Nobody likes being the new kid in town. It’s a very daunting, nerve-racking experience. Finding new buddies, getting accommodated to the new school and surroundings… it’s a huge adjustment! Now imagine going through that process in South Park, of all places. God help that poor soul. Well, in South Park: The Stick of Truth, we played that poor soul for about an hour, ahead of our full review playthrough.
After establishing the race (choose to be darker skinned and your parents will share the same skin tone) and look of your character, you are promptly shooed out of the house to go and make friends. Well, if you meander around the home like we did, then you get forced out by your grumpy dad. Outside the next-door neighbour’s, Butters is being attacked by another kid, giving you the opportunity to step in. Saving Butters from a beating earns you your first friend, which is reflected in the “Facebook” interface. After a quick introduction, Butters makes mention of the “Grand Wizard” and escorts you to his “Kupa Keep”. This isn’t done through a cutscene, with very few instances in the game at all where you are actually forcibly transported to a location. It’s an open world that is filled with gear-gated paths, and features a fast travel system, the locations of which can only be travelled between after visiting them previously. The map is quite sizeable, and the fast travel points common enough, though you can also sprint without fear of running down any kind of stamina meter.
We are led to Cartman’s house, and are greeted at the door by the “Wizard King” himself. Making our way out back, we lay our eyes on the glorious Kupa Keep – a makeshift mini-Kingdom, with an armory, stables, a “rock of insanity” (consider them all in quotes) and even its own fair maiden – Princess Kenny. At the entrance to Cartman’s “castle”, we are prompted for our name. It’s funny, because no matter how you customise your character – opting for the completely outlandish, or just a simple cobalt mohawk, matching shirt and a black eye like us (so pedestrian, right?!) – you’ll always be viewed as a total D-Bag. In fact, you’ll forever be known across the town – and throughout Canada, eh – as “Douchebag”… entering the text field does not bring up a digital keyboard as you’d expect; you’re given no choice as Cartman refers to you as Douchebag, only asking if you like the name or not. And guess what?! It doesn’t matter whether you do, because choosing either “Yes” or “No” response ends in the same result – you are Douchebag. For someone who needs our help, you’d think he would be more humble and, well, less of an a-hole. But then again, this is Cartman we are talking about.
We proceed to select our class from a set of four: Fighter, Mage, Thief and Jew. If you chose to be light-skinned, scroll over to Thief and you’ll get this racially charged commentary from Cartman – “A white thief? Never heard of one, but interesting…” No surprise there when the Kingdom of Kupa Keep is abbreviated to KKK. And of course, if you pick Jew, you two will never truly be friends. Getting that sorted, it’s suggested we speak to Clyde, who manages the armory, in order to procure a weapon. Only able to afford a wooden sword, we continue on to the combat tutorial. The RPG elements of South Park: The Stick of Truth are light in comparison to most serious RPG’s out there, but appropriately so. It doesn’t need any complicated systems; its simple, turn-based gameplay allows players to just have fun. That doesn’t mean the game is devoid of challenge, but it will certainly never frustrate you. Depending on your class and weapon of choice, different inputs are required to do damage and execute special manoeuvres. Once selected, the simplest sword-based attack requires you press “X” (we played the Xbox 360 version) at the exact time the weapon flashes in the animation. Special abilities (which use up PP) may involve rotating the thumbstick, for instance. Blocking works in much the same way as the former, reducing some, but not all damage.
Completing the tutorial, Cartman introduces you to the powerful, and much sought-after “Stick of Truth”. It’s not long before the group is set upon by invading elves, which you take part in dispatching. Unfortunately, amongst the hubbub, the Stick of Truth was stolen. Now it’s the player’s duty to locate and unite 3 of the Kingdom’s Bannerman – Token, Tweek and Craig – to aid in fighting the amplifying war. After leaving Kupa Keep (Cartman’s backyard) with Butters in tow, I took a quick detour around the house… and into Ms. Cartman’s bedroom. For fans of the series, Liane’s reputation is well known by now. For me – who hasn’t watched South Park in years – my memory was a little shady. Well, it was refreshed almost immediately, walking to the far side of the bed only to find cocaine on the counter and a variety of sex toys strewn about. I stole her crack-pipe (which has her initials engraved into it) along with “Black Thunder”… don’t get any ideas now, I merely want to try and help the lady! She has an addiction (or two). It’s for her own good! And also, I hoped it could be used as a weapon and really wanted to read its hilarious description – “often accompanied by White Lightning”.
