Describing itself as an interactive narrative, The Park quickly tries to distance itself from the moniker of "game" as it reveals its chilling tale of horror and psychological torment. However, it ends up walking a precarious tight-rope between choice and prescribed story.
Psychological scars and scares
Starting The Park you are quickly thrown into one of the most chilling scenarios a parent can imagine: losing your child. Taking control of Lorraine, you chase after your son, Callum, after he dashes into the closing amusement park, Atlantic Island Park.
But he is always just out of reach and, as you pursue him, the park rapidly rots leaving you running past piles of garbage, ruined rides, and abandoned stalls. The degradation is quite chilling and - when combined with creepy characters and sanity effects - manages to set a terrifying tone that makes the game's unsettling psychological elements work.
Scattered among the debris are messages and events that you can interact with. These reveal the secrets of Atlantic Island Park’s and Lorraine’s past – slowly explaining why you are experiencing the horrors around you.
It is an effective story that certainly gains something from being interacted with from Lorraine´s first-person perspective. Unfortunately, you regularly find the freedom of choice at odd with the events of the story.
Not the time for sightseeing
The Park relies on you treating it like a game: clicking on every point of interaction to reveal its full tale. But, if you are invested in Lorraine's situation, there should be nothing that distracts you from your chase. Many of the attractions you pass can be ridden – but the game rarely tempts you into doing so because Callum is clearly elsewhere.
It’s a shame, because these rides are the centerpieces that pad out the one or two hour story. While it's slow, the swan ride in particular impacted me. A shadow theater display tells the tale of Hansel and Gretel but intersperses it with unnerving visual effects and surprise twists that make it resonate with the game’s themes.
Of course, missing elements should be a reason to revisit the short experience. The problem is the crescendo to Lorraine’s journey is so intense, both in terms of story and its use of some of P.T.’s looping gameplay elements, restarting it is the last thing you want to do.
The Park is an interesting experiment in interactive horror narratives that succeeds more than it fails. But its failures only serve to further highlight the price / time value proposition. Which is not to say it isn’t worth the money, just be sure you know what you are getting into - and remember to ride every attraction you find.