that the park isn’t quite the happy place it should be.
One of the growing number of “walking simulators”, The Park doesn’t really have any complex gaming features or systems for you to get your head around. Forget about combat or puzzles; it’s simply you, searching for your missing son in an empty amusement park without any complicated trappings. Unlike most walking simulators you can’t even get lost, as the park is fairly small and your path through it is suffocatingly linear. Its linearity in fact, almost makes playing The Park feel like a ride in itself. There’s no real danger, no events that your actions bear any effect on; you just sit in your chair, take in the scenery, maybe jump at the odd cheap jump scare and generally leave the experience a bit unsettled but ultimately disappointed at its brevity.
The surprisingly dark story at the centre of The Park is assuredly the highlight. It’s certainly not something I was expecting of such a title and it really succeeds in getting under your skin. This isn’t the type of horror that emotes fear as you run from a ghoulish pursuer, or are faced with ghastly scenes; this is horror of a more psychological nature. As such, it’s a slow burner though. The first half of the game or so sets the scene, creating a general sense of dread as you wander through the park, shouting out for your missing son and reading notes and newspaper clippings along the way that pad out the story. The latter half of the game however, is a much more psychologically draining affair, clearly taking inspiration from the excellent but ill-fated P.T.
Like any horror game, The Park is definitely best played in the dark with a good pair of headphones on for maximum effect. Sound design is excellent, with subtle ambient sound effects drawing you into the world before harrowing dissonant noise is used to good effect to disorient and unsettle you. The visuals are well realised too, with nice textures and convincing environmental design bringing the locations to life and enhancing your immersion in Lorraine’s plight. Of particular note is your ability to make Lorraine shout out for her son; her tone and choice of words changing depending on her mental state. Any response from Callum to these calls can then be used to gauge which direction you need to go next, if you really can’t figure it out for yourself, and collectables in the environment will inexplicably be highlighted with a distorted effect.
The trouble is, whilst The Park is indeed unsettling, it never reaches the levels of terror that P.T. taught us to expect of a modern day first-person horror title. It’s perhaps not even as scary as Bloober Team’s Layers of Fear. Additionally, over the course of the two hours it’ll take you to complete it, the lack of any substantial gameplay will mean you won’t have really gained anything from playing it: it may as well have been a movie. And there’s zero replay value too; once you’re done there’s no reason to go back apart from the pursuit of achievements. Despite these issues though, if you’ve already exhausted all the gameplay from P.T. and Layers of Fear yet still have a thirst for some explorative horror, the story at the heart of The Park makes it a worthwhile trip if you’ve got £9.99 to burn. Just don’t expect to have your socks well and truly scared off or be making many return visits.