[Review] The Park – Nintendo Switch

Written by Mel Curtis
  • Developer:  Funsom Oslo
  • Publisher: Funcom Oslo
  • Release date: 22/10/2019
  • Price: £8.99 / $9.99
  • Review code provided by Funcom Oslo

Intro

I’ve been a fan of theme parks ever since I was a little kid and got to go to my local Six Flags for the first time. Since then I have fallen in love with theme park history as a subject since they are such transient things. I can always find a means to rewatch a movie or replay a game but when a theme park ride closes, chances are that nobody will ever ride it again. This goes even more for entire theme parks that have been closed or left in an abandoned state. Looking at images of Six Flags New Orleans, which has sat abandoned since Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the area is both thrilling and frightening in a way. I’ve always felt that the setting of an abandoned theme park is rich for exploration in horror but, it’s certainly doesn’t get the most focus. That’s why I was so excited to jump into The Park to scratch my theme park horror itch.

Open Up The Gates

In The Park, you play as Lorraine, searching for your son after he runs off into Atlantic Island Park just as it is closing down for the night once he realized his stuffed animal had been left behind. So, with the permission of the front office worker, you step through the gate yourself and head up the escalator into the park. Now, while it might seem odd to take an escalator into a theme park, this is actually something that you can find at some theme parks, such as Universal Studios Hollywood. Either way, things go strange when you’re halfway up and by the time you reach the top, your expected bright and cheery theme park is replaced by a derelict one that seems to have been abandoned some time ago. Your only option is to solider on to find your son, in the process revealing the story of both the park and of Lorraine herself.

I have to give high praise to Fryda Wolff for her voice acting in the role of our protagonist. Lorraine has several monologues while walking through the park between the rides that serve as anchor points and each one is wonderfully done, getting across the emotion of the moment and giving a glimpse into her situation in a way that felt very natural from what we learn about her hardships. The story is also told from a series of clippings and notes that can be found around the park as well, giving more information on what happened in the park itself to leave it in the state that it is currently in.

The one problem that I have with the game in regards to the narrative is that it is a bit too short for it to fully explore the ideas that it is presenting in the two parallel narratives that it has. One story is a look into the heart and mind of the player character and the other is the story of what actually happened in the park. While both are very interesting, given that the game only lasts 1-2 hours, neither of them feel like they have come to their true potential. Players need to be careful to find every note and document if they want to get the full story. It falls back a lot on the old standbys of horror games as well. I don’t mind this usually as long as they are done well and they are handled fairly well here, enough to give me a decent spook. There being relatively few jumpscares was always good to see, though, given how some games can be overly reliant on them.

To All Who Come to This Happy Place… Welcome!

Now, if you looked at the Eshop listing for this game and were worried that you were going to have to play hide and seek with the creepy looking squirrel mascot in the main image for the game, worry not! This game actually falls more into the classification of a “walking simulator” rather being a survival horror. There’s no combat. There’s no stealthing around the scary character. It’s much more focused on the narrative experience than any other aspect of being a game. This is both a good and bad thing. While it means the spooky elements don’t become watered down and less scary from you ding to them over and over, it also means that there isn’t a ton of game play in this game. This is made up for with excellent atmosphere in the design of the park, even if some elements of the scares can come off more as silly than the sinister edge they were meant to give.

To have a full scope of the story, you do need to read just about everything that the game gives you a chance to read. Thankfully, you’ve been given a button that will make Lorraine call out to her son. When this is done, the world will warp around things that can be picked up and read in order to highlight them to you. It does mean that you’ll need to hear quite a lot of disembodied child voices, but you will get the full story as it is intended, as ambiguous as that story might be.

Strap In

There is one thing that is a little concerning about the game and that is the way that it handles mental illness. Now, it’s not that uncommon for a horror game to portray madness or be from the perspective of a character that is undergoing a psychological break. Unreliable narrators are a staple of the genre at this point and madness is just one of many ways to do that. The issue comes in the implications of what mental illness has caused someone to do within the story of this game. I won’t go into details in order to avoid spoiling an already short experience.  It’s just important to know that there are actual conditions mentioned and a mentioned medication that is clearly alluding to a real world counterpart. It certainly was not a big enough of an element to make me dislike the game in a significant way, but I feel that it is necessary to mention it in case you are sensitive to these topics and wish to be warned before going in.

Time to Go Home

Overall, The Park is a fun atmospheric experience, but suffers from being rather short (I don’t blame you if the price shocks you for only 1-2 hours of gameplay) and a lack of more engaging gameplay. This is one of those games that it will certainly vary from person to person how much they actually enjoy it, but for my part, I had a good time exploring this spooky theme park.

Pros

  • Excellent spooky atmosphere
  • Good use of setting
  • Great vocal work

Cons

  • Short playtime
  • Little gameplay besides walking and reading

Verdict
An overall well crafted atmosphere is sure to spook, but short playtime will let some down.
3.5/5

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