Horror game is notoriously difficult to get right. Despite the move to more psychological horror experiences over the past few years, rather than those that simply rely on jump scares, there is still something of a dearth of high-quality titles that really show what the genre is capable of. While this means that horror fans might not get all the games they would like, indie developers are seeing an opportunity to fill a gap in the market. That something that the studio behind The Park is attempting to do here.
The first thing you will notice when playing The Park is that it is set up in a very similar way to the likes of Gone Home. It places its emphasis on exploration and a story driven experience that sees players walking around a seemingly abandoned theme park as they search for their missing child. The narrative-focused game is also in a first-person perspective in order to put you more directly into the shoes of the protagonist and see the events unfold directly through their eyes.
Despite its description as a psychological horror, this game still relies heavily on shocks and surprises to frighten you. The numerous jump scares are certainly effective, thanks in part to the dramatic lighting, excellent sound design, and a few camera tricks that include reducing your field of view and forcefully moving the camera in certain directions. There are precious few other moments that are truly alarming though.
Considering that the story is such a pivotal part of the overall title, The Park ensures that there is plenty of intrigue and mystery to keep you interested throughout. Without giving anything away, it’s clear from almost the very beginning that not everything is as exactly as it seems. As the plot progresses it slowly emerges that the amusement park that provides the setting for the game has a rather horrifying history. Later, there are hints that even the protagonist may be involved in some sort of brutal and horrific event that has sparked the circumstances you now find yourself in.
To compliment the story, there are a number of hidden collectibles and extras. These generally come in the form of diary entries, letters and newspaper clips that expand on the background and eventually add up to try and give you an understanding of the bigger picture. The narrative is also made all the better by the excellent voice acting. Much of the story is told from the perspective of the protagonist through an inner monolog that is performed incredibly well by actress Fryda Wolff.
In terms of the setting, an abandoned and run-down amusement park is about as cliché as it gets in terms of horror. That doesn’t detract from The Park in any way however, thanks to the way that is has been designed. You are actually able to get on each of the rides and have a go on them – though it’s best to be prepared to be subjected to some attempts to make you jump out of your seat. While they are a welcome addition to the game, some do go on just a little bit longer that you would want.
It is easy to be disappointed with the visuals of The Park. Compared to the blockbuster titles that are making their way onto consoles nowadays, the graphics certainly look dated. However, you have to remember this is a rather small budget game from an independent developer. When you see The Park in that respect you soon realize that the developers have done a fine job. Equally, the sound design is well worked, and as previously mentioned earlier in this review, the voice acting is particularly impressive.
The real complaint is that this title is just so short. It can easily be completed in just an hour if you don’t mind about picking up all the extras and unlocking the achievements. Those who like to complete everything will still be able to finish in around two hours. That might well put some people off, as even though The Park isn’t expensive, gamers generally want a little more bang for their buck when it comes to length.
Even when considering that short length and graphic issues, The Park is still a well-made game that is entirely enjoyable. It may not be the scariest game or feature cutting-edge gameplay but it is thought provoking and interesting in a way that many horror titles simply can’t manage.
This review is based on a digital version of the game that was provided by the publisher for review purposes. It is available on the Xbox One at a price of $12.99.