Walking Dead Video Game: In Harm’s Way (Season 2 Episode 3)

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Don’t get your hopes up… No pushing out of the baby happens in this episode.

I always eagerly anticipate the next interactive episode of The Walking Dead video game. I’m happy to say this latest episode did not disappoint. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot more than the previous one. Without giving too much away, I’ll say this episode is much more satisfying for a couple of reasons; Carver’s outright psychotic behavior is fully manifested, and Kenny gets screwed over again.

I hate Kenny. Have I mentioned that before? The internet seemed to blow up with excitement when he made his surprise return this season and I was like, “Damn, I wish he was dead for reals.”

In this episode, Clementine and company are taken to Crazy Carver’s Commune and integrated into the community. Well, sort of. Before the first night they’re already planning their escape, unsurprisingly. And arguing about whether or not to do it, unsurprisingly. And arguing HOW to go about escaping. Unsurprisingly. And, as the player, you’re led to believe a little girl’s input somehow alters the adults’ ultimate decision. Regardless of whether I think any of the adults genuinely gave a damn about Clementine’s thoughts, the game still made me second-guess most of my decisions. Up until this episode, I found that decision-making anxiety almost nonexistent in season 2. There’s some big goings-ons this episode, and after the initial shock wore off I immediately started wondering “Did I do that?” (According to the Wiki page, I didn’t. Which is sort of a relief and sort of “stop making me think my choices actually mean something”)

There is one super-frustrating mechanic part that I am shamefully admitting I had to google to get by. While I felt somewhat validated after seeing someone else asked the same question, I’m still ashamed. Anyway, there’s a part where Clem is being all stealthy and trying to steal an item without drawing attention to herself. At first, the normal grab prompt shows up. Once I pressed the corresponding button, another animation I didn’t recognize showed up. It was like two halves of a square coming together. I thought that meant a timed response; to hit the grab button when the halves came together. But it’s not. You actually have to  hold the button down until a certain time. Without being told that’s what you’re supposed to do. Hopefully this will save you some frustration if you’re a dunce like me.

Aside from that isolated instance, and the same annoying lag, the latest episode is fun to play, and probably my favorite of this season so far.

 

South Park: The Stick of Truth

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I hereby banish you from space and time!!

The long-anticipated South Park RPG hath finally arrived! This gem of a RPG was a match made in heaven in a lot of ways for me. It’s short (10-15 hours), has plenty of side quests, and pokes fun at itself at every possible opportunity.

Most reviews repeat the usual “If you’re a fan of the television show you’ll like the video game” line. I’m sure this is true. I’m not even a fan of the show, really. I’ve seen episodes of it over a decade ago and found it funny, but I haven’t followed up with it at all. I guess I pushed it to the wayside when shows like Family Guy came out. A lot of the references to South Park went over my head, I’ll admit that. If, like me, you don’t follow the show, I’d ask instead, “Do you like turn-based RPGs?” and “Can you handle over-the-top humor that will try its damnedest to offend you?” If you answered “yes,” and appreciate classics like Super Mario RPG, then I strongly suggest you give The Stick of Truth some of your time. The jokes range from innocent fart jokes to completely offensive abortion jokes and everything in between. You’d be hard pressed to find something the writers didn’t make fun of during this RPG adventure.

In fact, the entire setting of the game begs for jokes directed squarely at it. Basically, the entire town of South Park is LARPing (Live-Action-Role-Playing). You create a new silent protagonist boy who moves to South Park to escape something. The game pokes fun at the whole “RPG Silent Protagonist” element (I really appreciated this. I hate silent protagonists). Still, though you don’t speak, you still manage to make friends with the series’ main characters and join in their game.

The boys are either humans or elves, caught up in an epic battle over the Stick of Truth. A plain looking stick to the naked eye, truth be told. But it evidently grants the holder control over the universe. Really, I’d be impressed if an entire town could pull off a LARP game to this extent. Aside from a brief stint in Canada (which is HILARIOUS. And in 8-Bit) the entire game takes place in South Park.

