November 19, 2015

That's A Wrap: South Park: The Stick of Truth

warning: may contain spoilers and offensive content. Emphasis on the offensive content.

I should probably preface this whole thing by letting you know that I am a big, huge, massive, gargantuan, humongous, jumbo fan of South Park. Okay, maybe I don't deserve all of those synonyms, but I really do love the show. I've been watching faithfully since it began all those years ago (wow, I'm old.), and the South Park movie is one of the few that I can not only recite to you verbatim there's a bunch of birds in the sky..., but I can watch on repeat all day long (I'm not joking. I've done that.) and never tire of it. I'm always quoting the show and I'd be a lying sonofabitch if I said that South Park hadn't influenced my life somehow. So of course I've played every South Park game ever, right?! Um. No. I don't know what kind of traitor this makes me, but I have actually never played a South Park game before in my life. This is the first. Yikes.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a 2014 RPG developed my Obsidian and published by Ubisoft for PS3, Xbox360 and PC. The game was creatively handled by the gods of all things South Park - Matt Stone and Trey Parker - and to me, that means there is virtually no way this game could go wrong.

As a devoted SP fan, I of course saw the handful of episodes that set up The Stick of Truth when they capped off season 17 in 2013. They actually teased the game in the season finale, but quickly recounted the claim by saying something like "yeah, as if that's ever going to happen!" But it did happen! The Stick of Truth - henceforth known as TSOT - is loosely centered around the kids being inspired by the television show Game of Thrones, as well as video games, movies and other general fantasy. Each boy took up a fantasy persona - a princess, and wizard, a paladin, etc. - and played until their imaginations ran dry.
My first taste of TSOT was shortly after it was released, I watched a friend of mine play the first 5 or 10 minutes and all I really remember is nonstop laughter. I was immediately sold on TSOT and simply waiting for a good (financial) opportunity to pick it up. I think I ended up finding it for $10 or so, which as far as I'm concerned is a steal. Anyway, the first 5 or 10 minutes of my own playthrough was pretty calm, since I had already seen it once before, so I just sat back and tried to enjoy the little things most people might not notice. After that - I'm gonna be honest with you - I did not get off to a good start. My expectations just started sinking when everything did not go smoothly, and I struggled to get a handle on the combat. But then something happened… I realized I was 7 hours into the game. Surely I can't be 7 hours deep into a game I dislike... so let's get into it!

When it comes to graphics, there aren't many things out there easier to emulate than South Park, and as such, the game looks right at home in the series. In fact, one of the things I really loved about playing TSOT was how much it felt like I was simply controlling an episode of South Park. There isn't much to say beyond that: the game is colorful, sharp and very familiar. We even take a trip into some 16-bit awesomeness. I can't complain!

And of course, Stone and Parker return to voice all of their usual suspects, so the voice acting is totally familiar and right on the money, too. There is a lot of dialogue in TSOT, but as a fan of the show I welcome this with very open arms.
It didn't take me long, however, to notice the lack of consistency regarding sound and music in this game. I couldn't always tell if it was done purposely, or if it's just a programming error, but sometimes everything is going swimmingly - a heavy, almost Lord of the Rings-worthy soundtrack - and other times you explore in virtual silence. There are also no tunes when using "Facebook". That said, when they do play the tunes, they play my personal favorites, such as Sexual Harassment Panda, and select hits from Jennifer Lopez. The allusions to the show are absolutely endless in this game, which makes it all the more epic for a SP fan.
Some of the effects in the game get cut off or are otherwise muffled. There were also a couple of instances in which the dialogue audio didn't kick in either. Thankfully I had subtitles on! It's an unfortunate flaw but not one that affects the game in a major way… just noticeable.

