One game I was really keen to get a closer look at rAge was South Park: The Stick of Truth, an RPG based on the series coming out this December for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.
Unfortunately, every time I headed over to the booth there was an impenetrable mass of rAge-goers who had the same idea as me.
With that in mind, I snuck in early this morning before the doors were opened to get a proper look at it. The game was strictly hands-off, but I got the full demo treatment from one of the Megarom crew who walked me through the gameplay.
Now video games based off of entertainment properties generally have a pretty poor reputation as uninspired, mediocre titles rushed out by second-rate studios hoping to reel people in with the title.
I’m happy to report that The Stick of Truth is none of these things. Don’t let the cartoony characters and fart jokes fool you – this has been given the proper RPG treatment by developer Obsidian Entertainment, the guys behind Knights of the Old Republic II and Neverwinter Nights 2.
You start the game by choosing a class and customising your character. You don’t play as one of the South Park characters, but rather alongside them. As with most RPGs, each different class will have its own strengths, weaknesses and abilities that dictate how you play the game.
Once you’ve selected and customised your character, you’ll be faced with a moral choice – do you side with Cartman, or with Kyle? Just as these two are sworn enemies/reluctant friends in the series, so they are in the game. You take the role of a new kid arriving in South Park (referred to by the others as “Sir DoucheBag”), and you’re forced to choose a side right away.
The game essentially plays out like an episode of South Park. You and all the other children in town are role-playing this epic adventure, but anyone who’s watched the series will know the kids take their roles very, very seriously.
The central story arc is that he High Elves, the 500-year enemy of the residents of South Park, have come into possession of the powerful Stick of Truth, and it’s up to Cartman, Kyle, Stan, Kenny and company to get it back.
The story is interwoven into the game, and frequently things you do or places you go will trigger animated cutscenes. If you like the series, you’ll love the story, since the entire game is written and voiced by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of the series. The dialogue is hilarious, the characters are true to form and the cutscenes look like they’ve come from real episodes.
The combat system is unique and very well executed. It’s essentially turn-based, but it’s far more interactive than that. While you and your enemies take turns to use your attacks, this doesn’t mean you select a weapon and then drop the controller for 20 seconds. You have to perform the attack yourself, and a lot of weapons rely on things such as the speed at which you can press a button or your accuracy. Similarly, on defense, you have an opportunity to block attacks if you get the timing right. It makes the whole turn-based system feel a lot more interactive.
There’s plenty of strategy woven into the combat as well. For example, in the demo you could choose to use a kind of poleaxe that does one big critical hit, or Cartman’s mother’s dildo (you read that correctly) which does three less powerful hits. One of the enemies had a shield that would block three hits, regardless of damage, so using the dildo allows you to take down all his defenses in a single turn. You can also make use of spells and special abilities, which are limited by the amount of mana you have.
One other thing I really liked about the combat system is that you had an opportunity to interact with the enemy before combat began. While Cartman and friends were hiding behind some boxes in a cellar, some elves arrived that had to be dispatched. Before initiating combat, you could take out enemies by throwing balls at light fixtures above their heads or aiming a long-distance fart at a nearby candle. The game had a lot of this environment interaction, which really adds another layer of complexity to the combat.
Like any RPG as you defeat enemies and progress through the game, you level up your character. At certain levels you will unlock new abilities, and you also gain ability points which can be invested into the skill of your choice to make it stronger.
There’s also a loot system; items can be recovered from defeated enemies or by breaking/opening various things in the environment. These items have a distinct South Park feel to them, and when equipped can drastically alter your appearance. One thing I really liked was that the cutscenes took on the look of my character; it was rather amusing to see myself walking into battle in a bondage suit.
Your character is a member of a party, thus in combat you can utilise different characters for their different abilities. This is also useful when moving through the game, as an obstacle such as a locked door can be handled by the Thief in your party. It’s up to you to make full use of your allies however, as they won’t just do things without being told.
From what I saw, the game looks really, really good. It’s not just something for South Park fans; it’s a really solid and well thought-out RPG. If South Park humour isn’t your thing you probably won’t enjoy the profanity, fart jokes and self-referential style, but underneath all that is a very fun game.
You’ll be able to get your hands on it on the 13th of December this year.