Previews

Preview: South Park: The Stick of Truth

My earliest memories of South Park are those that had me hunched in front of a computer watching the show while consuming copious amounts of pizza. Also known as my first year of college. For someone new to Mumbai, a “social life” didn’t exist, neither did decent television programming or video games, which, I soon discovered, are painfully expensive when you aren’t earning any money.

So I ended up spending way too much time in the company of two-dimensional, foul-mouthed kids and their adventures involving Saddam Hussein, Kanye West, Paris Hilton and just about anyone else who was worthy of being lampooned.

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My character resembled Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies, shades et al, but in traditional South Park art sensibilities.

Fast forward to a week ago, and I find myself in a similar situation. In front of a computer screen. Rather than being hunched over it, I’m sitting on some rather plush chairs, Xbox 360 controller in their stead, in the literally animated company of a gang of foul-mouthed youth from South Park, Colorado, of course. But it wasn’t the TV show, rather a preview of the upcoming video game, The Stick of Truth.

While most games bearing the South Park moniker have been middling at best, The Stick of Truth appears to be cut from a different cloth. The game starts you out as a new kid who has moved to the neighbourhood of South Park. My character resembled Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies, shades et al, but in traditional South Park art sensibilities. It’s slickly done and RPG buffs will be right at home making their in-game personas as they see fit.

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After a brief tutorial, you’re involved in an epic saga involving elves, humans, trekkies, rednecks, meth heads and anything you’ve seen on the show.

Once you’re done making your character, the game throws you in at the deep end almost immediately. After a brief tutorial on how to interact and navigate the world, you’re involved in an epic saga involving elves, humans,trekkies, rednecks, meth heads and essentially anything and everything you’ve seen on the show. Without spoiling much, what I played manages to stay true to the series’ wit and humour, especially with to their console wars Black Friday story arc of the last season.

Apart from narrative consistency, the looks are also intact. The Stick of Truth could easily pass off as an episode of the show. From the way the characters move to the attention to detail (or lack thereof) in the buildings, there’s very little to distinguish between the two. It’s a 2D game for most part, with cues indicating that you can indeed go in front or behind certain areas and interact with objects in the backdrop. Navigation takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you’ve figured it out, you have the entire neighbourhood at your disposal.

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The first few battles will probably be the hardest you face. You’ll win by the skin of your teeth.

Visual similarities aside, the game has a surprisingly robust combat system. Outside of battles required to take the plot forward, most of the combat can be avoided. Laying waste to your foes happens in turn-based fashion, but with a twist. Most actions require you to actively mash a button or tap one at the right time. Getting the timing right is crucial as it allows you to do more damage to your enemies. While this isn’t a new concept to RPGs – what with the Paper Mario series, Costume Quest and Lost Odyssey to name a few, having done it before – it’s a welcome addition that keeps you on your toes.

There’s a bit of a learning curve as well in getting your reflexes in sync with the game’s timing. The first few battles will probably be the hardest you face. You’ll win by the skin of your teeth. Once you’re used to it though, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of extremely satisfying mechanics that make combat a breezy affair.

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From preventing a girl from being bullied to helping Al Gore track the Manbearpig, there’s a lot to do.

At the end of the game’s opening 20 minutes or so, you’re thrown into the town of South Park. You can take part in story quests or side missions as you see fit. The entire map is yours to discover, barring the odd few that require you to obtain new abilities before proceeding. Each street is peppered with kids from opposing factions looking to take you down and with people to help. From preventing a girl from being bullied to helping Al Gore track the Manbearpig, there’s a lot to do.  The sense of freedom is nice, but it would be interesting to see if it manages to sustain itself when the full game hits.

In terms of character classes, The Stick of Truth has its fair share – the standard mage, thief and fighter archetypes, and of course, the Jew. While the first four are par for the course, the Jew has more in common with the paladin or monk class, what with it becoming stronger closer to death. I played through the opening missions as a mage and then the Jew. Both were equally rewarding, though I wish there were a couple of more character classes to choose from.

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South Park: The Stick of Truth is shaping up quite well. It seems to have ambition, scope and scale to match most AAA RPGs on the market. Keep an eye out as this hits the shelves in March. I know I will. With a truckton of pizza to boot.

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