Wednesday, March 22, 2017

South Park: The Stick of Truth Review (Xbox 360)

I've never been a huge fan of South Park. I find it funny but not as great as most people do. Yet, in it's 20 years since debuting in 1997, it has only had a handful of video games, starting with the original on the Nintendo 64. After two years with three titles, the series didn't see anything until 2009 with Microsoft publishing Let's Go Tower Defense with huge involvement from creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone under their South Park Digital Studios label and Doublesix. While that and Tenorman's Revenge from 2012 were being made, Parker and Stone began work on another game for the then current generation of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

South Park: The Stick of Truth went through a lengthy development run. It started in 2009 with Obsidian Entertainment making it. Originally, the publisher involved was THQ, who had their hands on various licensed games since the 90s going back to NES. The list goes on for the movies and TV shows they had. Home Alone, Wayne's World, Ren and Stimpy, Rugrats, Power Rangers, SpongeBob SquarePants, WWF/WWE, and various Disney and Scooby Doo games. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, they went bankrupt in late 2012 and a little battle for the IP came into play when game assets were being sold. The game would get picked up by Ubisoft and endured a lengthy delay that included some changes before releasing in March 2014.

The idea of this game is done really well. If you're familiar with the Paper Mario games on the N64 and GameCube, you will feel right at home with Stick of Truth. You are a new kid who has moved from somewhere to South Park. Something happened that caused the move, and your parents want to keep that a secret from you. They tell you to make friends, and so you are put onto the front lines of a battle that the town's boys are doing to protect or get the Stick of Truth. With the script penned by Parker and Stone, it is like a lengthy three episode airing, only much longer. It feels very faithful to the show.

What was seen with The Simpsons and Family Guy on this kind of hardware, the people involved with those programs have made the games on 360 look like the actual shows. (more so The Simpsons. Family Guy is too cel shaded) Stick of Truth sticks to the cheap paper looking approach of the show. The animations, backgrounds and areas all breathe faithfulness. There are a few special effects, but otherwise, it looks the same as watching an episode on Comedy Central. A little warning, though. This is a pretty graphic game, and I'm talking beyond the violence and cursing. There are some graphic nudity that seems out of place, even for the show.

This brings up one of the things regarding Stick of Truth. A lot of areas faced severe censorship Anybody in Europe (particularly Germany, but the entire continent) and Australia will know that their copies have censored scenes with stuff written by Parker and Stone explaining the scenes in their own way. Some of the material was done on the show, but there was no crusade from the European rating board, PEGI. It had no problems with the content, but Ubisoft brought in a censored version. You can't be too careful, especially when other games in the past like Manhunt 2 were banned until changes were made.

Getting past that and creating what you envision the new kid, how does it play? As I said, Stick of Truth will make you feel right at home if you've played Paper Mario. There is not as much space compared to that style of game, but you do get to explore all of South Park. From the other side of the tracks where Kenny is to Jimbo's Guns, you will be visiting every place at least once. Outside of the combat battles, the controls are a little complex but easy to grasp You can interact with stuff, hit things with a weapon and run. There is the ability to fart and you are give special fart moves and a few non-fart specialties once you get through certain parts.

Like any role playing game, you will have a number of things to do as you take care of things for Cartman and many others. The quests and side quests take you to various places in South Park following some training tutorials. Most places can be entered through their doors. It is very similar to The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, which helped Obsidian since they helped Bethesda in making New Vegas. You loot through various houses and locations looking for a lot of things in places like drawers and cupboards. Most of the time, it's junk, but there will be stuff that will help out in the adventures like weapons and equipment. There's bound to be money in places since some of the stuff you'll be needing is required to survive those battles that wage between the humans and elves.  You don't want to be seen empty handed or without something more powerful.

Despite the fantasy type approach, the game plays in tune with the use of modern technology. This is where the Internet menu comes in. It keeps track of a lot things. Case in point is the friends aspect. While you make friends with literally most, if not, all the named characters, it may seem worthless, but it is not. You can customize the new kid with any weapon and costume and choose some upgrades and perks. There was also the ability to use a map, check out the various collectibles you've obtained, and choose a buddy to help out. Even some of the cut scenes mention stuff like Twitter.

