Also On: PS4, PC
When I think of games like Gone Home, Firewatch, and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, I think of a few things. I think of great, interesting narratives. I think of complex emotional themes. I think of richly imagined worlds. I think of tones that are both slightly unsettling but also utterly engrossing. In the case of the latter two, I think of gorgeous graphics. Basically, when I think of those three titles. I think of games for which I have a deep and abiding affection.
And when I think of The Park, I think of none of those things.
The only thing they have in common, really, is that they all fall under the umbrella of “walking simulators”. And while I’m not crazy about that term when it comes to those other games — I find it far too needlessly reductive, and usually accompanied by sneering judgments on what is and isn’t a game — it pretty much applies perfectly to The Park. After all, the entire game essentially consists of you going from Point A to Point B, picking up narrative device X that furthers the plot along the way. There’s no room for exploration, and no room for meaningful interaction. You just walk in a straight line until the end credits roll.
On the upside, I guess, you can do it all in one sitting. The Park clocks in at well under two hours — significantly less if you run rather than walk — which means that however horrible it may be, you at least don’t have to spend too much time with it.
I still contend, however, that even 90 to 120 minutes is too much to devote to this junk. Your time would be better spent playing almost literally anything else. All you get here is an ugly, incomprehensible mess that tries — and fails — to scare you into believing that you’ve just experienced something other than that.
The main problem, I suspect, is that not even The Park’s developers knew what they were aiming for when they created their game. They couldn’t seem to decide whether they wanted to make it something about one woman’s drug- and mental illness-fueled descent into madness, or a scary story about a haunted, murder-inducing theme park. In the end, they opted to split the difference and go for both, leading to a story that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and isn’t all that engaging to begin with. It doesn’t help matters much that the main character — really, the only character here — isn’t particularly interesting, so you never really have much reason to care what happens to her.
Nor does it help that the game — to be blunt — thoroughly sucks in the visual department. The few glimpses you get of the main character make her look like a barely-human monstrosity; I’d say that she gets caught in the uncanny valley, but the reality is she doesn’t come anywhere close to looking like a real human being. Seeing as she’s supposed to, that’s a bad thing. The world in which the game takes place isn’t that much better. Seeing as The Park’s events take place at night, there should be a built-in reason for everything looking dark and shadowy, but somehow, the way everything is designed, it just looks dulled and half-sketched. To top things off, you’re expected to learn the game’s story by reading letters and notes scattered throughout the titular park, except the writing is tiny and there’s no way to zoom in or have it read, which means it takes real effort to figure out what’s on the screen.
Now, if anything about this game was interesting, I might say that the effort was worth it. The fact is, however, that it’s not. The Park is a lousy game that doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, but it still isn’t terrible enough that it at least has a “so bad it’s good” trainwreck quality. No, The Park is just so bad that it’s bad, and there’s no reason for anyone, ever, to pick it up.