South Park: Stick of Truth hands-on - faeces and fan service in Obsidian's puerile RPG
It's quickly clear that the long-awaited South Park RPG will be as puerile and divisive as the TV series when you have to pick a character class and can choose warrior, thief, wizard and "Jew". This is an RPG that lets you complete a minigame to successfully poo, and then gives you the option to deploy the "shit nugget" in combat to make meth-head attackers vomit uncontrollably. Your reaction to that example will tell you everything you need to know about how much you'll enjoy South Park. I enjoyed it quite a lot.
You play a new kid in town, recruited into a LARPing game run by Cartman. A band of Elves (other kids) have stolen the game's crucial relic, The Stick of Truth (a featureless twig) At the behest of your clan's grand wizard (Cartman, of course), you must team up with a friends and hunt down the thieves.
The quest gives you a loose enough excuse to freely roam the entire town, which is full of sidequests, treasure and familiar faces from the show. I wandered North and found Al Gore hiding behind a bush. I found Phil Collins' Oscar behind a mouldy cubena seat. I ventured into Kenny's garage and battled Meth addicts for a bag of strong coffee. Each quest introduces you to new characters, who become friends on a Facebook-style social network. You can bring up the menu to see updates from characters you've met throughout the game, and in some cases, team up with them to fight.
Combat is turn-based in the classic JRPG style, augmented with real-time button presses a la Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga. Incoming attacks can be weakened with a well-timed tap of the 'defend' key and attacks will do critical damage if you tap accurately to some flashing visual cues. Battle items like the aforementioned "shit nugget" are also useful. Healing artifacts (bags of crisps) work as you'd expect, and characters can be revived with the reverent wave of a taco.
It's a simple system complicated slightly by enemy stances. Warriors in a riposte stance instantly counter-attack close combat moves, so must be dealt with at range with magic spells, a bolt from a toy bow or a backstab. Enemies also deploy in ranks. A tramp ambushed me in the back of a lorry and fought behind a vanguard of pet rats. I had to eliminate the rodents before I could whack him to unconsciousness (death?) with my pretend wooden shiv. I was backed up by stammering support mage, Butters, who devastated the rats with magic.
There's an inventory system, too, which lets equip stat-boosting clothes and weapons. My version of the new kid - dubbed "Douchebag" by Cartman - was a tiny grey haired child with bags under his eyes. That image was soon obscured by blue warpaint, aviator shades and a Viking helmet. Like most of South Park's systems, the gear system feels like an RPG-lite.
It really is an impressive facsimile of the show. The layered papery caricatures are perfectly reconstructed, wobbly walking animations and all. The game shares the show's voice talent, the writing is sweary and sharp. I didn't see any evidence of branching quest-lines or narrative forks, and combat was trivial, but it's fine fan service.