As I mentioned before, the game is an extension of the season 17 3-part finale in which the boys use their fantasy alter egos to do battle in a war of Xbox vs. Playstation. At the end of the whole debacle, Cartman announces he's tired of playing video games and perhaps they could use their newfound personas to just play… with a stick. This becomes the titular Stick of Truth, and during the game the humans battle against the elves for control of the all-powerful stick.
Enter the new kid. That's you! Er… me. You've just moved to town with your ma and pa, and apparently there was some trouble in the last town that left you speechless. I guess that's what happens when "they" come after you.
At first you're recruited to Cartman's human realm, the Kingdom of Kupa Keep, but later on you meet the King of the Elves and consider working for them - always in the pursuit of the Stick. But then a mysterious new foe arises and the two camps are forced to work together to secure the Stick once more! I'd like to say the plot is predicable - and if this were any other game on the planet it probably would be - but it's South Park, and that means things can go any-which-way at any time. You literally take things one day at a time. Meanwhile, you are bombarded by the usual South Park activities:
-witnessing poo-mestic abuse
-getting abducted by aliens
-defending your underpants
-killing Kenny
-chatting up Jesus
-getting grounded
-lighting farts on fire…
In all, what makes the game so amazing is that it plays out exactly like a SP episode: random, offensive, unbelievable, complete and utter nonsense!

Pretty much every character of the South Park universe makes some kind of appearance in TSOT, but there are 7 playable characters:
Douchebag - your character. You not only get to choose the appearance of your character, but your name and fighting class, too. Okay, scratch that, you only get to choose your look and class. You may choose fighter, with "the ability to kick fucking ass"; a mage, which is "like a wizard only not as cool"; a thief, which conveniently enough, you look "sneaky enough" to be; or a Jew. Yep. You heard me! As a Jew your power is apparently not being friends with Cartman. I chose Jew, because it's fucking funny. [TEAM BICURIOUS]
Butters (the paladin) - probably the character you'll spend the most time with, he fights with a mighty hammer and has healing powers, too. I'd argue he's also the greatest source of comedy in TSOT. [TEAM HUMAN]
(Princess) Kenny - fights with love and charm. Her(?) speciality is charming baddies with her double D's. Yeah. Sort that one out yourself. [TEAM HUMAN]
Stan (the warrior) - the elves' greatest fighter, Stan fights with a broadsword and the ability to mark opponents for death. Or at least you'll wish you were dead. He often calls upon his noble steed - a.k.a. his dog, Sparky - when in dire need. Which is like need, but dire. [TEAM ELF]
Kyle (the elvish king) - the King of the Elves! He fights with his dad's golf club and uses a number of uniting abilities to ward off foes. I used him the least. [TEAM ELF]
Jimmy (the bard) - as his title suggests, Jimmy's speciality is using song to support his party. Otherwise he uses a crossbow. Jimmy's abilities are the most fun to execute. You can even park in the handicap section! [TEAM ELF]
Cartman (the wizard king) - the clever leader of the KKK, Cartman manipulates his way through everything, just like he does on the show. He does teach you to master your asshole though! Literally. His ass of fire is his most valuable asset, but his Curse ability is the most fun. [TEAM HUMAN]

Nobody seemed to complain about the video evidence in my Bastion article, so we'll try it again!*
So your basic screen consists of everyday South Park, Colorado. In the top-left you'll find your HP (health), PP (abilities) and in the case of Douchebag, Mana (magic) in that order from top to bottom.
In the top-right, you won't see much of anything unless upgrades for your abilities are available. You get a single upgrade every time you level up, and there are also perks for having many friends. Otherwise you might find your bank and XP progress noted there.
I also made a point of showing you the two wheels in the bottom left and right corners. They are your outside abilities and magic, respectively. Your ability wheel consists of your shoot ability, buddy command, alien probe and gnome dust (however, the video shows a much earlier part of the game, so all of the abilities are not depicted). Shoot is pretty straight forward: while equipped you aim with L2 and fire with R2. You can shoot people or points of interest. When you're not forced to fight alone, you travel with a single "buddy," who fights with you in battle. Each buddy has a unique ability for you to make use of outside of battle, and you command them using the buddy command feature. After your first night is South Park, you'll earn the ability to make use of the various alien teleportation devices scattered throughout the town, and you use alien probe to do so. You must hold L2, use your left stick to point the probe at the device, and then use R2 to active and dispel the teleportation. Lastly is the gnome dust the kindly thieves gift to you so you can shrink yourself to squeeze through various small spaces and dead bodies. Simply punch L2 to do so.
Your magic wheel has the four "spells" you learn, which you can use both in and out of battle: Dragonshout (is seen in the video!), Cup-A-Spell, Sneaky Squeaker and Nagasaki. These are just various forms of farting. The Dragonshout is a generic blast, the Cup-A-Spell will need to be directed, the Sneaky is rather laborious to execute, and Nagasaki is the most powerful fart of them all.
This brings me to my first upset: no, not farts. Those are hilarious! The magic tutorials are both horrendous and irrelevant. Every time you learn a new "spell" you're forced to practice in front of your teacher using controls that don't necessarily mimic what you'll actually do outside the training. I had to repeat each tutorial countless times, as they're really not explained well and the timing is ridiculous. Thankfully, you only have to nail it once to move on.

