The Park is a psychological horror title from the “walking simulator” genre. Originally released in 2015, this title was an experimental spin-off from Funcom’s MMORPG title, The Secret World, where these two games share locations and characters. As a first-person, exploration title, The Park has you moving through Atlantic Island Park where your son has run off and you must find him. While traversing haunted funhouses and goose rides of horror you will have to keep your sanity long enough to find your son before it’s too late.
You play as Lorraine, a seemingly defeated mother who has something psychologically wrong happening to her. As she is looking for her son Callum’s teddy bear, she is alerted to the fact that he has run off into the park. After being let in by the staff, you begin chasing after him, as he is always just ahead of you. Going from ride to ride in this sizable park, you will have to conquer your fears and emotions in order to catch up to Callum. The story is a tear-jerker that is not for the faint at heart. As you learn more and more about Atlantic Island Park’s history and tragedies, you will also begin to understand what is happening to Lorraine on this journey.
Environmental storytelling is a crucial portion of this title. You can blast through from location to location if you wish, but you will miss out on the majority of what is going on. There are items, mostly of the written variety, that litter the park and give you a sense for what is going on and why it is happening. Finding these pieces and learning the truth will aid in making this ride as enjoyable as possible, and since there aren’t a lot of other things to do in this one, you might as well get to work. Item locations can be more easily discovered when exploring thoroughly, as well as through a vibration mechanic that comes off the item when you get close to alert you to its existence.
You also can call out to Callum in this game’s version of Luigi’s “Maaaaaario” from Luigi’s Mansion. Although funny to compare the two, in The Park this actually has a usable function, as Callum will respond to you so you can get an idea for where to go next if you get lost or turned around. The game recommends for you to wear headphones, and for this mechanic to be ultimately effective you should; as when playing through normal speakers you don’t really get a good feel for where he was calling from. Nonetheless, it is a nice, user-friendly mechanic that could be helpful for some, but luckily the level design allows for pretty easy traversal of the park in a linear manner as it is.
Scares in this one are done in a unique way when compared to the trope-filled horror titles that flood the market. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of tropes in this one as well, but you don’t have the usual suspects that ruin games of this type at times. Jump scares are at a bare minimum, and the majority of the frights come in creepy settings and when the psychological aspects of the game come forward and allow you to see something horrific or macabre. You can see some parallels to Stephen King novels in setting and tropes, having that small-town horror feel, but you also have callbacks to other horror genres placed all around the park as Easter eggs.
Graphically, this game is lacking a bit. Having graphics that remind me of something from the PS3/360-era is something I wish could have been amped up a bit. Performance is fine throughout, but the game doesn’t look all that great. This isn’t something that should sway you one way or the other, but when the game is low on gameplay mechanics and is purely about moving through environments it would be nice to have something a bit more detailed to look at.
The Park offers a really dark tale that should be considered one of the better stories in the genre, but it falls a bit short with gameplay and graphical fidelity. Although most walking simulators are slim on mechanics, I would say that others find a way for you to interact with the environments a bit more than this one did. Most of those other titles have some of the prettiest vistas around, as well, while this one is quite unpolished. At the end of the day, if you are just looking for a story that will strike you deeply, then this is one you will probably want to experience, regardless of its few shortcomings.
THE VERDICT | Review: The Park (Nintendo Switch)
The Park is a tale of tragedy that takes you on a literal and metaphorical roller coaster. Although the game lacks in the graphics department and sticks to the bare minimum in terms of gameplay mechanics, it is one that story seekers will probably want to check out. Get your box of tissues ready.