E3: 'South Park: The Stick of Truth' Looks Surprisingly Good
'South Park: The Stick of Truth' captures the vulgar humor and cleverness of the show.
That role-playing game "South Park: The Stick of Truth," delivers clever, lowbrow toilet humor in spades is not too surprising. What's impressive is that underneath the crass dialogue and gorgeous graphics, "The Stick of Truth" appears to be a very good game that could easily stand on its own merits — a first for a "South Park" video game.
Just about anyone who's turned on a TV in the last 15 years is probably at least marginally familiar with "South Park," the incredibly vulgar animated sitcom that hides timely social critiques behind a thick veil of fart jokes, gruesome violence and over-the-top disrespect for every race, religion and sexuality under the sun.
Game developer Ubisoft demonstrated how "The Stick of Truth" would honor the show's spirit at E3 conference in Los Angeles. The demo begins, as so many episodes do, in South Park Elementary School. Rather than playing as existing characters from the show, the game puts players in control of a new student, dubbed "Commander Douchebag" by Eric Cartman, one of the show's main four characters.
The Commander finds himself in the middle of a war that's broken out in the school between two factions competing for the titular Stick of Truth — an artifact that holds either great power, or just provides a plot device for 8-year-old boys to fight over. Green-hatted Kyle leads the peaceful Elves, while Cartman has taken control of the belligerent Wizards. The Commander recruits series regular Butters into his party and sets out, under Cartman's orders, to stop Kyle.
The game looks exactly like the show, and the animation retains its occasionally jerky feel. All of the series regulars reprise their voice roles, and the music sounds like a parody of the epic tracks in games like "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim."
Other games based on TV shows have had good production values and still fallen far short of their source material. Not "The Stick of Truth." The gameplay appears to be just as much fun as developer Obsidian's previous efforts, which include genre classics like "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II" and "Fallout: New Vegas."
The Commander and Butters wander the school, occasionally stopping to do battle with the students from the Elven faction. These fights play out a little like the battles in traditional role-playing games like the "Final Fantasy" series. The Commander and Butters select their actions from a menu, and take turns trading blows with the opposing students. If things get rough, they can dip into a pool of special attacks or heal themselves with items or magic.
It wouldn't be "South Park" if characters were content to fight using traditional swords and fireballs, though. Instead, the Commander attacks enemies with his uncanny ability to unleash farts of varying lethality. Other characters can hit with hammers, heal with water bottles and hack away with chainsaws.
Fighting is also not as simple as selecting an attack and waiting for it to take effect. To keep players involved, each attack requires a special sequence of buttons to maximize damage. When the Commander lets one rip, the player will have to hit the "confirm" button repeatedly to make the fart even bigger. You control Butters' attacks by rotating the control stick quickly to build up strength and hitting "confirm" when prompted.
These abilities all came in handy when the demo reached its conclusion. As the Commander and Butters reach Kyle's stronghold, Kyle urges them to turn on Cartman and the Wizards, citing Cartman's obvious intent to do evil as justification.
After a string of anti-Semitic invective that would make Mel Gibson blush, the Commander squares off against Cartman, culminating in lighting their farts on fire and trying to create the bigger blast, "Dragon Ball Z"-style. "Final Fantasy," this is not.
For fans of the show, "The Stick of Truth" is definitely a title to keep an eye on. Even fans of traditional role-playing games might want to monitor this one, as it skewers the conventions of their favorite genre while delivering a surprisingly faithful homage to them. Just be warned: If you have a modicum of good taste, prepare to feel offended, but don't feel too bad if you laugh at the same time.