South Park: The Stick Of Truth gameplay preview – A Song Of Ass And Fire

South Park The Stick Of Truth

When developer Obsidian were announced by THQ as the home of a new South Park The Stick Of Truth RPG, eyebrows the world over were raised to red alert – and with good reason, too. Every previous South Park game had shoehorned the show into a genre that didn’t suit it, while Obsidian’s attempts at making RPG/action mash-ups had gone spectacularly awry in the past (*cough* Alpha Protocol *cough*). But in the last three years of development, through a change in publisher and many a delay, something seems to have clicked. Not only is this a rewarding RPG in its own right, but its also got the potential to be the most authentic South Park game yet.

South Park: The Stick Of Truth gameplay preview

We know what you’re thinking: South Park and an RPG in the same package? They might as well do Games Of Thrones karting game, right? Well, okay we would pay good money to go tearing around King’s Landing but that’s not the point. Obsidian has clearly thought long and hard about striking the right balance between creating a world that’s South Park through and through, while maintaining a gameplay experience that’s simple enough for novices and deep enough for the experienced turn-based battlers out there.

Speaking of combat, the battle system of South Park is far more robust than it appears. We were concerned that the reliance on humour (ahem, fart bombs) would detract from the ebb and flow of combat, but the timing and understanding of how each situation plays out is so mercilessly exact that your attention will be entirely focused on the battle at hand.

South Park The Stick Of Truth

Somehow South Park The Stick Of Truth is true to both its show & RPG roots.

Each encounter is turn-based, with the option to select from each of your enemies if you’re facing a group. Whether engaging in combat on your own or in a party, you can select from a radial wheel containing basic attacks (these come in standard and power varieties and differ depending on the class you choose at the start of the game); Abilities (which are powerful attacks that differ depending on which character you’re playing with); long ranged attacks (which range from The Bow Of Sucking to spell attacks) and your in-combat items (health-giving packets of cheesy poofs, tacos that can revive downed party members and so on).

Choosing the right attack for each enemy is key – archers will line up at a distance meaning that ranged attacks and sneaky abilities (such as the Thief class’ Back Stab attack) are your only option. Parties with a Mage character will have their health constantly rebuffed so dealing with these characters early on is key. Choosing to attack an enemy with extra armour or a Parry state will cost you, and this isn’t here to hold your hand. Fail to take into account the small windows given to counter or defend (show by a brief flash), and you’ll find yourself eating damage all day long.

The character creator wouldn’t look
out of place on one of those ‘Make
yourself in South Park’ boards online

To keep things relatively canon (if that word could ever be used in relation to South Park) you get to create your own ‘new kid’. The character creator wouldn’t look out of place on one of those ‘Make yourself in South Park’ boards online, but it’s simply a box ticked in the RPG camp. Another box ticked is the ability to choose one of five classes – Warrior, Mage, Thief, Cleric and Jew (a kind of monk/paladin class). These tiers dictate your health points (HP) and power points (PP – don’t laugh), as well as the Abilities you have at your disposal. As you level up you can also unlock new and improved Abilities for your class. If you want to gear your little dude up then you can either buy items that match your XP level at various shops or loot them from houses and secrets areas.

South Park The Stick Of Truth

All South Parks characters make an appearance in The Stick Of Truth.

 

Exploration is bound to the 2D rules of the show, but you can still move around in each location. While the game does of a semi-linear path through its world, you can explore each house and location with each area. Cupboards, chests, drawers and boxes that can be plundered will be highlighted in yellow, so if you want to find better gear and collectibles (the various Chinpokomon – complete with that theme – are a neat little touch) be sure to explore every house, shop and new area. And while this does mean you can explore areas and interact with items in both the foreground and background (such as smashing parking meters to collect cash or entering houses in the background of each street) it also has a distinct effect on your relationship with the games numerous battles. Groups of enemies hang around in groups, but these battles can be completely ignored if you choose to pass them by. The real question is how the developers can make this optional battles seem appealing. Winning a confrontation will provide XP to level your character, but a few extra incentives are needed to make them more appealing. Whether its winning items you can only acquire in a battle or reaching a certain XP level to progress further, something is still missing.

We went into our hands-on with South Park: The Stick Of Truth with pretty low expectations considering the poor pedigree South Park has maintained in the past, but after a couple of hours with their latest adventure we’re quietly surprised just how well its come together. It’s certainly now KOTOR II, but it strikes a satisfying balance between an instantly recognisable licence and potentially intimidating genre. It offers a combat system that’s deep enough to appeal to RPG veterans, while offering a huge amount of content for South Park fans. The amount of Easter eggs and jokes hidden in every shop and location is astounding, and few games offer as authentic an experience as this.