Friday, March 21, 2014

Game Review: South Park: The Stick of Truth South Park: The Stick of Truth was like Final Fantasy 7 and Diablo 2 moved to South Park and had a baby, with some of the puzzle elements of Sanitarium and the button mashing of Dante's Inferno (the game, obviously) thrown in. Needless to say, it was by far one of the best games I've ever played.

Naturally, I expected a great storyline and hilarious writing. It did not disappoint on that score. It was like a long episode of South Park. However, I was genuinely impressed by the game play, which I'll discuss. I'm trying to avoid spoilers. Without any connection to South Park whatsoever and a standard, yet predictable, fantasy storyline it would have still been a good game. Not a great game, but a good game. It borrowed (and satirized) elements from many different RPGs. The fast travel, for example, consists of calling Timmy to pull you somewhere.

The story begins, like most, with character creation. You assume the role of the new kid who moves in next door to Butters, who soon takes you to Kupa Keep (Cartman's backyard) where you join his forces. Like most fantasy RPGs, you get to pick a class, like fighter, mage or Jew (Cartman is the NPC who leads the character through this part). Each offers different skills, etc, though the player character will have the ability to use “magic” (farts) regardless of class.

The combat works about like Final Fantasy. It's turn-based, and each character has different skills and abilities. You fight with one ally by your side (Butters, Kenny, Stan, Kyle, Cartman or Jimmy). Each turn you can attack, use magic, use a special ability or use an inventory item. The items are pretty standard, health potions (cheesy poofs, snacky cakes, etc), mana potions (cans of beans, burritos, etc), strength potions (Weight Gain 4000) and revive potions (basically a phoenix down, but in taco form). Some can also be used to attack or provide skill bonuses. You can also get summon spells, which call upon some powerful character, like Mr. Slave or Jesus to assist the player in combat, not unlike summon materia.

Unlike Final Fantasy, the attacks (and blocks) all require some timed button tapping, holding and occasionally some mashing (and it actually refers to it as “mashing” in the game...instead of the “tap B rapidly” or whatever. Most of the special abilities required a degree of button mashing, often in sequence, much like Dante's Inferno. Unlike Dante's Inferno, you can poop...and pooping requires button mashing.

Aside from the potions I mentioned, there is a variety of weapons and armor available in South Park. They all require a certain level, and give different bonuses (aside from being silly), just like every RPG ever. You can even add modifiers to your weapons and armor, just like the gems and runes in Diablo 2 (I'd like to toss a few in a Horodrics cube and find out what happens). Armor patches and weapon “strap-ons” can add additional types of damage, like fire, frost or the especially lethal “gross out” damage. Unlike Diablo 2, your inventory is almost unlimited (you can only hold ten of each type of potion), and you can move patches and strap-ons.

There are also items you can use to modify your appearance (like in Fable), but they serve no practical purposes (like many things in Fable), except for in certain quests. There is also a large quantity of junk that can be looted from all over the map. In traditional RPG fashion, one tends to walk into every accessible room and take everything that isn't nailed down. Much of this stuff relates to specific episodes. It can all be sold in shops, though I never really found it necessary. I usually seemed to find better weapons and armor than what the shops carried, and I was never really short on cash. Some of the descriptions were funny to read though.

The world of South Park is fairly open, with a lot of side-quests. While combat rewards the player with experience, quests cause the people he or she helps to become Facebook friends. Gaining Facebook friends allows the player to get more perks, which grant a variety of bonuses. The quests offer an impressive variety; they aren't a bunch of repetitive “bring me X random items that are occasionally dropped by such and such monster (I once wiped out a significant portion of the Zehvra population trying to obtain four hooves. You'd think each one would have exactly that many),” like you get in World of Warcraft. They're all pretty unique.

There are a decent amount of puzzles required, primarily to get places, and the player is required to use magic and other skills outside of combat to do this (I don't want to say what specifically and spoil anything). It's a bit like Sanitarium, especially in the level at the end where you can assume forms from each of the previous realities to get through different obstacles in the last world. Manipulating the environment can also be used to take out enemies before entering combat. Each buddy also has special skills, like Jimmy's “Bardic Access” that are sometimes required.

I can't really say much more without running the risk of spoiling something. I don't exactly have complaints, but there are a few things that could be better. First it needs to be was 29 hours (keep in mind, I kick ass), but I want to play more, damnit. At least they could hurry up with the DLC. Anyway....second, there were some bugs. Not as bad as some games, but there were some. Last, I noticed that the character's choices don't effect the storyline much. The same was true of Final Fantasy, and Diablo 2 (well, there weren't really choices), but I do like games (Mass Effect, Fallout or even Dragon Age) where the character's actions do have some effect on the story. Despite the freedom to roam and the availability of side-quests, the story is completely linear.

Overall though, it's definitely one of the best games I've ever played. I highly recommend it to everyone who owns an xbox, playstation or computer (or at least knows where an unoccupied one is). It helps if you happen to be familiar with South Park, and it helps if you happen to be familiar with common tropes in fantasy RPGs, but neither is necessary to enjoy the game (I am both a huge South Park fan and a serious gamer, so naturally I thought it was fucking awesome!).