The Park is, very appropriately, akin to an amusement park ride. It's a little on-the-nose and you can see the seams in its structure if you look too closely, but if you embrace The Park for what it is, it's a thrilling, thoroughly spooky experience.
The game takes place in a long-abandoned, possibly haunted amusement park called Atlantic Island Park. You play as Lorraine, a single mother whose young son, Callum, has run off into the park at closing, prompting a harried search for the lad, through all of Atlantic Island's derelict rides and sideshow exhibits. Early on, we find out that all is not well with Lorraine. These signs that the park is not all that it seems pay off in satisfying (if slightly predictable) ways.
This is pure psychological horror, with a dash "summer fun gone wrong" tropes thrown in for fun. The gameplay is simple and fairly linear. I spent the game walking around, reading notes, looking at the not-so-shiny details and encountering horrors as the story unraveled in a satisfying fashion. There's no further mechanical depth to The Park. Instead, it's all about strapping in, paying attention and savoring the ride. This worked for me, given how arresting the sights and good the story actually is.
In between Atlantic Island's rides and other encounters, Lorraine narrates the story through voiceover, painting the picture of a troubled woman who has struggled to provide for her son. There are shades of The Babadook in The Park, with grief and guilt and other unpleasantness mixed in where the usual platitudes about parenting more commonly sit. It works because Lorraine is a strong enough voice to pull it off, with her overwhelming fears about Callum balancing the other darkness in her psyche.
The Park succeeds at being Lorraine's story, rather than another same-y jumpscare generator. Oh, sure, there are jump scares. But they all tie into Lorraine's specific memories and fears — this is her nightmare, I'm just playing it. That's a credit to The Park's writing, that the inherent spookiness of "did I just see that" on the tilt-o-whirl is so easily paired with the nauseating fears of parenthood. That an exhausted single mother might feel anger towards her child or rage at the circumstances that brought them to Atlantic Island in the first place.
At only a couple of hours,The Park doesn't linger or overstay its welcome. It makes smart use of established horror tricks and tropes, and gave me a character that I immediately liked and cared about, even though I recognized I'd been on this ride before. It's like a favorite roller coaster, ridden in the dark: You know there will be sudden twists and drops, but you still scream when they hit.