Tag Archives: Ubisoft

South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

March 5, 2014

South Park: The Stick of Truth

After 17 seasons of assaulting society’s collective sense of decency, South Park is sometimes in danger of collapsing beneath its own reputation. When the team is firing on all cylinders, it’s a furious maelstrom of provocative insight. When it’s misfiring, you’re reminded that scatological humor is kind of dull when it doesn’t have a purpose.

In other words, a South Park video game with input from creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone carries weighty expectations. You enter thinking South Park: The Stick of Truth should leave an impact, that it won’t be good unless it so offends and delights your sensibilities that you won’t be able to look at other games the same way again.

And that’s more or less what happens. Just not for the reasons you’re expecting. The best aspects of the Stick of Truth are actually (relatively) subtle. Small details hold the game together, an achievement that will likely be under-appreciated next to the handful of show-stopping set pieces.

Despite those highs, the game isn’t as riotously consistent as the scripted television show. The Stick of Truth is a role-playing game, which means you spend much of the 15-hour run time walking around searching for stuff to click on. I’d recommend it to gamers before fans of South Park, if only because RPGs typically require more patience.

But The Stick of Truth is intended for fans of both, and to that extent the brand is unmistakable. I rolled a Jew, a character class that seems to be an amalgamation of various control-based strategies, with attacks like Jew-Jitsu and Circum-scythe that double as pretty spectacular puns.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

The humor, um, sticks because The Stick of Truth gets the game stuff right, to the point that it trusts the mechanics to hold your attention when the jokes and pace start to lag. It’s not perfect. The combat is simple, the difficulty low, and the game too reliant on quick time events with short windows. But none of those issues are deal breakers. The design is successful because it rapidly ceases to be noteworthy.

The developers have streamlined a bloated genre, removing dialogue trees while taking advantage of the South Park pedigree. Almost everything is fully voiced, and the robust cast provides a depth often lacking in interactions with NPCs. When you’re inserted into the narrative at the beginning – you’re the new kid – you get the sense that the town carries on just fine whenever you’re not around.

Thematically, the LARP-gone-awry plot draws heavily on episodes like ‘Towelie’ and ‘The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers,’ both of which poked fun at various aspects of nerd behavior. The critiques were sharper on the show than they are here, at least partly because the material no longer feels original.

That’s the game’s biggest shortcoming. At times, The Stick of Truth feels like a Greatest Hits record, with special guest appearances from Al Gore, Mr. Hankey, and the Chinpokomon (now with tour dates in Canada!).

Fortunately, the creators of The Book of Mormon are leagues ahead of most of the self-styled humorists in gaming. The writers push every gag a step beyond where it was left on TV, often with a nod to interactivity. Going goth, for instance, now demands that you purchase the proper equipment to look the part, while an alien anal probe doubles as a teleport.

That’s ultimately what sells the project. The Stick of Truth embraces the medium, recognizing that even the most basic actions take on more complex connotations when you’re an active participant rather than a passive viewer. Like Bigger, Longer, and Uncut – a film about rating standards in the movie industry – The Stick of Truth is a video game about interactive entertainment, ruthlessly skewering social media and concepts like the silent protagonist and the nature of in-game currency.

South Park: The Stick of TruthWhat’s surprising is how well the commentary is blended with the interactive mechanics that make The Stick of Truth an honest to goodness video game. The most effective takedowns aren’t the result of shock humor or parody. Rather, The Stick of Truth manages to lead by example. It does a few specific things better than the RPGs it’s ostensibly mocking, and in the process draws attention to the almost pathological lack of creativity in the genre.

That might also be an accident. Whereas the codex in a game like Dragon Age exists to fill in details that aren’t otherwise provided, South Park’s extensive history does most of the world building with a user interface that’s essentially Facebook. You unlock combat perks as you gain more friends, and you gain friends whenever you complete a side quest.

The elegant construction infuses every quest with a purpose beyond the experience and loot you get along the way, and it makes you realize that the current RPG vanguard values grind over humanity. Why do quest logs feel like chores rather than favours? If RPG background information is so important, why is it relegated to obnoxious pop-up notifications in the upper corner of the screen?

South Park flips the other way, and the result is a wholly organic and internally consistent RPG world that makes you feel like a resident of South Park rather than a tourist. Instead of dwelling on the business-like routine of the genre – go here, kill thing, repeat – you’re able to focus on the motivations of the people assigning the quests. What do they want from you and why do they want it?

If you know the show you’ll know the answers, but it’s still fun to hear the actors say it. Even if most quests are go here, kill thing, repeat.

That’s the paradox at the heart of The Stick of Truth. It feels slightly less daring than the average episode of South Park, but the comfortable familiarity serves as a structural foundation that elevates tired material and boosts the show to a new set targets. Yes, you’ve seen these characters before. That means the game doesn’t have to explain who they are, which in turn makes it much easier to engage.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

If the show exists to mock society from afar, the game makes you aware of how much more ridiculous and arbitrary everything becomes when you actually have to do it yourself. I’ve now performed tasks that I never expected to do in a video game, which highlights how few chances major publishers are willing to take.