The trademark South Park humour is clearly here in spades with series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone at the helm of the writing. One of my favourite parts of the experience was looting drawers of conspicuous items and reading their descriptors… for example, we walked into Mr. Slave’s house, ransacked it, and found an Antonio Banderas Love Doll with “lifelike chest hair from real Spaniards”. All of this junk can be sold for a few bucks. Speaking of Mr. Slave, he actually had a side quest for us to complete, although we opted not to in our playtime. Turns out his package was mixed up with Ms. Cartman’s… you can imagine what was inside. We did, however, present Princess Kenny with a daffodil at his/her behest. Talk about an identity crisis…. Many side quests like these ensure the addition of the quest giver to your “Facebook” friends list, which does have an impact as the larger it becomes, the more perk points are unlocked and able to be spent on gaining some very helpful perks. There are also separate abilities that can be upgraded, the points to do so with being granted with every XP level-up. Eventually, Mana comes into play as you learn to wield the “Dragon Shout”… which is just a deadly fart. To pull off in combat, you need to tune the left thumbstick to the right “frequency” before unloading. The definition of juvenile folks, but it’s what we love.
So, we trek around town, finding the three Bannerman and completing a fetch quest here and there in order to recruit them. Token was holed up inside his Dark Meadows gated community (how many racial jokes is too many?) and Tweek could be found in the back of his father’s Tweek Bros. Coffeehouse (conveniently missing the “secret ingredient” for the brew), however Craig was in real dire straits. The final member of this ragtag troop was being held against his will, locked up in the school’s cafeteria for detention by Mr. Mackey, mmkay?! On the way to rescuing probably our most competent ally, we opened random doors, saw some horrific sights, and struck anything that moved (I’m apparently a danger to stray kitties everywhere). We also stopped by City Wok, whose menu had a decidedly… Mongolian flavour to it. According to Mr. Kim, the Mongolians present in the restaurant “conquered” him last week and now all he serves is delicious Mongolian beef, which he is quick to point out in a hushed voice is not delicious at all – “It gross!”. Turns out they have taken over the Tower of Peace next door, and Mr. Kim requests that we clear it out. Yeaaaah, good luck with that. We just started the game; ain’t no way we’re strong enough to defeat an army of Mongolian children. Yes, their children… don’t tell me you’ve never been scared by a raving, unbalanced child before!
Arriving at the Elementary School, we bust in to take on all comers. This space is great for showcasing the various methods of incapacitating enemies before engaging in battle (handled similarly to numerous FF titles, where you can avoid making contact to skip a fight). Intractable objects glimmer, and can be shot at/set off with the use of a bow or slingshot. A couple examples presented itself in the hall, where the player has a few choices – target the loose light fixture when the patrolling enemy walks underneath it, or shoot at the payphone, which will attract them over, at which point you can topple them by knocking over a stack of chairs on top of them. The environment plays as much part in progressing through an area as head-on confrontation does. “Dragon Shouts” can also be utilised against an open flame to cause an explosion, breaking down barriers and/or allowing access to a hidden area holding loot. There’s one particularly hysterical moment where the player must swap to Kenny as the primary companion (which can be done at any time) and direct the use of his special ability to attract a guard by… lifting his top… who falls for it hook, line and sinker, opening an obstructive locked gate and then succumbing to our ambush.
Finally, we reach our first boss encounter – the Hall Monitor. This guy does major damage, calls in two pals to help him out and – if not disposed of in a timely manner – will call your mum on you. That’s ‘Game Over’ folks! Taking him out first is therefore imperative, also because doing so will end the battle, regardless of whether or not you took care of his minions. Stunning him is key, but just in case, you should come equipped with some Revival Tacos, which – like all consumable items – can be used in the heat of battle and does not constitute a whole turn, still allowing you to make an attack straight after. A few revives later, the Hall Monitor is defeated, Craig is saved, and our time with the game comes to an end. Thankfully, you won’t have to wait very long for our full review as South Park: The Stick of Truth just released in the U.S. and comes out in Australia tomorrow! Needless to say, however, that Obsidian Entertainment and Ubisoft‘s South Park: The Stick of Truth is pure fan service, and stays true to the tone and humour of the show… even to the point of needing censorship in PAL regions. Sigh. It’s okay my fellow Aussies for the edits amount to roughly 140 seconds of gameplay. Anyway, keep an eye on Capsule Computers for our full review!