E3 2013: South Park: The Stick of Truth Preview

June 19, 2013

Obsidian Entertainment’s South Park: The Stick of Truth has had a tumultuous past few months, so it was a delight to see it make an appearance at E3. After an initial delay that saw the game pushed back to a March 2013 release, the closing of then-publisher THQ this year left Stick of Truth’s future up in the air, before an acquisition by Ubisoft allowed development to resume.

With the game now back on track, Rocket Chainsaw saw the latest demo at E3 2013 which featured showings of RPG gameplay, as well as South Park‘s crude but classic humour which fans have come to love.

Players assume the role of “The New Kid,” a silent protagonist who has recently arrived at South Park Elementary. In keeping with the over-the-top antics of the TV Show, Cartman and company are embroiled in a fantasy LARP game concerning a war between humans and elves which has raged for thousands of years. Central to this war is the fabled Stick of Truth, which Cartman wants for himself.

When the demo begins we discover that Stan and Kyle have the Stick of Truth in their possession. In turn, Cartman recruits the player to his cause (who as the new kid doesn’t know any better) so that the ancient item may be retrieved. In typical Cartman fashion, he dubs you with the new name of “Commander Douchebag,” before placing you in a party with Butters.

As the player side-scrolls through the school cafeteria overrun by Kyle’s elves faction, we see our first glimpse of combat. Encounters are turn-based against the enemy AI and involve the use of farts, the game’s equivalent of magic. An obvious parody of Skyrim’s shouts, farts are cupped in the player’s hands and then launched onto the battlefield. In an accompanying trailer, Randy Marsh was shown teaching the player a fart-ability called The Nagasaki, so we’re hopeful this means the player will learn more ridiculous farts as the game progresses. Farts will drain the player’s mana with use, but can be restored by eating burritos.

Additionally, farts can work in conjunction with items or hazards in the environment. During the demo, we saw instances where the player would fart near a broken gas main, or combine his fart-power with a lighter and spray can to increase damage output. These options are further complimented by the melee combat which involves appropriately hand-made weapons (as opposed to actual weapons), or miscellaneous items the kids have at their disposal such as Cartman’s Mum’s vibrator.

As the demo continues, an encounter with the so-called Underpants Gnome gives the player the ability to shrink down to a smaller size. The New Kid uses the newly acquired move to fit through tight spaces and reach a previously inaccessible area, whereupon he is confronted by Stan and his gay dog, Sparky. What follows is a hilarious boss fight where the lovable but luckless Butters becomes the victim of Sparky’s affections.

Continuing on, the player brings up the menu screen, which is essentially your character’s Facebook profile. Here you can perform upgrades and equip items, as well accept friend requests to gain influence among your school peers. While we know little of the upgrade system so far, we’re hoping that The Stick of Truth‘s five playable classes will offer a variety of options to experiment with and encourage subsequent playthroughs.

The demo then reaches a close as The New Kid finds Kyle at the principal’s office and he gives you the option of leaving Cartman to join the elves. The New Kid chooses the former, which results in an epic fart battle (think Dragon Ball Z style) and requires the player to maintain a steady stream of gas by mashing away at a button prompt. However, in a narrative twist, the Stick of Truth is revealed to be in the possession of fellow-classmate, Clyde. The demo ends with Clyde revealing his plans to achieve world domination by using the Stick to revive dead cats in the form of mutant-nazi-zombies.

All silliness aside, The Stick of Truth’s E3 showing demonstrates that the game will be faithful to the TV show’s tone and aesthetic, from the deliberate 2D side-scrolling style and abrupt character movement, to the profanity-infused dialogue and controversial humour. Indeed, were you to remove the controller, it’d be easy to think you were watching a regular episode (hint: this is a good thing).

Likewise, it helps that South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, as well as South Park Digital Studios, are firmly attached to the project. Stone and Parker have been critical of their past game adaptations, but their regular presence this time around should only prove beneficial.

Those easily offended should probably stay clear of this one, but South Park fans would be advised to keep a lookout this holiday season when Stick of Truth is scheduled to release on Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.

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