It’s taken a long time for South Park: The Stick of Truth to be extensively shown, but now that Obsidian has descended on E3 2013 with a playable demo, fans of the TV series have reason to be excited. The game has changed publishers (from THQ to Ubisoft), but maintain that the game hasn’t changed, and will be keeping to the course set out by the show’s creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
The early showing granted at E3 backs up those claims, building off of the strong writing seen at last year’s Comic-Con. Featuring artwork, action, and a story that fits right in with the show’s fiction – with plenty of crude humor and vulgar content – it’s looking more and more like The Stick of Truth may be the South Park game fans have always hoped would become a reality.
The trailers released so far confirmed that Parker and Stone wouldn’t be cleaning up their writing for a video game, but building actual RPG gameplay around a notoriously absurd TV series is a bit harder to imagine. Obsidian has tackled the challenge by doing everything in their power to make the game experience appear as close to an episode of the show as possible.
The game world is viewed from the same 2.5D angle, calling on familiar locations throughout South Park and the surrounding forests (and nods to past episodes as well). As the ‘New Kid,’ the player navigates through these screens, freely able toÂ move and exploreÂ from left to right, and up and down. That freedom to explore will be much needed, given the role-playing mechanics shaping the experience – you can’t have an RPG without loot, as any gamer knows.
Of course, in this universe ‘loot’ is less likely to be enchanted swords and magical gemstones, and more likely to be bean burritos and erotic paraphernalia. Yet the need to search through garbage cans, lockers, and the pockets of the vanquished is every bit as important in leveling up the player’s character, and customizing their arsenal and wardrobe.
It may have already been evident to fans of the show that The Stick of Truth would be inspired heavily by the role-playing episodes from the original series, turning the town of South Park into a vast imaginary kingdom of elves, dwarves and orcs. So as Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Butters once again engage in some seriously destructive LARPing (Live Action Role Play), it falls to the newest kid in town to emerge as the hero.
Aided by Butters in the demo, the barricaded and half-destroyed South Park Elementary School acted as the backdrop to a number of battle instances, as well as a few short glimpses at the exploration and interactivity that will be required to progress through the campaign. When running up against a barricade, for instance, the only solution to circumvent it was the use of ‘Underpants Gnome’ magic to shrink in size and travel through a nearby airduct.
The player’s character also possessed a slingshot – used not to wound enemies, but impact the environment to either remove obstacles or vanquish them indirectly (spilled water, an electrical current, etc.). Constant barks from both friendly NPCs and enemies constantly remind observers that Parker and Stone’s humor is present at every beat,Â lending their voices to most of the characters once again.
Of course, the turn-based combat is what will be drawing the attention of many RPG fans, and looks to provide some of the biggest laughs for fans of the TV show who may have no experience with JRPGs whatsoever. Equipped with both offensive attacks and spells, and defensive buffs, the player – using a Mage character class in this demoe – can unleash fire, ice, and steel, all with a unique South Park slant.
The use of a fire extinguisher (‘funnel of cold’) and a Roman Candle firework (‘dragon’s breath’) keep up the idea of violent children putting their imagination to work with everyday objects, and the lines of dialogue that accompany each attack help blur the lines between Stick of Truth gameplay and an actual episode of the show. Especially when Butters helps heal his comrade – with a short back rub and an encouraging word.
Defeating enemies not only advances the story (which we still can’t begin to guess at after this showing), but grants new weapons and armor. The most impressively-named items may be held together with scotch tape and paste, but that doesn’t make them any less impressive when worn into battle. The extensive system of items, skills and quests is accessed not by a dusty journal, but a parody of Facebook.
It is in this social media interface – likened to the popular ‘South Park Avatar Creation’ apps found online – that inventory and character stats are managed, and the player’s power grows. With each new friend request the new kid solidifies power, and is given even more initiative to seek out ways to aid other schoolchildren and townspeople.
Exactly how the story will be shaped, how long the campaign will last, and how far from Colorado the children may stray wasn’t mentioned. But given the similarities to the show, while also infusing well-developed mechanics and combat, there’s no reason to think that a fan of the series wouldn’t love The Stick of Truth. The cut-scenes were indistinguishable from an episode of the show, so on that basis alone it warrants attention from gamers who happen to enjoy Parker and Stone’s unique take on childhood mischief.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is still scheduled for a 2013 release on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.