Horror and environmental exploration (walking sims if you’re nasty) actually have a lot in common, perhaps the biggest being that a player is only as invested in the game as the narrative is strong and compelling. As you can imagine, combining the two genres can lead to some serious tight-rope work from a storytelling perspective. One wrong move, and the entire experience tumbles down to the ground. Unfortunately, this is exactly the case with The Park: it tumbles. Not terribly, but just enough to make it a tough recommendation.
The Park is an environmental exploration title that leans heavily on horror tropes, and an amusement park aesthetic to drive the themes home. You play a mother searching for her son who’s run into the amusement park. There’s a dedicated “Jason!” Heavy Rain-esque call button, but your son only responds with esoteric bits like “come find me!” and “over here!” So, deeper into the park you go. For the most part, the game is a series of rides and attractions that you sit through in order to progress the plot. There are objects and bits of information you can go out of your way to discover, but none of it is really necessary if you just want to critical-path the experience.
If there’s one thing the game is good at, it’s the set-up and pay off for jump scares. The Park won’t exactly scare the peanuts out of your M&M’s, but it will give you a decent jolt or two during your time with it. There’s enough of a hook with chasing after your son that you’ll be interested in seeing the game through to its conclusion, but really those are the best things that can be said about The Park.
Sadly, the game left me wanting in several different regards. The character models aren’t exactly easy on the eyes, and the draw distance is terrible. Grass and other objects were literally popping into existence no more than a foot in front of me at times. I’m a solid believer in less is more when it comes to dialog, narration, and exposition; especially when it comes to horror. The storyteller should be confidant enough in their abilities to show fear, doubt, and other emotions without relying on the characters beating the player over the head with ham-fisted narration. There were points where the main character’s inner monologues were so over-the-top that I was rolling my eyes.
There’s a good game somewhere inside of The Park. The core concept of parents and children resonates with almost everyone, and there’s great horror that can be mined there. If the developers had more time, money, and an editor, I’m sure they could have produced a better-realized game. As it stands, The Park is a game that overstays its welcome almost right out of the gate. There’s better walking sims, and better horror games out there that are worth your time and money- skip this one until a sale roles around.