Archive for March, 2014

SouthParkTheStickOfTruth

Let’s get two things out of the way straight off the bat. One; TSOT has some loading issues. I mean some serious loading issues. I don’t know why Obsidian find it so hard to ship a game before ironing all of the creases out of the finished product, but hey, that’s life. Now I don’t mean loading issues as in that the game is stuck on a loading screen for five minutes when you enter a shop. In that regard the game performs admirably. I mean that every time you move from one screen to another, or things get a bit hectic in battle, boy oh boy does this game lag and slow down to a near halt. An issue further exacerbated in a battle system that requires precise timing to pull off moves. Two; whoever was in charge of writing the magic tutorials in this game needs to be hung, drawn and quartered. Throughout your time in South Park you will be taught various magical fart techniques from different characters. Taught poorly I might add. As you mess up an instruction for the twentieth time only to have the npc chastise you and then explain to you again in a long vague manor makes for some incredibly frustrating moments.

PHEW! Glad I got that off my chest! Because here’s the thing, it might sound like I’m attacking TSOT, I’m not. I just needed to get those two niggles out of the way so we could focus on what makes The Stick Of Truth one of the funniest, well written and enjoyable licenced games of all time. Let’s begin shall we?

As I just said TSOT is one of, if not the, funniest game of all time. From the minute you start playing the game to the second you finish watching the credits scroll I guarantee you’ll be in hysterics. The game focuses around you, the new kid in town. After creating you’re character from a very generous character creation screen you are whisked away into Trey Parker and Matt Stones gloriously vulgar and satirical world. As the new kid in town it is your job to do what most new kids in town do. Go out and make friends. And it’s not too long after leaving the confines of your parents’ house you bump into Butters who in turn introduces you to everyone’s favourite fat ass Eric Cartman. It seems that all of the children of South Park are currently playing a Dungeons and Dragons style role playing game which has led to an all-out war over who controls the stick of truth and ultimately the universe.

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As expected, and in true South Park fashion, events quickly spiral out of control as the government, aliens, Nazi zombies and underpants gnomes get involved and swept away on the tide of beautiful ridiculousness. In a master stroke though, it never really leaves behind the fact that the events mostly play out in the background. Never losing sight that the children are just playing a game with each other. Having Matt and Trey write the story was perfect as you could probably easily cut all of the cinematics together and have one of the best seasons of South Park ever made.

The true star of the game is South Park itself. Apart from the occasional slowdown when transitioning from screen to screen it looks and feels exactly like an episode from the television series. From the jilted shuffling way everyone walks, right down to the camera angles and southern twangs on the guitar. Almost every building is open for exploration and literally stuffed to overflowing with references to past episodes. I’m not even kidding. I’m an avid South Park fan and have been since it started and I can’t think of a single character or item that isn’t represented or at least referenced in this game. One of the collectables in the game is the Wild Wacky Action Bike for crying out loud!

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The game doesn’t just draw on past glories to get laughs out of its audience however. It also does one of the best jobs of satirising modern videogame culture I’ve ever seen. From the constant Skyrim references that surround your characters ability to use fart magic, to a very memorable moment on a ufo collecting audio diaries that have been left by a disgruntled prisoner who just whines about the uselessness of audio diaries. It’s very fresh and very very funny. And then there’s Canada. Oh my days Canada! But I’ll let you discover that treat for yourself!

For anyone who played and loved Costume Quest then the battle system will feel like very familiar territory. Also not entirely different from the systems used in the various Mario rpg’s the fighting here is all down to your timing and reaction speed. Casting spells and attacking will require various waggles of the analogue sticks and button presses and defending yourself involves hitting the correct button when an enemy attacks you. It’s not perfect by any means as the response time can seem a bit out of sync and, as I mentioned, if the screen stutters when you’re at a key point in a qte that can sometimes mean a game over screen will shortly follow. Had it been in any other game I would probably be a bit harsher on it. However in a game where fights consist of things like Jimmy playing the ‘brown note’ causing enemies to soil themselves in diarrhoea and Kenny impaling himself by accident on his rainbow unicorn, it’s easy to forgive the game some of these things.