In addition to chests, backpacks, lunch boxes and basically anything with Terrance and Phillip on it, you can purchase items (and sell all the crap you accumulate) at a handful of vendors, including the armories found in each camp, Jimbo's, Tweek Bros. Coffee, the hobo and so on. Your items are broken down into 7 categories:
Consumables are exactly what they sound like. These are the things you eat or drink to boost or heal yourself and others in battle (although a handful of them can be used outside of battle too).
Weapons are the actual pieces you fight with. They range from legit-ish swords to garden hoes.
Equipment is essentially your armor; you can equip a head piece, clothes and gloves.
Flair are the fancy accessories you can use to dress yourself up. For self esteem purposes.
Weapon Strap-ons (I'm super cereal.) and Equipment Patches are boosts you can attach to your weapons and armor. They might provide anything from attack boosts to healing effects, or even elemental additions, making your once boring Vibroblade into a flaming dildo!
Junk is all the amazing shit that's taken directly from the show. Everything from Cherokee tampons to The Poop that Took a Pee. These can't be bought, but rather sold, for copious amounts of pennies.
Your ability to purchase certain items depends on your level, and also costs money.

There aren't a ton of cutscenes in TSOT, but the ones you do see are short and sweet, and to the point. If you want to skip them, or Jimmy's hilarious stammering, you can hold down circle.
You likely also noticed the lengthy load screen from my video. The full load screens will offer you tips and reminders, and the loading logos are mostly familiar faces from the show. Take advantage of these extended periods to stock up on Cheesy Poofs!