Leveling up means getting into battles and completing quests. The battles are fought against many adversaries. They range from one to six bad guys. You and a buddy take a turn as do the others. Depending on who attacked first, the one who started the first hit gets the first attack. Your weapons are in the form of melee and ranged attacks. Everybody has one to nine opportunities to attack depending on the weapon and deliver simple or powerful attacks. Farts can also be used with weapons or magic. Then there is the ability method. You pick a class and are given a unique set of abilities. Defeating enemies gives you experience points and leveling up gives you upgrades to make the abilities more powerful and punishing.

The enemies are not forgiving. Most battles are usually fought in groups. and have their own stuff like what the new kid has to emerge victorious. They have their own special abilities, magic, and weapons. Both sides will have armor depending on the equipment that is being used at the moment. It helps ease the worry of getting killed or how tough the battle is going to be. Various amounts of damage vary on the armor and whether they are immune or show weakness to certain attacks via the examine feature. An item feature allows you and your buddy to heal, refill power points, or fill magic via mana to use farts as the new kid. After a winning battle, you can loot whatever the enemies have.

Another way of battling is using stuff in the environment to avoid a turn based battle. Let's say I don't want to waste any items or power points. Someone is standing with a lighting fixture above them. You can shoot at the wiring to have the fixture crash onto them. Depending on how many, you might still have to go into a turned base fight to get the experience points. When looting, you might be full on some items. Stick of Truth keeps track of where they are, regardless of how into the game you are, similar to Fallout and Elder Scrolls.

Quests, for the most part, are pretty simple objectives. Typically they involve getting something for someone, battling someone that has an important item for a person, or taking care of a few things for others who are busy doing something else. Some of them can't be completed until certain events occur. Completing these give experience points, money, and possibly friends. You can also interact with the named characters, but some of them can only be talked to at certain points. This is where the perks system comes in. The amount of friends needed is small, but increases as you get more of them. It's like the ability upgrades. Choices for perks are for the battles, mostly with how you deal attacks to and items. Overall, they give you just enough for perks and quests so that it doesn't get monotonous.

Very early in the game, you will have a buddy accompany you through various quests and fights. As the story progresses, more will be given and the choice is up to individual anytime they go to the party section of the Internet menu. They vary on what they can do depending on the ability, attacks, and experience level. An example is having Butters help you. He can heal non-playable characters and provoke more enemies to attack him in battle. There is a command feature where you can instruct whoever you have beside you to perform a task when there is a command icon to keep the quest going. Who you have may help or detract from certain battles, especially against some of the bosses that have much stronger abilities.

Not much can be said for the cash flow you will receive. Other than the quests, you can earn some money by breaking parking meters and newspaper boxes in the city limits. You can buy certain things at certain locations. Some places will also allow you to sell anything from your weapons to the various junk that is collected throughout the game. The design of Stick of Truth is phenomenally well made. Parker and Stone along with the developers do a good job of making the progression go smoothly and show off and use the abilities that are given as the plot thickens.

Options are limited. It's down to audio toggling and the difficulty. There is a help a meter in the pause menu in-game. Really, I don't have too many complaints. It is a bit on the short side with 13 to 17 hours of a playthrough the first time. However, the classes will make you wonder what you can do with the other choices if given the chance to play again, so it's a minor nitpick. Another nitpick is the load and save feature. The autosave is a little weird since it saves in specific areas, but it's not much and doesn't ruin the game. My only big complaint is the audio, mostly the music. Parker and Stone did a great job of making the script funny and staying in tune with an actual episode of South Park. However, there isn't too many tracks in the game and the main track only lasts a few minutes. Outside of it, it's a well made game that will entertain the fans since there are so many callbacks and references to the show. From it's early roots to the modern day episodes, it will feel spectacular. People that may grow weary of the severely outdated references will still get enjoyment out of it.

Definitely check out Stick of Truth. It's still somewhat common and shouldn't be too expensive. You're getting a 1st class package if you are a big fan of South Park. A lot of thought was put into it and showed. This will be hard to top whenever The Fractured But Whole comes. Whatever Parker and Stone have up their sleeves will be well worth the wait.

Score: 8 out of 10

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