I feel that going into much more detail about what you do and who you meet would spoil some of the surprises that are in store for you, so I think I shall start winding my review down here. One last thing I will mention is the controversy over the censorship in certain scenes of the game. I caved in and paid the extra money to get the American version as I wanted to experience the game in its purest form. I have no personal experience over how the game is affected by taking these moments out. However after talking to a colleague of mine who is playing the UK copy, he said that the ufo scene (the first heavily censored one in the game) ended up feeling disjointed and broken. He is still enjoying the game though so I guess the only real question you need to ask yourself is how much does it mean to you to play the game without the little snippets breaking the immersion for you.

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And so we come to an end of the review. I loved this game. It is definitely not a perfect game and like I said, it has its fair share of frustrations. With that being said I have never laughed out loud so much and so often at a game, or dare I say it, an episode of South Park, as I did whilst playing TSOT. It is a game that will constantly have your jaw on the floor as you move from one outrageous task to the next. And to be honest, any game where I can go into work the next day and casually say that I fought a load of aborted, Nazi, zombie, baby foetuses last night, is a game that I’m proud to have in my collection.

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Strider_2014_box_art

Don’t let the understated and almost mute appearance of Strider fool you in the opening of this game. What is about to follow is one of the most explosive and action packed metroidvania games released in recent memory.

Developed by Double Helix Games, the people who also bought you the Killer Instinct reboot on Xbox One, players once again assume the role of Strider Hiryu in this revisiting of the classic 1989 arcade game. However Double Helix have done more than just take the original and slap a new coat of paint on it. Rather than do that they have completely rebuilt and refocused the game from the ground up.

As I mentioned, Strider is now a metroidvania type game. And why is this a good thing? Well apart from being possibly the greatest videogame genre out there, it now gives us a chance to experience being Strider in his purest form. With the amount of backtracking, exploration and combat now implemented in to the game you really get a feel for being the all-powerful ninja like never before.

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For the first few minutes of the game it’s business as usual. You run from left to right, spamming the attack button. Don’t worry folks, Strider’s trusty Cypher is still in play, and his trademark laser katana makes very short and satisfying work of many of the cyber enemies you face early on. However after a few of the early bosses have been vanquished and you’ve upgraded you’re Cypher and abilities a little, you suddenly realise that this isn’t the Strider of old. As you cast cursory glances over your map you can see that various areas that were previously inaccessible you can now gain access to. Perhaps you had the wrong element Cypher for a certain door that you can now smash through. Or maybe that double jump ability you just acquired will now let you reach an impossible looking ledge from earlier. And this exploration is really where the meat of the game is. Straying from the path is a fun, and to be quite honest, necessary past time. Doing this will gift your Strider with a whole host of new upgrades. Be it energy tanks, health increases or just different costumes. Oh and did I mention that some of the unlockables offer up new bonus challenges outside of the main game? Well they do. These range from timing based platform sections where your nimbleness will really be put to the test. And combat challenges that pit you against ever difficult and challenging enemies.

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Now I say that backtracking is necessary as the difficulty in this game can spike in a couple of places. After you’ve played the game for a couple of hours you will really be getting into the swing of things, annihilating enemies with absolute ease, only to suddenly come up against an insurmountable boss who can obliterate you in a couple of screen filling hits. Now like I said this only happens in a couple of places and can be frustrating even with a fully upgraded Strider. However I believe that it is important to remember that this is and old school game with old school sensibilities. Perseverance and pattern memorisation is the key. Stick with it and the sense of achievement is palpable.

I think that the real place where Strider stumbles is in the music department. The whole affair is a rather muted one, with only a couple of little jingles and sound effects standing out. Honestly if you asked me to hum a tune from the game I couldn’t. Even with the music turned right up to the max in the settings it just seems to fade into the background.

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But with that being said that is the only quibble that I have with what I consider to be a phenomenal reboot. If you had played the Vita or 3DS versions of Batman Arkham Origins earlier on last year but found it to be a bit plodding, dull and trite, then believe me Strider is the shot of adrenaline you need. The well-paced gameplay is perfectly balanced with the, mostly, challenging difficulty curve. Bombastic, crazy, hard and always beautiful to look at it is a game that can without a doubt stand side by side with the likes of Guacamelee!, Metroid and Symphony of the Night.