In the beginning, there was surprise. Funcom is making a single-player experience based on The Secret World?! After a few seconds that shock melted away into excitement. Oh heck yeah — sign me up! Who hasn’t thought that TSW could make a killer single-player game (if not already be one, heh)? Then came the eagerness and anticipation as I waited for The Park, compounded even more by getting a taste of the game during my tour, then made nearly unbearable as I stared at the game on my Steam list while waiting to stream it. Finally, Halloween came and I was able to dive headfirst into the experience, full of hope, excitement, and even a little nervousness. And why not? It felt like a first date with TSW’s future. If things went well, the studio would be in a better place, which would mean more security for my favorite MMO. Success could mean good things for TSW, from more exposure to more development resources. First impressions were important.
I’m not normally one to kiss and tell, but The Park was not a disappointment. Everything about that date was awesome. I spent three full hours alternating between running and tiptoeing while exploring every nook and cranny, examining every single scrap of paper. (How I missed one achievement, I still have no clue!) It was a roller coaster ride — at one point literally — of emotions that was worth every second. And everything about the game tells me it is a portent of good things to come.
Did The Park deliver? In my opinion, yes — and then some. It really knocked the ball right out of the park (pun intended). I won’t give away too much of the experience itself, but let me elaborate a bit. I already knew that there wasn’t necessarily much gameplay per se in The Park, not just because of my tour but because I knew that wasn’t really the point of it. As a Secret World player, I understood that the whole premise of this game was the story and the atmosphere; after all, that’s really the main point of TSW. However, the fact that you didn’t do much besides experience the story in The Park was confusing or even off-putting to some. I can understand that sentiment. When it comes to gaming, many folks are used to go go go and do do do. You definitely go in The Park as you travel through and ride the rides, but where is the do? It’s not there. This game is about the feel, and maybe more than a little being done to you. With everything I felt, I think it excelled at what it aimed for.
As I traversed The Park, I was amazed at how incredibly deep the atmosphere alone pulled me in. I was expecting good atmosphere, but this went well beyond my expectation. Case in point: There was one place where a jump scare was already spoiled for me on the tour, yet when I got there in my own playthrough, I still screamed. And that’s even as I was talking about expecting it! Literally, I was sitting there fully expecting it and it still got me. Why? Because the sound in The Park is masterfully done. The music and ambience built a physical tension in me despite what my mind knew, showing that my senses could totally override my knowledge.
Another example happened later, when my senses again betrayed me. I could no longer distinguish between noises in the game and in my house. As recommended, I was playing in the dark with headphones on. And man, did that heighten things! I know all about directional sounds on headsets, but I swear to you I have never in my life had the experience where a game convinced me there was literally something behind me. The Park did. My brain was trying to tell me it was a game sound, but all of my senses were screaming at me that it was right there, behind me. Tap tap tap.
The Park had me experiencing the game on a visceral level, not an intellectual one. In the aforementioned instance, I had to physically remove my headphones for a moment in order to bring my senses and my intellect back in sync. Besides being wound up like a spring with tension waiting for the next shoe to drop, I felt moments of revulsion and nausea. And through it all there was a growing dread that an inescapable horror was unfolding. The fact that The Park could illicit such strong emotions despite what I knew was immensely powerful and totally awesome. Funcom’s Creative Director Joel Bylos summed it up succinctly when he told me: “True horror is knowing what is coming and being powerless to stop it.”
One of the greatest things about The Park, along with its Halloween mission tie-in to TSW, is that it leaves you wanting more. More experiences like The Park. More follow-up on what happened. If you haven’t played through The Park or done the latest Halloween mission in The Secret World, skip this super-spoilery next line.Don't click unless you really mean it!
Personally, I think The Park was a success in all the right ways! Now, we’re just waiting to see whether it comes out as a financial success so that we can see more. Because I am vested in this outcome, I reached out to Bylos to ask about how sales were doing for the game, and if it was successful enough to see future projects. Unfortunately, he isn’t at liberty to share right now; exact figures and such aren’t available until the Q3 report in a few weeks. However, he did share this this:
“I’m very happy with the reception that The Park has received from both new players and players of The Secret World. It’s been very cool working on something smaller for once, and we were enjoying watching people jump and scream during livestreams (especially MJ).”
In my mind, while it may not have been a runaway fortune-maker, I believe there is reason to hope that this experiment will prove itself marketable enough to continue. And I definitely want it to continue. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a market for deeper stories into the history of The Secret World. We crave more stories! The best part of that game is that first time you experience a new mission, watching the story unfold around you. And what was this single-player experiment but a juicy new story? There are so many places to go: the history of the Black House, more Franklin Mansion, the halls of the Innsmouth Academy, even all the way back to the beginning with the voyage of the ship that first encountered the Filth outside of Kingsmouth. What about learning more about John? These are just to name a few.
As much as I loved The Park, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement as the idea moves forward. While we all know that most don’t play TSW for the combat (they play for the story and atmosphere), there are other things to do, like puzzles. I think that actual things to do can be added to enhance the single-player experiences. For instance, I was overjoyed when I came upon the Rubik’s Cube and stopped to spend the time to solve that puzzle before moving on. I was actually a bit disappointed that my solving it had no bearing on anything; folks who didn’t even bother with it could see the same solution whether they put effort into it or not. I’d love to see more puzzles inside the game that solving gives a little extra something, even if only more story tidbits. I want an inquisitive person to be rewarded even more for taking the time to suss out answers to riddles. Add an inventory and let me piece together clues; perhaps doing so opens a door that cannot be locked otherwise. How about introducing choices that lead to a variation of story endings depending on what decisions you make?
If Funcom puts out more experiences like The Park, it would expand our Secret World all the more. It would be like getting another DLC on top of the regular DLCs. The MMO is heading in an already mapped-out direction with the story, but there are many of us who would love — and pay — to meander down many more side streets and see stuff from the past. Even better, with these single-player jaunts you appeal to a larger crowd than just the MMO players, and The Park offers a free week in The Secret World to see more story. Win, win. The fact that my experience in the game is split in different venues is not a problem; TSW is all about blurring those lines between the real world and the secret one. So what do you say Funcom? Can we please have more? Here’s my open wallet…