Hands-On: South Park: The Stick Of Truth
It’s difficult making a game based on a franchise with such a strong following. Just take a look back at previous attempts to embrace what makes South Park just so darn incredible and you’ll see evidence to support this claim. The Stick of Truth, a title that has been in development for a very, very long time, is aiming to rectify that, and after spending some quality time getting to know South Park in all its hillbilly glory, I can say that fans have something rather special waiting for them.
It could be the fact that the series’ creators are on-board, making sure Obsidian doesn’t inadvertently tarnish their show with a shoddy videogame. It could be the fact that you’ll struggle to tell the game and hit series apart. It could even be just how perfect all the little animations are. At its core, The Stick of Truth is a South Park game above anything else, and it flaunts this with all the pride in the world. The whole city has been recreated, with all the voice actors reprising their roles and every character you could possible think of being assured an appearance. This game clearly has fans of the series in mind, but that doesn’t mean it falls prey to its own self-indulgence in the pool of source material available.
Underneath all of the wondrous voice acting and fantastically recreated setting, The Stick of Truth is a turn-based RPG with a rather massive open world. You, as the almighty Douchebag, are free to explore most of South Park (based on your progression) at your will, allowing you to enter unlocked houses and garages in search of loot, new friends and collectible Chinpokomon. The environment is also an oyster waiting to be cracked open, with some environmental hazards blocking some large looking backpacks and bigger loot rewards from you, just screaming for a return visit when you’re able to get past. I was worried at the fact that I could explore so much so quickly, leaving me to wonder whether or not South Park will change according to the stories and offer more looting experiences.
On the more RPG side of things, South Park offers quite a lot for you to tinker and toy with, in terms of in- and out-of-battle strategies. As with most RPG’s, you choose a class and begin your quest. The regular Warrior, Mage and Thief classes are all there, complimented sweetly by something only South Park could possibly pull off; The Jew Class. Each class comes with its own specific perks and abilities, which mainly manifest in your character’s unique special ability in battle. You’re free to use all the weapons at your disposal, granted you’ve gathered enough change to afford them, and although your class changes your appearance you’ll soon let the host of custom clothing items take over. But the classes don’t stop at your personal preference; each ally you’re able to add to your party belongs to a specific class and therefore has access to their own brand of special abilities. Choosing who to have at a particular time seems to make a very big difference during fights, but more importantly outside of them. Using your ally’s unique ability to take out foes before engaging or distracting them can probably save you a lot of trouble in crowded areas, and it was a treat to see the environment so wonderfully intractable.
Eventually though, you’ll enter Pokemon styled fights, whereby you’re on one side of the screen and the elf kids, Mongolians or meth heads take up the right. Combat is turn based, giving you and your chosen ally the chance to heal, use a special ability or attack. Attacking ends your current turn, and you’re able to use up to one item per turn, despite Cartman’s wishes. Enemies then have the same chances, but aside from just using abilities enemies are able to take on different stances such as riposte, blocking and shielding up, all of which I was not able to do during my playthrough. These stances add to the combat, forcing you to switch up between light and heavy attacks, as well as choosing ranged over melee. One of the best things about this turn-based system is just how interactive it is. After ordering an attack, you either have to charge it up by mashing some buttons or timing your presses to the tee in order to deliver maximum damage. The same goes for defence, where a well-timed key press will protect you from most, but not all, damage dealt. And when I say well timed, I mean perfectly timed. It took a long time to get used to South Park’s blocking mechanic, and even after an hour I was still taking sucker cup arrows to the face like a proper scrub.
As you progress through your quest to reclaim The Stick of Truth, you’ll have the chance to upgrade and acquire new abilities, which is done in one of two ways. Victory in battles and completion of quests rewards you not only with money and loot, but also experience points that will help you unlock new abilities and strengthen existing ones. Standard fare, especially when compared to the other way in which you progress. The Stick of Truth features a system not too different from Facebook. When you meet a new character you add them to your friends list, with a “news feed” updating you with characters opinions and reactions to your actions. More friends lead to more perk unlocks, which help you specialise and become the South Park fantasy character you really want to be. Some may reject your friend requests should you have too little friends, or if you haven’t completed a specific side quest, meaning you can’t just go prancing around the town conversing with every hopping body you see. The news feed also integrates itself well into gameplay, often giving you hints as how to progress with certain quests, which is a really nice touch.
To people who haven’t yet experienced it, South Park: The Stick of Truth may sound like a standard and safe turn-based RPG bet, with familiar mechanics surrounded by a South Park skin. That couldn’t be further from the truth, with The Stick of Truth showcasing just what a dedicated licensed product could possibly be. My hour with the title was filled with laughs, inappropriate item hunting, gratuitous violence and all the insulting slurs you could possibly think of. Even afterwards I felt like playing hours upon hours more, just to see if the laughs could be sustained throughout. This is probably the only thing The Stick of Truth has to prove to me when it releases early next month, because right now the game is looking as stellar as you’d expect from a development time this long. In short, I don’t see this disappointing anyone, especially the fans.
And if there’s one job a licensed game has, it’s most definitely that.