Preview: South Park: The Stick of Truth

August 1, 2012

South Park: The Stick of Truth seems too good to be true. After suffering through a slew of very average late 90’s games which accompanied the birth of the show, we’re finally being treated to some South Park titles the creators aren’t embarrassed to be associated with. The last couple of XBLA titles have proven that it’s entirely possible to make a game which looks just like the show, but from the footage I was shown of The Stick of Truth, this may be the first game that truly feels like it.

First off, the concept behind the game is pretty fantastic. It’s ostensibly an RPG, so to fit this theme, the town of South Park is engaged in one big LARP game (Live Action Role Playing for the non-virgins among us). You take on the role of the new kid in town, whose appearance is totally customisable, as is their equipment. After arriving at your new house and being shut out by your parents ‘christening’ its various rooms, you soon find Butters and Cartman (role playing as a wizard). While trying to become their friend, Cartman’s backyard base is raided by fifth grader Elves, and the eponymous ‘Stick of Truth’ is taken.

The entire game, from cutscenes to field exploration to battle mode, looks identical to the TV show. If you happened upon the game not knowing of its interactive nature, there’s no doubt it would take you a while to realise that you’re not watching an episode. Not only is the look right, but the voice acting is dead-on too, entirely since Matt Stone and Trey Parker lend their voices as prolifically as they do on TV. There’s always something happening  in the background, such as kids playing joyfully and innocently, or your parents screaming at you to go play while they screw upstairs.

The best way to explain the field view is to compare it to any number of old-school point-and-click adventure games. You move around a 2-D panorama as you come across characters and objects you can interact with – some trigger cutscenes (like the ‘Rock of Insanity’ in Cartman’s backyard), while others can be punched to provoke responses. It seems like there’s a lot to do in any given location, and apparently the whole town is available as Matt and Trey have mapped out South Park for the first time, giving it a definite geography.

Humour is obviously a big factor too, and the footage shown of The Stick of Truth had everyone in stitches. There’s plenty of funny lines left and right as you’d come to expect from South Park, such as Cartman questioning, “will you seize your destiny or be a disappointment like Butters?” However, some of the best comedy arises from the game-nature of this adventure. When Cartman asks you to input your name, the standard X-Box text input screen pops up for you to do so. No matter what you type, Cartman will ask if you want to confirm your name is ‘Douchebag’, and then just call you that anyway. It’s a small joke, but shows the writers are embracing the quirks of the RPG-genre and running with it.

Another part of the game we were shown was a vampire’s tomb, apparently inhabited by Twilight-inspired tweens. This level demonstrated how the game’s combat works, with multiple characters. Entering a fight triggers a Final Fantasy-style turn based battle, with your kids on one side and enemies on the other. Intended to be more arcade-y, much like Paper Mario, you’re rewarded for perfect timing with increased damage or counter attack opportunities. Each character has a range of special abilities, such as Cartman’s unique power to turn his bottom breath into a flamethrower through use of a Zippo lighter. Perhaps the best aspect of combat for long-time fans are the summons. There are many, all based on famous characters like the Woodland Critters or Professor Chaos, although in this demo we saw Mr. Garrison’s assistant, Mr. Slave, bravely dash in to shove the vampire boss deep into his asshole. It’s incredible.

Now, keep in mind, I didn’t actually get to play The Stick of Truth, so the experience of watching the demo was indeed much like watching an episode of the show. A really funny one, at that. It’s hard to say much about the gameplay at this stage, but on the surface it seems part-adventure game and part arcade-like RPG. There’s still a ways to go until its release in March 2013, but for now it’s safe to say that Obsidian have nailed the atmosphere with this game, and I can’t wait to see more.