During the Microsoft Press Conference Trey Parker and Matt Stone gave us some tantalising information on their new South Park title, but they showed precious little actual gameplay.
Not to worry, NZGamer.com managed to secure access to a VIP Microsoft event where the lead developer and producer from Obsidian were showing off 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 the memory is a powerful thing, and there was enough on offer for us to get a general idea of how South Park is shaping up.
It appears that at its heart South Park will be a side scrolling 2D title with significant RPG elements. Parker and Stone were adamant that the game only proceed if the art style was the same as the episodes. As a consequence of South Park's unique visual layout, a 2D side scrolling set up seems entirely appropriate. South Park was never "high brow". Its heartening to see that its creators feel the same way about its visual style.
This 2D environment does present its challenges, and its hard making combat sexy. within a 2D mechanic but it can be done. So far it doesn't look like South Park is going to be reinventing the wheel. Enemy encounters appear to follow the tried and true turn based style we've seen in classic RPGs such as Final Fantasy. Apart from one battle between Cartman and your new character (more on him in a second) and two very short side scrolling segments - that simply progressed the story - we didnt see much more than that. But its early days
But it does look like there will be a reasonable degree of sophistication in the titles weapon loadout and customisation. We did see evidence of serious thought being put into how the RPG mechanic works. There are a range of armours 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 its quite ferocious.
The story itself is closely anchored to the South Park Universe. You play as the "New Kid" who must set about making friends in South Park. Sent out onto the street to make friends (while your parents bang in thier new bedroom) you have the misfortune of stumbling into Budders. He leads you on to Cartman who is engrossed in the most epic real life fantasy role playing game ever devised - complete with his own "Camp"(his backyard) with a "Kings 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 "Stick of Truth", 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 Microsoft's 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 style there are 5 classes to choose from; the mage, fighter, ranger, thief and cleric. Again, Obsidian are covering all the bases and sticking to whats worked before. But thats to be expected. Fans will be playing this title not because it is a standard turnbased RPG, but because it hums with the South Park vibe - and on that point there are promising signs. Parker and Stone are writing and voicing all the dialog, and it is reflected in the game's idiosyncracies. You level 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 described it as "South Park's version of the banishment spell" - a rather polite understatement.
Our lasting impression of South Park was of a title with its own unique take on an old formula. South Park is still under development, and we expect many improvements over the coming months. This is the most significant use of the South Park IP since the South Park movie ten years ago, but with Parker and Stone on board we are hoping it is as genuine a South Parker experience as possible.
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NZGamer.com appears at E3 2012 thanks to Orcon Broadband.
The Good: Sticking to the style of the series
The Bad: There's still a while to go
The Ugly: One super attack was described as an "anal banishment"