Tuesday, May 30, 2017

South Park: The Stick Of Truth Review

PS4 Pro on 50 inch Seiki 4K TV.

I've never watched an entire episode of South Park, so I'm not at all familiar with the show, but I wanted to play this RPG (role-playing game), especially after a friend hyped it up. The trailer for the game I saw was humorous and otherwise promising. However, I didn't seek it out after reported issues of bugs, frame-rate problems and crashes on all the last-generation platforms and PC.

I was excited when I learned that digitallpre-ordering the upcoming South Park: The Fractured But Whole gets you a free digital code of the remastered version of The Stick of Truth for either the PS4 or Xbox One, immediately downloadable. If you prefer to have the physical disc and you can wait, the digital code for The Stick of Truth will be in the box. Reading reviews, prior adopters universally said that this remaster is a huge improvement. You cannot buy The Stick of Truth separately.

You play as a blank-slate character, by intention, called, by the South Park boys, "Douchebag." Every time Douchebag responds to an NPC (non-playable character) by staring mutely, there's a well-timed awkward pause and the NPC comments on that, starting with his parents, which is always funny whenever it occurs. I played as a cute African-American boy, which turned out to be a smart decision, since Douchebag is friends with the group's leader of sorts, Eric Cartman, improbably a Grand Wizard of the KKK. Since I didn't know beforehand that he was a racist, the surprise was satirically amusing. Further, it was a no-brainer to play as a game-unique Jew-class character, rather than as a member of the usual RPG classes of fighter, mage, or thief. As an African-American Jew in the game, I further alienated Cartman, and he said we couldn't be friends, which made me laugh.

The story and characters are very funny, but I wasn't dying to find out what would happen to any of them, or how the story will play out as I would with all the other RPGs I have played. There are missable achievements/trophies, but none are based on difficulty level. You can obtain them all in one playthrough, and if that's your goal, guides are essential, as well as liberal use of manual saves, of which you have 50. I like this missable guide, because it's short and to the point with minimal spoilers. The only thing it didn't mention is: do NOT sell anything until you get the Hoarder achievement/trophy.

There were no issues with frame-rate and the animations were nicely done. I laughed when I saw Douchebag's parents walk, as they were tottering, almost appearing to fall down. I believe that's the usual animation for adults in the TV show, but for a newcomer like me, it was unexpectedly funny. The graphics are good, and resemble those of the television show. I'm sure The Fractured But Whole will have even better graphics.

My game crashed twice in 20 hours of gameplay. The first time was when I kept loading to get a trophy. The second time was near the end, before the final dungeon, when the screen went blank. Due to auto-save, crashes were not an issue, since you can reload from the last checkpoint. On top of that, you have a generous 50 slots for manual saves. My experience was not really affected as only minimal progress was lost.

In terms of gameplay, it is turn-based with real-time elements. Unlike other RPGs, you get two moves per turn, but only if you attack last. The first action, you can use an item, or one of the designated special skills that your party member has, and then the second, you attack. Also, unlike many RPGs, your party consists of two members. You start with Butters, a Paladin, and then other characters open up, which I won't name here to avoid spoilers. You control both.

Early on when you're underpowered, the battles are interesting. You become overpowered very quickly in the game, so battles become less interesting. There are 4 different types of attacks: melee, range, Abilities, and Magic attacks. With every attack, you have to press a button on time, and it's satisfying when you get the perfect hit in, which confers bonuses. If you whiff the timing, you won't do as much damage. As for blocking enemy attacks, you need to press A (Xbox) or X (PS4) to guard whenever you see a circle under your character. Bosses may have special attacks, so guarding will involve various QTEs, an example being mashing a button as quickly as possible.

The game does an excellent, unobtrusive job telling you what buttons you need to press and when, so you don't have to memorize anything. There's strategy as to whether you should use melee, range, Abilities or Magic, depending on the enemy's stance, whether they wear armor or have shields, and their positions in the two rows. The attack strategy is intuitive and explained well in the tutorial.

As mentioned above, you chose your class: Fighter, Jew, Mage or Thief. Whichever you chose, the game is not challenging on normal, so you can't go wrong with your choice. Also, you really don't have to fret about what Abilities to level up. Abilities are special, powerful attacks that consume the intentionally named "PP" meter. 

Since you can only max out three out of the five Abilities, my general recommendation is to chose the three that most interest you. The maximum character level is 15 which I was able to reach 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through, without any grinding.

In addition to melee, ranged and Abilities, later on in the game, you're introduced to Magic attacks, namely the various Farts, that get upgraded with story progression. Magic consumes the mana bar, and it tends to be the most powerful attack that you have, unless the enemy is resistant to the status effect, "Grossed Out". The game also offers a tutorial on how to use Magic attacks.

Using Magic attacks (Farts) outside of battle, however, is not as intuitive as it is in battle. I had to look up how to use the "Sneaky Squeaker" and the "Nagasaki". Farts outside of battle are used to break walls, set fires, and so forth. Further, you will need to Fart on animals, your party members, authority figures, and downed enemies if you want some of the achievements/trophies. 

Your equipment has level designations. For some reason, I've never seen a weapon or armor at level 15; the highest was 14. Equipment, whether armor or weapon, can have anywhere between zero to two slots for patches. They give you extra defensive and/or offensive bonuses. An example is adding 50 extra fire attack upon a perfectly timed attack.

Another way to level up is by making friends. Once you reach a certain number you can buy perks. The most helpful perk is when if you use the revive potion, it restores the person to full health. You make friends through the main quest, side quests, and talking to them in town.

In your town, it is fun to explore outside, and you can enter homes and stores. I found it addictive to knock over parking meters and trashcans and often be awarded money. There are friends and treasures often cleverly tucked away in the environment. To earn some friends and items, you need to have special powers that are obtained through the story progression--so if you can't get to one, you'll have to wait until you get the power. The creators report that in the upcoming The Fractured But Whole, they want to make the world even more explorable, which is something I look forward to, though they already did a nice job with The Stick of Truth.

The combat isn't fully satisfying, but this was offset by the creative, diverse dungeons enhanced by puzzle elements. One such dungeon not only had the usual fun puzzles, but also a well-done disgusting atmosphere that can gross one out. Another example that's not dungeon-related is when you make Douchebag poop (a rather effective item that you can fling at enemies), that feels so viscerally real that I have him take a shower whenever it's available!

There are 20 side quests, of which one is missable. Most of the side quests are funny. You gain Allies through some of the quests whom you can summon in combat to demolish your enemies, limited to once a day (the game consists of 3 days). In other side quests, you get items as expected. You become friends with all the people you helped.

The developers did a brilliant job with pace. If it were any longer, I might have lost interest. When the game made it clear that you're about to face the final boss, I immediately thought, "that was good timing".

Conclusion: The Stick of Truth is a fun game, and I feel that the highlights are the humor, and the overworld and dungeon-design, which often require puzzle-solving and awards-exploration. The battles quickly become less satisfying since you soon become overpowered, and the story and characters are not nearly as captivating as those in other RPGs, all of which keeps The Stick of Truth from being a great game.

Recommendations: I would recommend pre-ordering if you're a huge South Park fan and you want to replay this game on your current gen console, since the remastered version has been improved significantly. The game is also recommended if you want to play an obnoxiously funny game and you're not worried about combat, story and character development. I don't regret my purchase, and I'm looking forward to The Fractured But Whole.

Rating: B-, Good

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