Some Thoughts on… The Park
TRANSMIT – initiate amusement signal – RECEIVE – initiate candyfloss frequency – YOU MUST BE THIS TALL – initiate the children’s syntax – ALL WORK AND NO PLAY- round and round and round we go – CHAD CHAD CHAD – helter skelter melter – HAVE YOU SEEN MY MOMMY – the queue from this point is twenty minutes – ALL WORK AND NO PLAY – step right up – PLEASE KEEP YOUR HANDS AND FEET – you’ll never want to leave –
WITNESS! – The Park
The Park is set in the universe established by Funcom’s MMORPG The Secret World. The central conceit of this universe is that supernatural oogie-boogies are very much a real thing, and normally folk
like you like us are protected by various clandestine cabals working behind-the-scenes. The Park centres around one of the MMO’s more recongnisable sub-plots, the decrepit and ill-fortuned Atlantic Island Park, a long-abandoned amusement park with a sordid back-story. You don’t have to have played The Secret World to understand the events of The Park, but…I’ll touch on this point again in a little bit.
The game tells the story of a mother who loses her child in the titular park and must brave its decrepit innards to recover him. The game is only a couple of hours long, so I don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot or I could accidentally end up writing the whole tale here. That said, The Park provides a psychologically-motivated tale of parenthood, loss and the Atlantic Island Park. It’s really quite good, if you’re willing to use your imagination to fill in the gaps.
Despite being billed as one, I personally wouldn’t consider The Park a horror game. Not in the most-commonly accepted parlance, anyway, the one by which adrenaline-junkies would measure it. There are no fail states, no ways that you will become derailed (roller-coaster pun not intended) and have to make your way through a section again. The jump scares are few and far between (not actually a bad thing, in my book). I think there’s a very good reason for this though…
You know what I said before, about how you don’t need to have played The Secret World to understand the events of this game? While I think that is true, The Park will be enjoyed more by players, like myself, that have had some experience with Funcom’s MMO. The Secret World is not your standard MMO fare, with long-form narrative and carefully crafted tales of the supernatural being its front-and-centre focus, while traditional MMO drivers like loot-treadmills and experience grinds take a backseat. It’s a game that had me spend two hours translating a suicide note from Romanian to English just to advance a single side-quest. The game expects you to extract more than just what it gives you on screen. Does that make sense? Probably not.
The Park is the same; the monsters don’t jump out and make you change your underpants. Instead, the scattered notes and Lorraine’s internal monologue sow the seeds of a much bigger mystery, a much more organic kind of terror, a very human depiction of the supernatural. I watched a few others play this and shrug off the game, decrying how few screams-per-minute it gave them. This, I feel, is because they didn’t soak it up. You never gave the notes more than a cursory glance, or you never interpreted the signs and omens, or pieced together just what an effed-up place Atlantic Island Park really is at its very foundations. Again though, I think this is because I’ve been infected by The Secret World’s style, the commitment it expects of the player to go beyond just killing the enemies to get the level up. Passing through The Park, hopping from jump-scare to jump-scare is much like being at a real amusement park and going from ride to ride. That’s fine, but some of use look at a map of a park and see how it’s all been carefully crafted to draw the eye and trick customers down certain paths and pay £15 for a burger. You gotta notice it, then you start seeing things everywhere.
I’m sure I sound like a crazy, pretentious nutter right now.
The Park isn’t the most beautiful game I’ve ever played, using (I think) the same engine in which they built The Secret World; characters animate a bit like marionettes, for example. (UPDATE: turns out the game is made in UE4. I have terrible deductive skills.) What it lacks in raw visual fidelity though, it makes up for in atmosphere. Trees creak and rustle in the wind, fog rolls ominously and the moonlight spears through the sky. Audio quality is also very high, and headphones are definitely recommended for the full experience. When I said earlier that the game had few jump-scares, I never meant to imply that I wasn’t sat on the edge of my seat for the two-hour runtime, waiting for one to get me. Something horrible has happened in Atlantic Island Park, and the game’s design makes sure you are aware of that every step you take.
I really enjoyed my time with The Park, though I’m not sure I would play it again. The format of the tale is a very one-and-done sort of deal. There are a few Easter eggs here and there to make The Secret World people smile. But it’s not going to score any points with the hardcore-horror crowd. Which is fine. Sometimes we cowards want to play a scary game too.