Following the sad demise of THQ, the fate of South Park: The Stick of Truth was one of the more talked about properties left in the lurch. With the clout of Obsidian Entertainment and the influence of Trey Parker and Matt Stone behind the game, it was always likely that someone would pick it up. It was just a question of who, and perhaps more importantly, what they would do with it.
If you are a publisher, South Park is a tricky game to put your faith into. Sure, the name recognition is a boon, but it is still based on very crude and sometimes even disgusting humor. It would be understandable (albeit unforgivable to fans) for the new people in charge to want to tone things down in order to increase its marketability. Thankfully, with Ubisoft at the helm, and judging by the hands-off demo it was showing at E3, that was very much not the case. Seriously, the main character domes Cartman with a piece of poo. And that is only one of three or four disturbing visuals in that scene alone.
A stick to rule them all. The demo takes place in the South Park elementary school after the kids have gone a bit Lord of the Flies-ish and taken over. You will play the new kid in town, also known as the Dragon Born. Yep, the game went there. As the new kid you want to make friends, something that both alters the gameplay and the plot.
After signing on with Team Cartman, you join in for a fairly aggressive round of L.A.R.P.ing. You are a representative of the human race, while Stan and Kyle are members of the elves, and the current possessors of the “Stick of Truth.”
Choose your side. The battle rages through a fortified school and culminates with a choice of which side you ally with, and which boss – Kyle or Cartman – you fight. That is just the beginning, though. While the school is littered with the bodies of fallen 4th graders, the nefarious and often overlooked Clyde steps in and inadvertently reunites the boys. They find the stick missing, and a message from Clyde claiming that he not only has the stick somewhere outside of town, he has created a liquid that can reanimate dead people and animals, like cats. Once reanimated, they become Nazis.
So Clyde essentially creates a race of Nazi zombie cats. We can’t make this stuff up.
New humor, old gameplay. South Park: The Stick of Truth is an RPG in the classic sense. The levels on display were linear. As the Dragon Born and his faithful sidekick Butters make their way through the halls of the fortified school, they face several students standing between them and the stick. Some they can avoid by using tools like an anal probe, which can teleport you to specific, out of the way locations. Others make you shrink down in order to enter things like air ducts, while others still are merely weapons you can use to augment the environment.
You can also knock some enemies out with ranged weapons, including the new kid’s fearsome fart. Sometimes, though, combat is unavoidable. When it happens the game shifts into a combat screen, reminiscent of old school JRPS.
Team-up. In this instance, the new kid and Butters square off together against a trio of random kids. Each character has their own attacks; some are purely weapon-based, while others have magic-casting mana. The fights shown were funny, but also very traditional – at least in the demo.
Combat is just one part of it though, and certain areas and things will help to create items. For example, in the boys bathroom the Dragon Born dropped a deuce in the urinal, surprising and impressing Butters. He then grabbed the now weaponized poo and stored it in his inventory for a later boss fight against – in this case – Cartman.
Cartman was a worthy foe, unleashing a nearly devastating flame that stemmed from a fart and a lighter. The Dragon Born blocked by tapping “A,” and then finished Cartman with flatulence of his own.
Playable cartoons. The game looks like a South Park episode – almost to the point that it is easy to mistake the gameplay for CGI. To be fair, the animation isn’t exactly high tech in the TV show, but it’s almost disorienting at first. If you are a fan of the show, the word “immersive” just doesn’t seem strong enough. The simple way to describe the game South Park: The Stick of Truth is that it feels like you are playing an episode of the show.
All the voices are present from the TV show as well, and the humor was both accurate for the show and bizarre. At one point, the person in charge of the demo changed the character’s outfit from a wizard’s robe to fishnet stalkings and a bustier. Oh, and they also gave him a new weapon that looked like a dildo.
“Like.” One of the more interesting conceits of the game is found in the upgrade trees. The personal menus are stylized to look like the new kid’s Facebook page. The more you do and complete, the more friends requests you will receive. These somehow tie in to your strength, but exactly how wasn’t clear.
The humor won’t be for everyone, and the JRPG mechanics might not win over some. But despite the traditional gameplay, you can’t deny the fierce creativity at work. It’s refreshing, and stands out in the sea of violent titles that dominate gaming today.