The Stick of Truth will be remembered precisely because it is fearless. It’s capable of scenes that transcend every kind of wrong, culminating in a breathtakingly memorable boss fight against an entirely forgettable opponent. (When and where carry extraordinary significance.)

Of course, there’s a wealth of subject matter yet to be tackled in video games and The Stick of Truth doesn’t fill the void. Then again, it’s not really trying to. South Park is a media gadfly, a pest calling attention to problems without necessarily trying to solve them. For a group of TV veterans the game is a diversion, and wisely doesn’t attempt anything it can’t manage.

It’s still a worthwhile endeavour. While other AAA games demand that you live out the fantasies of action heroes and rock stars, The Stick of Truth gleefully encourages you to experience less glamorous lines of work. It drags any self-important notions of games as art down into the muck, and that’s exactly what makes it wonderful.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is a welcome reminder that the games industry could use a little more indecency.

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Thought Bubble: Tom Clancy’s Legacy of Violence

December 18, 2013

Ubisoft Toronto knocked one out of the park with Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist. But in the real world, violence, guns and the military’s portrayal in popular media remains a complicated topic. Eric investigates where the two intersect. Continue reading

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Assassin’s Creed IV: A Pirate’s Life For Me

December 11, 2013

THOUGHT BUBBLE: Eric digs deep into Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and finds life lessons about work ethic, libertarianism, Occupy Wall Street and commercialism. Is the pirate-Assassin’s lifestyle the most satisfying kind out there? Continue reading

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The C_ntrollers Play: Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

By Dork Shelf
November 28, 2013

This week the C_ntrollers play Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag from Ubisoft. Expect lots of YARRS and jokes about poop decks. Continue reading

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Gamercamp 2013: Ubisoft’s Jill Murray Talks Assassin’s Creed

November 27, 2013

Our Gamercamp video interview with veteran Assassin’s Creed scribe Jill Murray. Continue reading

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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Preview

October 25, 2013

Ubisoft brought out the palm trees, Jolly Rogers and bottles of rum for a preview of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Read Eric’s initial impressions of the latest game in Ubisoft’s flagship series. Continue reading

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Interview: Splinter Cell Blacklist’s Kate Drummond

October 11, 2013

Kate Drummond, the voice of Grim in Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist and a former grade school teacher, is uniquely qualified to speak to issues concerning video games, violence, and children’s education. Continue reading

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PAX East: A Photoblog

This gallery contains 11 photos.

There’s no wrong way to do PAX. Dork Shelfer Wesley Fok details how he did it his way at Penny Arcade’s gaming wonderland in Boston. Continue reading

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News Shelf: 25/01/13

By Dork Shelf
January 25, 2013

And now, all the film, game, and comic news that’s fit to print. Star Wars Episode VII finds a director, THQ auctions off big name game franchises, Nintendo unveils new Wii U titles, The Sixth Gun gets an NBC pilot, and Rob Liefeld writes a screenplay. Continue reading

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Far Cry 3 Review

December 4, 2012

An open-world shooter that maniacally chuckles at its own possibilities, Far Cry 3 could very well end up being many players’ Skyrim this winter. Continue reading

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Interview: Assassin’s Creed 3 historian Maxime Durand

November 27, 2012

We spoke with Assassin’s Creed 3 team historian Maxime Durand to get a better understanding about how his team weaved historical fact with fiction, in the wake of a controversial Globe and Mail editorial that argued the game “distorts history.” Continue reading

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Thought Bubble: The Wii U and the Trouble with Triple-A

November 20, 2012

The Wii U has finally arrived. Now that the first reviews are trickling in, we want to explore what the first crop of games tell us about the Wii U’s potential as a hardcore and mainstream gaming platform. Continue reading

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Assassin’s Creed III Review

November 15, 2012

Assassin’s Creed III is an excellent game. It might even be a great game, depending on how you define that amorphous notion of ‘greatness.’ Explaining why, however, is a trickier proposition that may depend entirely on your own idiosyncratic interpretation of Americana. Continue reading

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Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation Review

November 9, 2012

Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation features multiple locations and a new, compelling female protagonist. But a litany of glitches and bugs will test even the most ardent fans of the parkour-and-daggers series. Continue reading

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Gamercamp: Toronto’s video game magic

October 29, 2012

How Toronto stepped up and became a place to make games. Continue reading

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Interview: Ubisoft scriptwriter Jill Murray

October 24, 2012

Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation scriptwriter Jill Murray sits down with Dork Shelf for a Q&A about Ubisoft’s upcoming Vita game. Continue reading

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Just Dance 4 Review

October 13, 2012

Just Dance 4 is truly the karaoke of dance games, full of guilty pleasures new and old and on-screen lyrics to boot. Continue reading

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News Shelf: 9/14/12

September 14, 2012

Welcome to the News Shelf. Thursday’s announcement of the Wii U price, retail packages and launch date dominated the headlines, so that’s where we’re starting. But they aren’t the only company who made an announcement about bringing their games to your television. It isn’t even the only major tech hardware announcement to happen this week (three guesses as to what the other one was). Let’s take a look at the rundown. Continue reading

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