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PREVIEW

SOUTH PARK: THE STICK OF TRUTH

Mix Paper Mario, Obsidian and a bunch of swearing eight year olds, and what do you get? Funny enough, a very promising role-playing title (and a chance to set fire to the virtual farts...)

  • Text: Jonas Elfving & Gillen McAllister

"How many times have you watched a South Park show and thought, 'I would like to see this on my TV, connected to my cell phone, which is controlled by my surf board, which is connected to my oven, while I myself sit on the fridge? '"

Of course Matt Stone and Trey Parker would ignore the auto-cue.

The South Park creators weren't the first big names marched out into the glare of Microsoft's E3 Media Briefing, but their spontaneous and non-scripted ribbing of the publisher's SmartGlass tech - unveiled moments before they went on stage - made them the most warmly received.

And their off-the-cuff introduction achieved two things. One, the sharp observation dispelled any notion that these guys were just about puerile jokes and two, they echoed the general feeling in the auditorium, a genuine response in a morning of scripted chatter and jokes.

Not that the satire was unexpected, but it further emphasised that the two, at heart, are as big gamers as the rest of us. It's as easy to see in their animated show, which has spent years making fun of gaming. There's been entire episodes of South Park over the years dedicated to the PSP, Nintendo Wii, Guitar Hero, EA Sports and the World of Warcraft. Now they've opened themselves up to ridicule with a game based on South Park.

Sure, we've seen Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny in games before. But the likes of 1999's South Park Rally or even Tenorman's Revenge deserve the same attention as South Park: The Stick of Truth. This is a different league: it's a retail title being developed by role-playing veterans Obsidian and perhaps most importantly, Matt and Trey are on scripting duties and overseeing production.

You've probably seen the trailer (above) for The Stick of Truth, where the kids of South Park are mimicking the classic role-playing games.
Cartman recounts in dramatic voice how their beloved town was overpowered and destroyed by goblins, underpants gnomes, vampire chicks, hippies and crabfolk. A savior is needed. Kyle offers, with the instant response: "Jews can't be the savior, right?".

The solution is instead "the new kid", a young newcomer played by... Yep, you of course.

The short demo had you choosing an appearance and name (the latter of which, incidentally, is "Douchebag" whatever they write - thank Cartman for it), then a class. There are at least four to choose from: Fighter, Mage, Cleric, and Thief. It remains to be seen whether "Jew" does become a class, something that would be just as politically incorrect as funny.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Douchebag's encouraged by his/her parents to go and find some new friends, because the parents need some private time to "wrestle" for a while. Striking out into the world, we're eventually led by Butters to Cartman, who guides us to his garden headquarters. Within there's a armoury, stables, a lookout point and all the other buildings we'd expect in an RPG. The only difference is that these are built of sand boxes and carelessly crafted wooden tables.

Visually the game's style may be "crappy" (as Matt Stone describes it) but it is superb in its simplicity. The Stick of Truth mimics an episode of the TV series, and although the digital title Let's Go Tower Defence Play has been faithful to the model graphically speaking, this is definitely the best looking South Park game ever. Matt and Trey have also had to map the entire town of South Park, something that's never been touched on in the TV series.

The first mission will be to fix Chinese food for Cartman, but before we decided to go to City Wok (and probably more ethnic jokes) its time to trial the combat system against another group of kids. Here begins a Paper Mario-like battle system where we take turns to attack and defend, using list selections and well-timed button presses. Healing Tacos stacked up against the usual bows and blades (with South Park-inspired touches).

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Obsidian also showed up a fight against a bunch of vampire kids, where a pair of special attacks were demoed. Cartman set fire to the enemy by lighting his own fart and the coup de grace came in summoning Mr.Slave (the S&M loving biker) to perform his special move "Wrecked 'Em" (read it aloud to yourself). We won't go into details, but appalled shock and guilty laughs mixed in equal measure at what results.

What Obsidian and the South Park creators are creating looks very promising. The humor, the visual style and the fighting are everything we'd want: what remains to be seen is the same issue we had with the South Park movie: can the missions remain diverse and the story engaging enough to keep our attention throughout the entire adventure?

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