Sunday, April 13, 2014

Second Opinion - South Park: The Stick of Truth

While I hadn’t seen much of South Park beforehand, having seen a handful of episodes and the movie (South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut), it wasn’t until I saw a preview of the then-upcoming game, South Park: The Stick of Truth, the subject of this review, at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con, that my interest grew. From what I had seen in that preview, I knew it would be imperative for me to see every episode of South Park I could in order to get the most out of the game, which I did over an extended period of time. While the preview I saw was from THQ, the company would unfortunately go bankrupt, causing the game to shift hands to Ubisoft for release, in turn leading to a number of delays (to the point where the penultimate 3 episodes of Season 17 (“Black Friday”, “A Song of Ass and Fire”, and “****ies and Dragons”) that lead up to the game, collectively known as the Black Friday Trilogy, made numerous jokes about it). Even then, from the small snippet of gameplay in 2012 to the night before the game’s release in 2014, I knew it was a game I wanted to play. Having played the game, with this review delayed by school work and my Bionicle Heroes review, I would say the overall investment in South Park was worth it to the very end.

You play as The New Kid, whose appearance you get to customize, who has just moved into the quiet little mountain town of South Park. When The New Kid’s parents insist he go out and make friends, he comes across Butters Stotch, who takes him to see Eric Cartman, the Grand Wizard of the Kingdom of Kupa Keep, who currently holds the Stick of Truth as part of a LARP campaign. Soon after The New Kid joins in the game, the Stick of Truth is stolen by the Drow Elves of Larnion, the enemy of the Kingdom of Kupa Keep, and Cartman tasks him to retrieve the Stick. What starts out as a fairly simple game of LARP eventually turns into something much bigger than anyone involved could ever think possible.

The eponymous Stick of Truth, right before being stolen by Drow Elves.

Due to having heavy involvement from series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the story of The Stick of Truth feels and plays out just like an episode of South Park, especially in how the characters interact and how everything blows further out of proportion the more events play out. Numerous references and call backs are made to the show throughout, so only those who have already seen the show will get a good number of them, but they are still inserted such that prior knowledge is not required in order to enjoy the game. Of course, with South Park being a comedy series, the game is extremely funny, with every humorous moment, of which there is plenty, hitting more often than they miss; the show has its own ups and downs in regards to its humor, but, like the Black Friday Trilogy preceding it, this is one of South Park higher moments when it comes to laughs. Some of the jokes are based in pop culture references that will eventually make the game more of a product of its time, but the way they are executed is so hilarious that, unlike other games that do this, I don’t really mind it in the slightest. In essence, if you play this game, you are definitely guaranteed a laugh.

Once you join Cartman’s ranks, you not only get to choose your name (though everyone else calls you a different name(s) anyway), but also your Class, of which you have a choice between Fighter, Mage, Thief, and Jew (if you play as a Jew, damage output increases the lower your health is); I chose the first, mainly because I haven’t played many RPG’s that use a Class system. You can also customize your armor and weapons as you go, mainly to befit your Class, although the leveling-up system (not to mention some side quests) may require you to change your equipment a number of times over the course of the story. Certain scenarios in combat may also make you change out your weapons a few times as well, but you will find a strategy you’re comfortable with in no time. Interacting with residents of South Park also nets you Friends on Facebook in-game, allowing you access to Perks that can really help you depending on your play style.

Combat itself is similar to that of Penny Arcade’s Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness series, having the turn-based system of Rain-Slick 3 and 4, but also having timing-based attacks like Rain-Slick One and Two. When you or your buddy (one of a select group of South Park characters) initiates an attack during combat, timing is very important, in that you have to press a button(s) at just the right moment in order to maximize the damage you deal to an enemy. These attacks can either target single enemies or a whole group of them (when multiple are present), and the ever-changing tactics of some enemies can make you make some important decisions on how to approach a given situation, including whether to use a ranged or melee weapon on a target. Some special attacks require PP to pull off, but they are often worth it in the end, such as being able to jump and perform a massive ground pound or having Princess Kenny summon a unicorn to ram an opponent(s). You can also use your Mana to fart on enemies (this game’s form of magic), with stronger farts requiring increasing amounts of Mana; this is the only stat that does not regenerate after an encounter. Certain residents of South Park can also be summoned, such as Jesus, in order to take care of an enemy, but only once per (in-game) day; they also all give their own excuse for not being able to take on bosses (some of whom are actually pretty easy to take down, even on a higher difficulty).

A small sample of combat in-game.

There are also a number of collectibles to be found in the game, including Chinpokomon and a number of useful items. Some of these items, however, are very miss-able, meaning you can’t go back and retrieve them once you’ve gone through certain story points, which can hamper one’s experience with the game a little bit. To this end, learning from my brother’s frustrations with this during his playthrough, I tried to get everything I could whenever I could, though I also used an online guide to make sure I grabbed everything.

The graphics of this game are very impressive, especially considering an engine capable of advanced 3D graphics was used to accurately replicate the 2D construction paper cut-out look of the show. This helps the game look and feel just like an episode of South Park, further increasing enjoyment of the writing and gameplay. Due to Parker and Stone’s ties to the development of The Stick of Truth, the two of them, alongside the returning South park voice cast, give performances that help the whole experience feel even more authentic. This is not getting into the background music, which generally would not sound out of place within the show (it even includes the show’s signature banjo music and ending credits theme), along with some (often humorous) recycled sound and music clips from the show that offer extra enjoyment for dedicated fans of South Park.

Once you find Jesus (among others), you can summon him during
combat once per day.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is not only a great South Park game, but also an amazing RPG experience in general. The whole thing feels as if it was ripped straight out of the show, providing a faithful South Park experience to those seeking it out. Prior experience with South Park is not required to have fun with the game, so fans of, or newcomers to, RPGs (within the appropriate age group) can safely be encouraged to seek it out, as it is very accessible to players with little to not experience in the genre, although watching the show beforehand is a necessity to understand and laugh at the numerous references and call-backs to previous episodes (I would highly recommend watching the Black Friday Trilogy at a minimum before playing The Stick of Truth for the first time). Admittedly, the game doesn’t take that long to get through, clocking in at roughly 12-15 hours depending on your actions, but getting the full South Park experience alone makes it all worth it in the end.

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