Most of your objectives in the game can be tracked with your "Facebook" page, but before we get to that, let me whine about combat for a bit.
The combat system is… something else. It takes some time to warm up to. To begin a battle you must first strike an enemy with your fist or weapon (or be struck), and then you're brought to the battle screen via some bitchin' lightning. The battle system is turn based - like in the olden days - and you select your method from an option wheel using your left stick, which brings me to my second major gripe with the game: the stick is way too loose! It takes me several seconds just to line up my option sometimes, meanwhile everyone is reaming me for wasting time!
Anyway you have a few options: melee attack and range attack, in which case you can perform a normal attack with X, a power attack with square, or a fart attack with triangle. The catch is that you must do so just after your weapon glitters, or your attack is weakened drastically by your crappy gamer skills. After you select your attack, you then select your target, and try to hit at the right time! Some buddies don't possess both melee and range, so you have to look out for a few things:
Enemies in riposte stance can evade and counter melee attacks, while enemies in reflect stance can block ranged attacks. It's important to pay attention! Additionally, some foes will pull a shield out of their ass - possibly literally - in which case you'll have to attack repeatedly to destroy it before you can do damage to the enemy.
Alternatively, you can use an item, however it is recommended that you use an item first, since your turn is over after you commence an attack. If you use an item first, you'll usually be afforded the opportunity to attack afterward. The same goes for healing abilities, which is an option for some characters.
Douchebag will eventually learn to use magic, in addition to abilities, which are another two options on the wheel. They require mana and PP (teehee!) respectively. Abilities depend on the user's class, while magic is exclusive to Douchebag.
Some people in town will offer you their services via summon. These can only be used once per day, and never during boss battles. 'Cause those are scary. After you've used the summon you'll have to return to the host and ask for another summon for another day. It's a tedious system but believe me: you want Jesus on your team.
The most useless feature on your wheel is the examine option. It simply lets you see what's what in terms of status ailments, but if you paid attention along the way, you'll virtually never have to use this.
Lastly, you can choose to swap buddies. You can only have one party mate active at a time, but you can switch during battle at the cost of the character's turn.
Then, of course, you must prepare for the spanking YOU'RE about to receive. For that the game introduced my third gripe: blocking. A symbol will encompass you when it's time to block, but for some reason I can't ever seem to time it correctly. Ever. Or maybe I did. I don't always know. I often got "perfect" blocks but still took damage or status ailments. I really have no idea how this feature works... if it works. Anyway, when you do nail a block, you're offered the ability to counter. But I usually messed that up, too. It's a cheap hit anyway…
There are a number of positive and negative status effects in TSOT, but I don't really want to waste your time discussing them all. The main ones you'll want to watch out for are burning, bleeding and grossed out. All of these have long-term pain involved, and in the case of 'grossed out', you won't be able to use consumables. All of these ailments can be wiped away with a bottle of water… er… "cure potion".
This might sound like a lot to take in, and it is, but the game does tutor you for a long while on these skills, so don't fret too much. I'll be honest: the first real fight in the game took me more than one try, simply because I couldn't nail down the system. Your enemies will also make fun of you for taking your time. Make of that what you will.
After battle, statuses are gone and fallen party members will automatically revive, so you really only need to worry about it on a battle by battle basis. Manage your inventory accordingly. This bit me in the ass several times…
Winning battles earns you experience, and as you gain experience, you level up. Then, you can visit your "Facebook" page to upgrade an ability, as it pertains to your fighting class. Things like Jew-Jitsu… we'll cover all that in a sec.

Refreshingly, the town is never overrun with enemies, and the battles are often easy to avoid. There are many environmental things you can look out for to eliminate enemies without having to fight them, like dropping heavy objects on them, or electrocution puzzles (as seen in the video!). It feels odd to say that these are some of my favorite things to do in TSOT. Avoiding battles is a plus when you just want to move on in the story, but on the other hand, if you want to grind, it's even more time consuming than usual.

Possibly the most important tool in TSOT is the knock-off "Facebook" page I've mentioned several times now. This is essentially your main menu for the game. Let's have a look!
Pressing select opens your "Facebook" page. There are also shortcuts on your D-pad, which brings me to yet another complaint: you've also got that abilities wheel on R1 which you can access while not in combat. To select from that wheel you must use the left stick to choose, as your D-pad automatically opens Facebook. I can't tell you how many times I repeatedly made this mistake in a row. I just want to love my D-pad, dammit! Anyway, on the left side, you'll see your current build, bank account, and how many friends you have. Across the top are:
Home> This is where you can view all the messages and interactions between your friends. They'll often give you hints on where to go to complete quests.
Inventory> Where you can choose and modify your weapons, equipment, and a number of accessories including hair, makeup, eyewear and facial hair. There's also a spot for consumables, and you can use them from here where applicable. You can view your junk, too. (haha!)
Abilities> Your class comes with special combat abilities. In the first tab, you can work on unlocking each of the tiers for every ability. On the 'Perks' tab, you can spend the points you've gained by convincing more people to be friends with you. It pays to be popular in TSOT! The last tab is just a reminder of the magic you've learned and how to use them.
Quests> Keeps track not only of your main quest, but all of the sidequests you've instigated and completed as well. Main story quests will be indicated with a stick, while optional quests are displayed next to a black and white target.
Map> Shows you all of South Park, with points of interest marked with blue exclamation points. Fast travel locations are marked with flags, but they'll only light up when you're at a Timmy terminal. A giant yellow arrow will show you your position.
Collectables> This section sort of serves as a sidequest all its own. Here you can keep track of all the friends you've made, the Chinpokomon you've found, the equipment you've stocked up on, and see the items that pertain to your current quests.
Party> Where you can switch the buddy you want tailing you on your adventure. You can also preview which abilities each character has here, and any other important tidbits. For example, Butters has a natural affliction that means enemies are drawn to him in battle!

