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PREVIEW

South Park: The Stick of Truth - Hands-On Impressions

"Funny how?"

If you genuinely ask that of a South Park game, it may not be for you. But to answer anyway: pretty bloody funny. The animated series has skated the divide between smart social commentary and offensive material. The Stick of Truth turns the franchise's gaze to gaming, specifically the turn-based and RPG kind, and makes a mockery of it.
Yet, you can laugh and enjoy the joke, because underneath the genre jibes, is a pretty damn good take on the game type.

Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who have been involved in the game's production, have suggested that Stick of Truth is essentially a new season of the show. It is a fair call - the style and animation looks directly lifted from the series (a success that may seem all too easy to achieve, but the cut-scenes and in-game moments are striking in their authenticity) and the multiple multi-arced storylines that honeycomb the game feel episodic in nature.

South Park: The Stick of Truth
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While the story opens with a grand retelling of the lore behind the titular stick, we quickly switch to the reality; the kids of South Park playing Elves Vs Humans cosplay. It's all tongue-in-cheek but yet at the same time all those involved are wholly convinced of the reality of the quest, both as a nod to MMO cosplayers and to how kids actually become absorbed in this stuff.

You play the new kid in town who's quickly pulled into the Cartman-led faction of Humans and after a quick tutorial, are sent to explore South Park to recruit a band of warriors, between which you uncover sub-quests and get repeatedly jumped by bands of elves.

The quest lines are ridiculous, yet no less truthful to the series. Aiding a would-be warrior with a supply run for his dad's coffee shop, another recovering a lost iPad to allow someone to be let out of the house to join the war.

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You're joined, to begin, by Butters, who's Thor-like status is proven only if you manage to time your button taps correctly during the turn-based combat to call lightning down from the sky. It's the same with any weapon or move; selecting magic or melee attacks from a circular wheel isn't the end of your turn. Timed weapon flashes will be your cue to add some extra damage. Even from the very first battles, hitting these correctly is near-essential to survival. Enemy attacks - which can be blocked as well, if timed right - are powerful, and your recovery snacks are severely limited.

Battles are tough, but it's welcome to see. South Park is clearly serious in its piss-take of RPG convention, suggesting that even if the jokes wear thin, the combat options will just deepen over time. Weapons can be upgraded, as to can skills.

Exploration of different houses and retail stores yield cash and supplies, as well as currently sealed off areas, that'll obviously become open through later plot points. We're interested to see how much further South Park opens up as an explorable world; as it is we've seen a good stretch of its neighbourhoods and retail streets already.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

But on every corner, through every door, there lingers the same oddball, offensive - stomach-hurting - humour. Just one example: discovering a potential pervert lurking in the bushes to be Al Gore in disguise, who's tracking a ManBearPig about town - but who also hopes to hit you up on Facebook to check out your pictures.

Series' fans will spot plenty of cameos and locations, but there's also a cracking, and deep, combat system in place, with timed counter-attacks, special abilities and rock hard battles making for gameplay that is, to badly paraphrase the show, pretty sweet.From our new hands-on, the game's gone from a tie-in novelty to a must play. Even if we feel guilty for laughing.

South Park: The Stick of Truth
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