Trey Parker and Matt Stone gave us some tantalising information on their new South Park title at Xbox's E3 press conference; but they showed precious little actual gameplay.
Not to worry, we managed to secure access to a VIP Microsoft event where the lead developer and producer from Obsidian were demonstrating small scenes of what they've made so far. The title is, of course, still in its early stages, so we were forbidden from taking any pictures. But memory is a powerful thing, and there was enough on offer for us to get a general idea of how South Park: The Stick of Truth is shaping up.
It appears that, at its heart, The Stick of Truth will be a side-scrolling 2D title with significant RPG elements. Parker and Stone were adamant that the game would only proceed if the art style was the same as the TV episodes, and a 2D side-scrolling set up seems entirely appropriate. South Park was never "high brow"; it's heartening to see that its creators feel the same way about its visual style.
This 2D environment does present its challenges, and it's hard making combat sexy with a 2D presentation, but it can be done. In that regard, it doesn't look like South Park is setting out to reinvent the wheel, as enemy encounters appear to follow the tried and true turn-based style we've seen in classic RPGs (like Final Fantasy). Apart from one battle between Cartman and your new character (more on him in a second), as well as two very short side scrolling segments that simply progressed the story, we didn't see much more than that. But it's still early days.
It looks like there will be a reasonable degree of sophistication in the title's weapon loadout and customisation, systems that also suggested serious thought was being put into how the RPG mechanic works. There is a range of armour and weapons to choose from, and all of them come with Parker and Stone's unique twist. For example, in lieu of a sword, your character can equip himself with Cartman's mum's dildo. Apparently it's quite ferocious.
The story itself is tightly anchored in the South Park universe. You play as the "New Kid" who must set about making friends in the quiet mountain town. Sent out onto the street to make friends (while your parents bang in their new bedroom), you have the misfortune of stumbling into Butters. He leads you to Cartman, who is engrossed in the most epic real-life fantasy role playing game ever devised; complete with his own "Camp" (his backyard), a "King's Tower" (a ladder), a "Pool of Vision" (his paddling pool), and the "Royal Stables" (a sandbox with a mangy cat in it.)
Cartman's camp is raided by other 4th graders, who make off with the eponymous stick, and Cartman sets about getting it back. We don't know much more than this, apart from the fact that there are vampire kids and, according to the E3 presentation, Jesus turns up with an M16.
We also don't know much about specific character customisation, but we do know that, in true RPG fashion, there are five classes to choose from; the mage, fighter, ranger, thief, and cleric. Again, Obsidian are covering all the bases and sticking to what's worked before. But that's to be expected; fans will be playing this title not because it is a standard turn-based RPG, but because it hums with the South Park vibe.
Parker and Stone are writing and voicing all the dialog, and it is reflected in the game's idiosyncrasies. You level up from Douchebag to Butthole, for example, and Cartman abuses and taunts enemies during battle as only he can. In one particularly scandalous moment, your character is able to select a power attack. From nowhere saunters Mr. Slave who then sits on the enemy, swallowing them in his cavernous bottom. The producer politely described it as "South Park's version of the banishment spell."
The Stick of Truth is still under development, and we expect many improvements and much new information to be revealed over the coming months. This is the most significant use of the South Park IP since the movie Bigger, Longer and Uncut, and with Parker and Stone on board we are hoping it is as genuine an experience as possible.