A "Timmy Terminal".
There are many, many side quest options in TSOT. It's not difficult to find or keep track of them at all, thanks to your trusty "Facebook" page. In the end, I actually ended up doing every sidequest I could find, which I can only assume is all of them, period. Most of them started by accident, and many of them finished the same way. You really don't need to go out of your way for a lot of these, but some are more demanding than others. Sidequests include raiding people's garages, stealing people's underpants, relocating hobos, collecting Chinpokomon (gotta catch 'em all!) and dealing with Al Gore. I mean, let's be honest, that's a whole game on it's own! The biggest and most fruitful sidequest in the game is finding friends. Many people will friend you if you simply talk to them, however some will ask you to complete tasks for them. To befriend Timmy, for example, you have to find and activate all of his Fast Travel flags throughout town! Obviously this particular quest has bigger payoffs, because Timmy will warp you to any of these flags afterward.

The controls for the game aren't the most polished, but the map is pretty straight forward:
Your left stick controls your movement, and the right is your "secret weapon". X is your action button, you can hold circle to run, and tap square to melee attack. Triangle doesn't do much beyond calling up your current stats. You can cycle through your shoulder wheels by holding or tapping L1 and R1, and for the most part you use L2 and R2 to execute them. Start is simply your pause menu, while select brings up "Facebook," where you can cycle through the tabs with L/R2 and submenus with L/R1.

To my knowledge, there is no online component to TSOT, nor is there any level-related DLC. There are a couple of DLC packs with extra costumes, and you can also get avatars and the other usual crap from PSN.

Regarding difficulty, the game offers casual, normal and hardcore modes, which can be changed at any time with the slider in your options. I played on normal, and honestly found battles quite tricky in the early game. My inexperience mixed with more than two foes usually meant the battle was going to be a struggle. The difficulty curve kept up well with the rest of the game; enemies that were eventually a breeze for me became much more difficult later on. I found I'd really have to pay attention to equipment and add ons in order to be comfortable. And towards the end of the game, I found battles really long and repetitive, and dependent on a lot of healing and revive items. It got to be pretty annoying. As for everything else: easy peasy. The game is fluid and easy to understand once you get acquainted with "Facebook".

Again with the no play clock! This has seriously become one of my biggest gaming pet peeves! So far as I can gather (from my save files) it took me about 16 hours to beat TSOT, with a lot of effort in 100%-ing. It felt like much longer, in a good way! The game keeps you so busy that you feel like you're really accomplishing a lot, but it turns out you've only actually been playing a short amount of time. By all accounts, TSOT is not a long game by RPG standards, but it is jam-packed with things to do, so I don't mind this at all.

I've already pointed out a lot of things that hurt the gameplay in TSOT so far. The game definitely suffers from some major lag** and long loading times, too, which also harms the sound, as I mentioned before. Additionally, sometimes I noticed the controls would sort of... get stuck. I'd be pushing in the direction I wanted to go, but my character would just hit an invisible wall and wander along the opposite axis. That got irritating real fast, and there were some occasions in which I thought my game had frozen, but it was just stuck. It seems to me the whole game is in a need of some serious smoothing out. Luckily, the charm and humor help mask these problems when you experience them one at a time, but over all, the game suffers.

**In the video: you notice at the beginning how I'm just standing there for a long time? I was actually waiting for "facebook" to load.

