Next-gen graphics? Innovative controls? Nonsense. The best thing I've seen at E3 so far is a video game based on an animated TV show.
Likely you've heard of South Park, the immensely popular, surprisingly insightful, almost-always-hilarious Comedy Central cartoon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. You may have even played one of the old Acclaim-published South Park video games that even Parker and Stone say sucked. Maybe you've lamented the lack of proper South Park games, wondering why there are none as compelling and entertaining as the show itself.
South Park: The Stick of Truth, which I got to see for a few minutes at a Microsoft press event earlier this week, could very well be that game. I haven't played it, but from the brief clips I saw at the show, The Stick of Truth seems like just the game this series deserves.
Here's what you should know about the upcoming RPG, listed in bullet-point form for your reading pleasure:
- Series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are writing the whole script, and it shows. Characters in the game talk like they do on the show—Butters is nebbish, Cartman is obstreperous, and even minor characters like Clyde sound authentic. It's a drastic shift from the old South Park games, which featured nothing but endless catchphrases like "You killed Kenny!"
- And don't worry, the South Park humor is all there. You're quickly introduced to Scott Malkinson, a minor character from the show who says he has the power of diabetes. "It's both a gift and a curse," he says. "Mostly a curse."
- You play as the new kid in town. As the game opens up, you and your parents hop off a moving truck and enter your brand new home in South Park. Your parents tell you they're going upstairs to "wrestle" and you are immediately tasked with finding new friends. If you try to go back into the house, your dad pops his naked torso out the window and screams at you to go make some friends.
- Parker and Stone are voicing every character like they do on the show. It's great.
- Your character bounces across the two-dimensional landscape, moving in genuine, shoddily-animated South Park fashion. If you've ever wanted to be inside the show, this is the closest you'll get.
- You run into Butters, a local paladin. He says the wizard wants to see you.
- Butters leads us to the game's first town, introducing us to some of the game's characters and showing us the makeshift, ramshackle "town" that is basically a bunch of tents on a playground. The main idea behind the game is that everybody is playing RPG, and everyone gets really into it.
- The wizard is Cartman. He asks for your name. You type it in.
- "You entered 'Douchebag,'" Cartman says. "Correct?"
- No matter what you say your name is, Cartman will call you Douchebag. This is the perfect way to bypass an annoying game design problem—voice acting player-entered names. Imagine if Final Fantasy X characters all just called Tidus "Douchebag." Instantly better game.
- BTW, The Stick of Truth is developed by Obsidian, the studio behind games like Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol. They know their RPGs.
- After entering your name, you get to pick one of four classes: Fighter, Mage, Thief, and Cleric. No word on the fifth class (which is "Jew").
- You can interact with some of the objects in Cartman's tent, like a giant blow-up doll. When you hit the doll with your weapon, its genitals flop around. South Park!
- Cartman says your first quest is to go get him some kung pao chicken at City Wok. But wait! A messenger runs into the room! There are elves attacking the city!
- The school bullies are all wearing fake elf ears. It's at this point we get our first glimpse at the game's combat system, which is essentially Paper Mario. It's turn-based with button-timed attacks. You can use timed button pushes to block, do more damage, and use special items.
- Special items in the game include "Fucking Ninja Stars" and a "Vibroblade," which is a pink strap-on dildo. The producer says we got it from Cartman's mom.
- You can also use a variety of equipment—there are slots for your head, your body, your hands, and your accessories. There seem to be a ton of ways to customize your South Park avatar.
- We take down the elves and jump forward to one of the game's other areas, a goth vampire-filled mausoleum. There's a memorial to Ms. Diane Choksondik (R.I.P.).
- BTW, there's also a Metroidvania aspect to Stick of Truth; you collect items, like bottle rockets, and you can use them to interact with the environment and open up new locations. You have to use a bottle rocket to open the door to this mausoleum.
- We fight a goth vampire boss and his goth vampire minions. Cartman is in our party for this battle, and we get to see some of his special abilities, like Burning Cloud. Obviously, this ability is Cartman pulling down his pants and farting a cloud of fire at a group of enemies.
- To take out the boss, we can summon Mr. Slave. He sucks enemies into his butt.
- After the boss fight, the demo is over. I really, really want to play this game.
- South Park: The Stick of Truth is out next March for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Hopefully publisher THQ survives until then.