|The very mention of the name is enough to send most cable
viewers into paroxysms of puerile snickering at recollections of four pop-eyed cartoon
kids and their fellow South Park villagers indulging in frenzied flatulence, non-stop
scatology, and incessant swearing. Of course, as one who can spend hours amusing himself
with a tub of "FLARP!" noise putty, "The Revenge of the Nerds" movies
and old Redd Foxx albums, this reviewer readily counts himself a dedicated fan of Comedy
Central's animated series. So when the GamesFirst editors passed on Acclaim's "South
Park Official PC Game" for a review, I lisped a raspy "Kickass!" and set to
playing. While this title offers nothing new to "South Park" aficionados in
terms of characterization or story, it is a bona-fide hoot to play and a compelling
elaboration of the simple, two-dimensional
collage-like visual style of the animated series.
The game opens with a characteristically "South Park"-like story: the "Bad Luck Comet," Colossal Shoo Bop Titan Behemoth 299, crashes within the city limits of South Park and sets in motion a series of bizarre events. It is up to South Park's resident delinquents, Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny, to rectify the situation. Considering the manic, mock-violent tone of the show, perhaps it's not surprising that the "South Park" game is of the first-person shooter variety. However, just as "South Park" is unlike any other cartoon, this game differs from many FPS's in significantly creative ways. Namely, the game is free of bloodshed and the protagonists--Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny--never die. Instead, various nemeses throughout the game, including turkeys, cows, two-headed clones, robots, and perversely wicked Polly
Prissypants-type dolls, simply fade from the screen when wiped out; upon running out of health points, the kids simply stop "playing" and go home.
This playground atmosphere is one of the coolest aspects of the game because it constantly reminds players of the essential element of computer gaming--it's supposed to fun. The arsenal of ridiculous weapons available to players further emphasizes this notion. Players begin the game with a limitless supply of snowballs, including yellow ones that pack a wallop, and pick up other weapons, including rubber dodge balls and toilet plunger-, cow-, and piranha-launchers and toxically flatulent Philip and Terrence dolls. As if all this silliness isn't enough, players gain health points by sucking down boxes of "Cheesy Poofs" and "Snacky Cakes," speed-up by guzzling cans of "Zipp Cola" and deflect enemy attacks with the aid of Mr. Hankey who causes poo damage while he floats around the kids. (In this age of good nutrition and exercise
awareness, it's fun to at least pretend that junk food has some redeeming value.) Players personalize the game to a certain extent by assuming the persona of their favorite "South Park" kid, and will "play" each character at some point in the game depending on the choice of weapon at any given moment. Initially, I didn't like this feature of the game, but have come to enjoy the element of surprise and variety this
random character switching allows. One drawback of the gameplay remains,
though; this game would be even more versatile if players had an automatic save options. As it stands, players can only save between levels a frustrating feature.
The player proceeds through five episodes, each of which contains about four levels, including penalty rounds. Between episodes, players seek out Chef in his "Shack of Love" for the purpose of getting further directives. These cut-scenes are some of the best moments in the game because of the dialogue between Chef and the boys, which rival anything heard on the show. In addition, the incongruity between the funky, erotic atmosphere of Chef's Shack and the mayhem happening everywhere else--a theme that has become a running gag in the series--is hilarious. Now other reviewers of this title have argued that, in the end, this game is repetitive and ultimately boring. While I agree that the levels in each episode sometimes get tedious--especially the second episode requiring players to decimate evil clones--I think the game simply
retains some essential flavor of the "South Park" aesthetic which, like that of "Beavis & Butthead," is based on repetition. Every week, "South Park" explores the same gags and jokes in different contexts take Kenny's weekly death scene, for example. In this sense, the game successfully parallels the series. However, this criticism against the
game finally begs the question of what makes "South Park" the phenomenon it is in the first place, and whether or not this phenomenon is translatable to a gaming environment.
Iguana, the design house that developed this title for Acclaim, admirably preserves the look of "South Park." They even reproduce, in 3D, the opening sequence. In turn, the soundtrack is a sort of "Best of South Park" quotes, and the music tracks are clever variations on the theme Primus composed for the series. Familiar sites such as Jimbo's Guns and Thom's Rhinoplasty line the streets, and the characters,
including Chef, are instantly recognizable. Here, one might question the value of this point. After all, how difficult is it to render two-dimensional colored-paper cutouts in a digital environment? Not very, perhaps. Indeed, "South Park" is a computer-generated cartoon; animators scan the cutouts, download them to servers and then digitally
Still, it seems significant to observe that while Iguana bases its imagery on that of the series, in this game "South Park" is a three-dimensional world. Aside from magnifying the low-tech charm of the animated "South Park," this game also reinforces the fact that, despite its simple visuals, the series offers viewers hilariously outrageous,
often-surprising stories. Without the appeal of these stories--alien anal probes, the Jesus-Satan Deathmatch, the heartwarming tale of Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo, for example--and the slogans--"This s**t is great!", "Kickass!", and "hella" everything--that have become ubiquitous in casual discourse, "South Park" the series and the game would fall flat. The developers understand this idea and have attempted to produce an entertainment that seeks to blend engaging gameplay with a solid story. A crucial element of engaging gameplay, of course, is the visual quality of a title. While Iguana has added depth to the world of "South Park," it does not really supplement the quality of the story-telling characteristic of the series. Unfortunately, this fact seems to lie
behind much of the criticism against this game.
Despite its limitations, though, the "South Park" game still offers players a lot of options for satisfying gameplay. Players can play in Story or Multiplayer modes, the latter offering players even more variety in terms of customizing gameplay, including setting max players, ko's and time limits. Admittedly, I haven't had a chance to explore the Multiplayer mode to nearly the extent of Story mode, but the game seems to have been designed with multiplayer capabilities as a priority. As far as the Story mode goes, aside from the complaints mentioned above, the "South Park Official PC Game" is a challenging and rewarding game to play. A few features, especially the health/mood indicators (the kids appear to get more and more angry as their health dwindles), the tank radar displays (which indicate to players how much more firepower they need to vanquish foes), and the option to set the fog display (thus speeding up your game), give this title a great deal of personality. In addition, the illustrators and designers behind this game have created worthy additions to the cast of "South Park" characters, the Turkey Tank Boss in particular. While this game lacks gore, as mentioned above, it still offers players plenty of gut-wrenching grossness--Turkey Tank sphincters and Poo Power are almost (too) lovingly and convincingly rendered and perhaps better suited to Smell-0-Vision features (ala John Waters) than multimedia products.
In closing, while the "South Park Official PC Game" has something for every fan of "South Park," it is unlikely to do much for "Unreal" and "Quake" players. Then again, it's hella stupid to even compare the two.