The thing with old-timey amusement parks is that they all harbor some sort of ancient evil.
In The Park, a short first-person horror game from Funcom, you play as Lorraine, a single mother whose son, Callum, goes missing in one of them. So the setup is pretty cliched. The boy goes bye-bye and you’re off to find him. But The Park packs an intense psychological narrative into its rickety haunted house framework, and while it won’t do much to trouble hardcore horror heads, it’s still a fun, spooky adventure.
I spent my time on a fairly strict, linear path traveling between Atlantic Park’s varying rides while Lorraine commented on objects and points of interest. The only way to interact with the environment is through “call” button, which literally calls for Callum, and highlights written items: mostly letters and diary entries that give insight to the history of the park (spoilers, it’s spooky). The way Lorraine’s cries change with her demeanor throughout the game ended up being my favorite bit of character development. I liked hearing a person rapidly losing their cool, rather than listening to them painstakingly spell out their emotions in a series of hokey monologues.
The park is integral to a few events in Lorraine’s past, so her commentary tends to spin off into heavy exposition dumps. It’s unfortunate that most of what she has to say is blunt and overwrought. She’s a tragic character, having experienced plenty of hardship prior to the not insignificant mistake of losing her son in a theme park, but when she describes her internal as “treachery that lashes like a whip and scars our insides,” it becomes that much harder to take her seriously.
The Park tells an interesting story, delving into Lorraine’s depression and troubles raising Callum as a single mother, but I’m bummed it’s delivered pretty clumsily (and felt super familiar). Good thing the game’s campy flourishes and atmosphere make the writing easy enough to brush off. I ran into plenty of clown imagery, carnival canvas, and sickly purple-tinted lighting. Set against the backdrop of a forested, mountainous area with an obscene fog afflicion, the cliches coalesce into a setting that feels like a pleasing horror homage rather than a lack of creativity on the developer’s part.
Atlantic Park’s attractions serve up The Park’s best haunted house moments. While it doesn’t make sense that Lorraine would halt an urgent nighttime son hunt to hop on the roller coaster (just real quick, Callum, we’ll be right there), they’re each home to a few silly scares and narrative breadcrumbs. Early on, I hopped on a swan boat ride that didn’t take me through a tunnel of love (someday, maybe), but through tunnel of shadow puppets relaying the story of Hansel and Gretel. Meanwhile, the boat gets jostled from time to time without warning, and the ride culminates with the swan boat’s head slowly turning around to face you. Now that’s an untapped spook mine: swan boats.
During most set pieces I alternated between flinching and laughing, and not because I’m impossible to scare, but because most of the scares felt more like a playful rib poke than something meant scramble my nerves. That said, in The Park’s final fifteen minutes, it takes a deep dive into emulating P.T. by presenting a familiar setting and slowly chipping away at reality. Without giving away too much, the same series of rooms start looping back into one another, but with slight changes each time. The Park’s shift from fun boo factory to self-serious psychological brain blender is jarring, but works as an intense climax and narrative wrap up.
While The Park isn’t that terrifying, there are a few fun jump scares and plenty of atmosphere despite the cliched setting. A creepy amusement park provides the perfect backdrop for such a short, entertaining game. Like the rides themselves, the game doesn’t let you off the rails, but does provide a short, spooky funhouse experience no matter how cheap the thrills. For those who can’t stomach the stress of an Amnesia or Alien: Isolation, The Park is a good way to fill up your seasonal spooks quota without having a full-on panic attack.
The Park is available for $10 on Steam until November 2nd, when the price will settle at $13.