Remember the Secret World? It was–and is–a Funcom-developed MMO set in a modern world that’s been overrun by occult forces, and the Park is a horror-themed first-person narrative experience which takes place in the Secret World’s mythos. You play as Lorraine, a self-described “bad mother” who finds herself after hours at an amusement park searching for her lost son, Callum. Naturally, things get weird and creepy from there.
Press B to Callum!
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The developers are very upfront about what the Park is. It’s a first-person narrative experience with no traditional gameplay mechanics, similar in style to games like the Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Gone Home. You can interact with specific items in the environment, which will either trigger a story event or zoom in on a note or newspaper clipping that delves into the park’s backstory. You can also call out to Callum, which will give either an audio or visual clue as to which direction to go. You won’t find any puzzles here, and your only real choices are whether to explore an area left-to-right or right-to-left.
And that’s fine, in theory. I’ve enjoyed a number of games in this style. But there are no enemies pursuing you, and with no foes to engage with or avoid, there’s no real sense of danger. Since the game intentionally avoids using gameplay mechanics to build horror, it’s strongly reliant on jump scares to maintain its tension. And, admittedly, there are some real good gotcha moments here. But jump scares feel pretty cheap given how far horror games have come in the past few years, and the Park feels most of all like a haunted house, jumping out at you with occasional rubber monsters without ever putting you in peril. Maybe it’s no surprise that the Park’s most effective sequence takes place inside a literal rubber monster-infested haunted house.
Certainly no safety code violations here, no siree
While you’re exploring the amusement park, Lorraine will often start talking about her past and her relationship with Callum using absurdly flowery language that feels totally unjustified. When you first enter the amusement park, she begins musing about the metaphysical dynamic of exiting the doldrums of the real world and crossing the threshold into a fantasy land in a sort of transformative birth of yadda yadda yadda. It’s incredibly hammy, and the style of dialog only starts to work once the game starts moving further to disconnect from reality, but by that point it’s tough to care about Lorraine’s place in all of this.
You’ve also gotta contend with character models that are stuck squarely in the middle of the uncanny valley. While it’s explicitly a first-person narrative game, it continually pulls out to show you Lorraine’s face as she deals with the messed up events around her, but her dead-eyed stares are so Muppet-like that it totally destroys the gravitas and emotional weight of every scene that’s presented this way.
One of many notes exploring the amusement park’s backstory
The narrative ultimately feels very slight. That may be partly due to the fact that the game’s barely over an hour long (something else the developers are thankfully very upfront about), but it’s mainly due to the fact that not a lot happens in that time. A few mysteries start to open up about the nature of the park and oddities in Lorraine’s past, but there’s no resolution, and barely even a suggestion of how things fit together. Horror thrives on a sense of unresolved mystery, but here it just felt like I lacked context because I wasn’t especially familiar with the MMO.
It’s maybe best to look at the Park as a sort of curiosity for fans of the Secret World–after all, it does include multiple items that come back into the MMO. But without that context, the Park doesn’t really have a point. It’s $13 and an hour long, and while I could justify that if I felt strongly about the setting or the character here, it’s a real rough ask for what amounts to a glorified haunted house.
THE PARK VERDICT
The Park has solid atmosphere and pretty good scares, but it also has an unremarkable heroine and an inconsequential plot. It might be a decent curiosity if you’re looking purely for the video game equivalent of a haunted house, but its high price and short length make it difficult to recommend.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The very first jump scare. There are diminishing returns after that.