You’ll be spending a lot of time exploring South Park if you want to do the side quests. Which you DO want to do. Exploring and completing side quests grants you more “friends.” You know, Facebook friends without the copyright infringement. The more friends you have, the more perks you unlock. I was impressed with how quickly many side quests open up. We completed a lot of quests before really delving into the main story. There are fetch quests and kill quests and all sorts of randomness, all with ridiculous South Park flair. The quest given to you by the mayor requires you to “take care of the homeless problem” by killing the hobos in South Park, for example. These add a lot of flavor to the game and significantly beef up your character, so I suggest you do as many as you can.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, the battle system in this game is reminiscent of Super Mario RPG. It is turn based with timed button prompts to do things like land crits and block attacks. Your active party will only have two characters at a time- you and a friend. Your choices are all South Park staples. Kyle, Butters, Jimmy, Stan and Cartman will fight alongside you at different points throughout the game. You’ll want to try them all because they are all different classes and have different abilities. Jimmy ranks pretty high on the list for me. He is a Bard and the writers do not miss a chance to play up the humor when he stutters through his bard buffs.

Despite the game’s brevity and lack of party-member customization, the battle system has surprising depth. You can’t equip or decorate your comrades, but the exhaustive options for decking out the main character were enough to satisfy me. There’s wigs and make-up to try on, as well as all sorts of weapons and equipment. Most weapons and armor can be enhanced with patches or strap-ons. These do everything from adding fire damage to restoring HP or PP every turn. There are plenty of them to find throughout the game, allowing you to experiment with all sorts of builds if you feel so inclined.

You do select a class at the game’s onset (I couldn’t NOT be the Jew class. This is South Park, after all). But basically the only thing the class does is determine which abilities your character will unlock. It doesn’t restrict your equipment options, which I appreciated. We got abilities like “Circum-scythe” and “Plagues of Egypt.” Yes, they are as awesome as they sound.

One of the features I liked most about the battle system was the option to perform two commands. You can have a character use an item or perform a special move without using up their turn. Another reason I really liked Jimmy (outside of his hilariosity) was because he could play a riff on his “guitar” to restore PP every single turn before attacking or using one of his abilities. Gold.

Like most RPGs, Stick of Truth has status effects. These do not disappoint. Instead of using traditional labels like “poison” or “berserk,” South Park has status effects named “Grossed Out” and “Pissed Off.” Grossed Out is funny because the character will puke after every round… But it can also put a kink in your plans because grossed out characters won’t eat any healing items. (Tacos can actually resurrect you when you’re KOed. No, I haven’t tried this at home yet.) Without spoiling too much, the main character also learns “magic” through farting. So you can literally use a button prompt to put the “Gross Out” status ailment on your attack with a weapon that already has fire or bleed effects on it, effectively giving the enemy two DOTS in one hit. You can really go to town with status effects and DOTS to turn a battle in your favor.

To add flavor to the many minutes of wandering around South Park your character does, the developers added a lot of ways to interact with the environment. Throughout the game you’ll earn different methods of interacting with the environment to break things or get to otherwise impossible to reach areas. Fart magic, for example, will blow up small fires at its weakest. At its strongest, it will actually destroy large boulders and the like. Unfortunately, and this is probably my only large complaint about Stick of Truth, “casting” fart magic isn’t very intuitive. It requires screwing around with the two analogue sticks and mostly guessing what you’re supposed to do. I cringed whenever the game expected me to fart at something. In fact, I don’t think you’re given any sort of indication how to access the fart spells the first time it has to be done to progress. I pressed a bunch of buttons and noticed a fart spell icon appearing on the bottom right of my screen.

Also worth mentioning is the Buddy Command action. Sometimes in order to progress you need to put a certain character in your party and point them in the direction of whatever is in your way. Then they’ll do a character-specific action. Butters, who is a Paladin, will heal someone. This was a weird addition to exploration that almost seemed unnecessary. I mean, we really only used the command once or twice per character. Outside of Butters and Jimmy, whose Buddy Command we utilized twice, we didn’t really know what the other characters did so we ended up guessing if we weren’t required to heal someone or access a handicapped entryway.

I’m tempted to talk about some of the crazy events that unfold as the game progresses, but I know if I start now I won’t be able to stop. Stick of Truth is overflowing with bad puns, offensive items, and painfully funny (or just outright painful) social commentary. Instead of rehashing the jokes and potentially spoiling the game, I’m just gonna tell you to get the game and go play it yourself.