In the end, the creative aspects of the game are a home run, the developer aspects… not so much. But what I really love most about TSOT is how possible it is in real life. Obviously you'd require a massive, overactive imagination, but the idea of using various snacks as healing items, homemade costumes and weapons, an agreed upon HP system et al. just speaks to my inner 10-year-old. I wish we were this creative when I was young!
If you're anywhere in the vicinity of "South Park fan" as I am, go ahead and get this game. There are a lot of things wrong with it, yes, but you'll be so immersed in SP lore that when you're finished the game, none of those issues will stand above your laughter and delight. It's the countless references and reminders of the show that make Stick of Truth a super phun thyme. If you're not a SP fan, or are generally sensitive and easily offended, obviously this is not for you. Also, why are you here? That's odd. Anyhow, TSOT is available on 360 and PS3, and the discs aren't too hard to track down if you just pop into your local GameStop (or like-minded game store). You can also get it on PSN - it's frequently on sale there. The game is on PC, too, but as per usual, I'm the last person to consult on such things. I expect it's available on Steam...?
At E3 this year, it was announced that there will be another SP game, hysterically titled The Fractured But Whole. For better or worse, Obsidian won't be a part of development this time, but I do believe it will again be helmed by Parker and Stone, and published by Ubisoft. This time the kids take on their superhero personas from the show, rather than their fantasy creations, but either way, I'm in! The worst case scenario is that it's funny, so…

Also, if you recall at the beginning of this whole thing, I mentioned that I had never played a South Park game before. This is largely due to the fact that until rather recently, I wasn't even aware that there were any! As a matter of fact, there are at least five previous releases, including the titular one released on N64, Chef's Luv Shack, South Park Rally and two Xbox Live Arcade titles: Let's Go Tower Defense Play! and Tenorman's Revenge. The only one I was even vaguely aware of before this year was the N64 title, but I have never come across it in my travels. Is it any good? Let me know!

LOTIPS
  • Doors, cupboards, drawers and everything else will feature gold handles if they're able to be opened!
  • Glimmering things should be shot.
  • Fart on everything. And everyone. Because why not? (Especially fire. Always fart on fire!)
  • Oh, and, uh, you fart by rotating the right stick. If you didn't get that earlier…
  • Shoot elves and other enemies before battle to stun them, thus giving you an advantage.
  • If you couldn't retrieve all the loot off a dead guy, it'll likely still be there if you come back, just in the form of a small bag rather than a "dead" body.
  • Don't forget to bring a towel!
*I realize the quality of the video is lackluster at best. It turns out capturing PS3 footage is a little tricker than other systems, and the quality of the video suffered as a result. I've already looked into better options for future videos, so if it pleases and sparkles, let me off the hook this time.

6 comments:

  1. Great review, Lo! I haven't watched South Park in years. I loved it when it first came out and I remember seeing the movie with a lot of excitement, but at some point I stopped watching the show. Probably around the same time I got out of The Simpsons.

    That said, the gameplay video you recorded made the game look pretty fun! I'll admit I was confused by the control wheel thingy, but I'm sure it makes sense after tutorials and all that.

    It certainly looks like a good game for the big SP fan out there. Very cool stuff!

    I think I played the N64 game back in the day and I don't recall it being very good, but it'd probably be cheap these days.

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    1. The show has had its ups and downs, but unlike so many others, their integrity has never wavered, so I'm willing to overlook a few bum episodes. I think I did a pretty good job complaining about some of the gameplay faults, but when you love the show as much as I do, it's pretty easy to let it go and just have fun. It definitely fits the mold! And I really need to get my paws on the N64 game!

      Thanks as always, Ry!

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  2. Very thorough and extensive review Lo. I haven't watched Southpark in ages, not since the first couple of seasons. Your a really fantastic writer!

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    1. Thanks for putting up with my crap, Duke!

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  3. Nice review Lo! I hate not having a game clock too. None of the South Park games you mentioned at the end are good. If you can get the first one for the N64 for a few bucks it is okay for about an hour just to relive the jokes from the first season in a different way. It gets very repetive fast though.

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    1. That seems to be the general consensus regarding the N64 game. But if I can put up with TSOT's faults, I'm sure I can tolerate that one, so long as there are fart jokes. I'll keep my eyes peeled for a cheap copy. Thanks, Marv!

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