Alone in the Park blurs the lines between a mere adventure game and a bestseller novel.
If you had a stalker, and if one day this stalker told you he had hidden nine pieces of a treasure map in various places around the local National Park, then you’d probably want to find out just what the hell his deal was, right? Well so does the narrator and “misanthropic gamer” in Alone in the Park, a very low-key adventure game that functions more like a riveting visual novel than anything else. With sharp, succinct writing and lighthearted adventuring puzzles, this is one interactive experience that will weave its winding footsteps into your mind and stay there until every last inch of that park is explored.
When I had a chance to preview Alone in the Park last month, I couldn’t stop raving about how strong the writing in this game is, and I’m happy to say that it remains the strongest element here in the final release. Your character/narrator’s dry sense of humor and overt indifference towards many of her surroundings build a fantastic view of the world around her, and she winds up making a lot of the same snide remarks in regards to her park encounters that the player was probably thinking as well. The best part is that she doesn’t even particularly want to go on this adventure through the park, and this gives the whole thing a very tongue-in-cheek “Well, if I have to” kind of mentality. I could go on and on listing standout sentences in the text, and it’s going to be near impossible for players not to hold onto a favorite sentence or two.
Perhaps what makes this graphic adventure truly shine is the way that everything in the game is structured and presented. The game screen itself is divided clean down the center like the pages of a journal (there’s even staples down the crease and everything!). The left side of the screen is strictly for the novel portion of the game, which unfolds miraculously on the paper as you perform any action in the game, from interacting with another park patron, to simply passing by an interesting looking rock. Another cool feature in the game is that you’ll actually be able to flip back to all the previous pages from the beginning of your adventure, so it feels like you’ve really had a hand in creating this little book that appears on the screen. And it’s a really fantastic book, at that.
The right side of the screen holds your inventory items, as well as the different adventure scenes, each of which is represented by a single stock photograph with character or items of interest appearing as little square icons in the corner. But most importantly, the right side of the screen is where you’ll find your park map, which quickly becomes one of the biggest drawing points of Alone in the Park besides the amazing writing. Your map starts out as a completely blank canvas, and as you aimlessly wander around the emptiness, you’ll begin to uncover different landmarks in the park, which are drawn to life as if you really had a piece of paper and pencil in your hand. The map will also keep track of your footsteps as a winding dotted line which never goes away, so by the end of the game, you get a really neat picture of how far you’ve really come.
You’ll even find a line of tabs on the right-hand side of your journal, which lets you fast travel to any previously discovered locations; although instead of automatically transporting you there, the game just sets an automatic path back to that location, so you’ll still have to watch your trail of footsteps go winding through the map. However, part of me also wished there could have been an option to zoom in or out of the park map, because it’s so much fun uncovering it piece by piece, that a full view of everything you’ve seen along the way would have been an extra special touch. It would also make your adventuring that much easier, in seeing which areas of the blank canvas you have yet to traverse.
As an adventure game, Alone in the Park manages to stand on its own, with some nice puzzles to solve, and a very straightforward and logical way to go about unraveling them. Of course, there are one or two clunkers that still manage to sneak their way in (like chasing this infuriating goat around the park as he moves from one undisclosed location to the next), but as a whole, the entire adventure totals up to an appealing four hours of gameplay with just the right amount of challenge: perhaps a bit on the short side for a video game, but the absolute sweet spot for a captivating narrative in this medium. The gameplay is as easy as clicking on and dragging an item in your inventory to a character’s speech bubble, in order to ask them about it or give them something they need.
The only thing that falls a bit flat in Alone in the Park is the game’s soundtrack, which encompasses a quirky theme song and a number of other “satirical” tracks to flesh out the adventure. While I do admit that most of the music you’ll hear in the game is certainly meant to poke fun at the many tropes of detective novels and video games, it proves to be extremely jarring to the actual style of gameplay. The biggest offender occurs whenever you wander around the park itself in search of the next location, where the bumbling bass tones on repeat seem much better suited for an episode of Scooby Doo than a visual novel. Some of the sound effects also seem oddly placed or even unnecessary, and it wasn’t long before I went into the options menu and finished up my adventure in silence. Yes the game is deviously humorous, but it’s not overtly silly as the soundtrack seems to imply.
So even if you don’t like point-and-click adventure games, Alone in the Park is still a must-play experience, because it shows how real writing can and should be implemented into those fun interactive things we call video games today. Despite a slight misstep in the sound department, everything about the game’s design and adventuring gameplay is perfect for what it sets out to achieve, and what it does achieve, it does so rather stunningly.