Awhile back Dipper gifted me a copy of Funcom's The Park. It's a spin-off of their game The Secret World (which is not a topic for this post, but I strongly urge you to give it a whirl!) I've recently gotten back into videogames, and yesterday morning Dipper asked me to give it a go when I got home. I was going to write this last night, but after finishing The Park, I just needed to lay down and decompress. There are two main reasons why I needed to decompress. The first is that I get motion sick when playing first person shooter games. This game is also in the first person, but I quickly learned how to move the character so that I didn't get motion sickness. The second reason is that I have never been scared so thoroughly by a video game, and rarely to this degree by a movie.
In order to take full advantage of the experience, I shut all the lights off in my basement. I dragged the futon over next to me so that Zelda could hang out with me while I gamed. I even put on my headphones. Dipper told me that it was an all-encompassing experience and suggested the headphones. The game begins with a woman standing in the parking lot of a beat to hell looking amusement park called Atlantic Island Park. That's the only playable character, and her name is Lorraine. She's looking for her son Callum who has gone missing. She gains entrance to the park and commences to search for him in almost pitch-black conditions.
At the beginning of the game there is a disclaimer, about the game messing with lights, sounds, and visuals. When I read it I chuckled. It seemed ambitious but not unsurprising because The Park is styled as a first-person psychological horror adventure game. Not only was Funcom most decidedly NOT fucking with the gamers, but it drastically failed to prepare the gamer for the sheer terror of it all. Lorraine has no weapons, and doesn't even get a flashlight until she's almost done searching the park. In fact, the only thing she can do is call for her son Callum. While this seems useless it's actually a navigational tool. For each section of the park she has several various phrases that she calls out, and when she does a few things happen. Sometimes Callum will respond and you'll know where to go based on where the sound is coming from. Oh and be prepared, he's a creepy little fuck. It's literally like following Gage Creed in Pet Sematary. Half the time I was temped to leave his possessed-sounding ass behind. Or the screen will slightly warp like looking through a fish eye. This either tells you to go in a certain direction or leads you to something to interact with in the park. If you'd rather navigate this solely on sound, go ahead. You can turn off the visual hints in the menu.
Not so bad, right? Fuck no. Let's talk about the rides, shall we? The first ride that you go on is The Tunnel of Tales. It's pretty tame but cool. As you ride through in this swan-shaped boat loudspeakers tell the story of Hansel & Gretel. Shadow displays on the wall highlight key points of the story. If you look around while the story is going on, you'll notice a few not-so-nice surprises along the way. I wound up actually screaming out loud a few times during this segment. Shit. You. Not.
The other rides are steadily scarier. I can't even say which one is the scariest. Each ride or attraction had me screaming in real life. I hate roller coasters. I couldn't stop screaming when Lorraine is riding the rollercoaster. I'll give you a hint. She's not alone. By the time I hit the House of Horrors, I was literally crawling from room to room grumbling, "fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck-fucking hell-fuck-fuck-shit-where-the-fuck-is-he-shit-fuck-omg" the entire time. Things jump out at you, mysterious shadows are there and gone in the blink of an eye, and then there's Atlantic Island's Backstory. As you're looking for Callum there is a paper trail that you follow. The paper trail details the madman that built the park, and a little bit about what he was using it for.
Oh and the chipmunk mascot that's in the advertising for the game? Yeah. That's Chad the Chipmunk. The guy who worked as the mascot never took the costume off and basically went totally bugfuck. How do you know? The incident, accident, and death reports you find laying around the park. Even better? He's one of the creepy motherfuckers sneaking around while you're trying to find Callum. Sometimes he's right in your face, other times you barely glimpse the outline and red eyes.
As the game progresses you start to wonder what's really going on with Lorraine, our main character. Certain areas of the game trigger memories. Lorraine begins talking to herself and trying to rationalize what's happened in the past or choices she's made. It all seems pretty forgivable at first. I mean, she's stuck in this creepy amusement park. She went in when it was still light out but as soon as she goes in it gets dark out? That would be unsettling enough for anyone. Let alone the strange noises and scratching sounds that seem to come from everywhere and nowhere while you're exploring. Turns out you can't really trust our Lorraine. She's a little bugfuck herself, as her conflicting emotions and memories begin to show. Without giving away too much, you also find out that your narrator isn't quite as reliable because of what she's gone through. She had a traumatizing childhood and has been medicated for psychiatric problems. These combined with the changing imagery make you start to wonder how much of the game is in her head and how much of it is the evil influence of the amusement park.
I'm going to be completely honest. This game scared me shitless. I'm not being overdramatic when I say that I was screaming pretty much all of the two hours that it took me to go through this game. If you're good at this type of thing like Dipper, it might take you an hour. I kept wussing out and having trouble going forward. There were a few rides I rode more than once, just to get a closer look at the "extras" that appeared when on the ride. As it turns out, not all of the rides are necessary in order to find Callum, but they do flesh out everyone's story a little bit more. Also, if you're a fan of The Secret World, you may recognize some of these locations. The Park takes place about 20 years prior to the Secret World. Oh and the creepy looking motherfucker to the right? The one in rags and a top hat? All out of proportion? Yeah. No fucking clue who he is, though I have my guesses. Not to mention he's every-fucking-where in this game. But never where you see him coming. More than half the time he sneaks up on you. I was examining something in the Freak Show area and I turned around and he was there. I screamed so loudly Zelda almost fell off the futon beside me!
The park is fantastic. I loved it so much I might play it again soon, just to go through the experience and see what I missed the first time around. The visuals and sounds are terrifying, but I think it's all the more horrifying in that you don't have a weapon. Or a flashlight. It's literally you going through a dark, creepy amusement park at night looking for your kid. By yourself. With nothing to defend yourself and every situation feeling dangerous in a way you can't quite put your finger on. The closest comparison that I can make is going through a haunted house in real life. You know something is around every corner. But what that thing actually is? And where? Fuck if anyone knows. It's not like they've left you a clue or anything. The Park doesn't leave you with a nice cut-and-dry ending. It's enigmatic and very open for debate, and that's also what makes the game so enjoyable. I have found myself thinking about The Park off and on today at work, thinking through some plot twist or theory. It's definitely a game that stays with you.
I absolutely recommend this game, but more strongly than that, I recommend you play it the right way. In the dark. Alone. With headphones. Immerse yourself in The Park and you won't be sorry in the long run, though you'll be scared out of your mind while you're playing! And if while you're playing you happen to feel eyes on your back, it's probably just Chad the Chipmunk....