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Preview: South Park: The Stick of Truth is ambitious

Feb 14 // Alessandro Fillari
South Park: The Stick of Truth (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC [previewed])Developer: Obsidian EntertainmentPublisher: UbisoftRelease date: March 4, 2014 (US) / March 7, 2014 (EU)Opening with a parody of Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of The Rings, in full rotoscope style, South Park: The Stick of Truth tells the tale of the war between humans and elves; both vying to claim the power of...The Stick of Truth. Of course, this is all just an exaggeration, as the war is really just a game played by the kids of the neighborhood. When a new kid moves into the town of South Park, Cartman takes him under his wing and tasks him with protecting the Stick of Truth in their 'game' against the elves. But in South Park fashion, things quickly escalate out of control and a fairly harmless rivalry is turned into an epic quest with real consequences.Now, the South Park series hasn't had much luck in the gaming department, and understandably so. It's very difficult to translate the over-the-top and comedic sensibilities to a game without making it into something that it's not. Even though I was kind of fond of the N64 title, it wasn't really a game worthy of the series. Because of this, the minds behind the show, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, were very adamant to be hands-on with the development.Speaking with Jordan Thomas, creative director for BioShock 2, Thief: Deadly Shadows, and serving as a creative consultant on The Stick of Truth -- he spoke about the title's development and how the theme of play is something the creators wanted to focus on when writing the game's script."If you look at South Park, there's always been a love affair with games that's evident in their storytelling...that the characters have a fetishistic mysticism regarding gaming," said Jordan Thomas, recalling the television series' use of videogames. "The creators would not have allowed the game to be just a joke vehicle, they wanted a proper game."Instead of taking on the role of one of the established characters, players will create a unique character who is the new kid on the block. As this New Kid, players will forge alliances and come into conflict with others while making a name for themselves in South Park and its surrounding areas.Of course, comedy is the backbone of South Park -- and The Stick of Truth pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to its humor. As a videogame, Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and the developers at Obsidian were able to craft a story that parodies many tropes and cliches of the medium, while at the same time creating something that speaks to the themes of engagement, play, and obsession in ways that could only be done in a game.Much like the television series and film, The Stick of Truth covers the whole gamut of pop culture, politics, religion, and life in an unusual small town. And the transition to a game has not neutered its humor one bit. My hour with the game made me realize that this is likely the raunchiest South Park has ever been. Swearing is uncensored, and yes there is nudity, and so much more.Over the course of your adventure, players will come across places and situations referencing abortions, race relations, anal probes, drug addiction, sex, extreme violence, and poverty, just to name a small few. It has enough satirical bite that it'll likely leave a lasting impression on many. But of course, this is South Park, and feeling uncomfortable is nothing unexpected."The way we looked at [humor] was if this moment was a hot button for the audience, should we make it worse, because they [creators of South Park] love to push boundaries and their default response was definitely not to back down, but the really healthy counterbalance was, can we make it funnier -- and the answer was often yes," said Jordan Thomas. "It was definitely the right amount of pressure. In my eyes, [South Park] explores topics that makes people uncomfortable, and it does so above all out of love and truth."The Stick of Truth incorporates many elements of fantasy fiction and RPG gameplay, while re-appropriating it for its own humor and style. When players enter the realm of 'Kupa Keep,' which is just Cartman's backyard with crude signs and dressing, they're brought into the conflict between the factions. From here, players will be able to define their character and choose their class. Despite players being able to name their character, Cartman and the others will henceforth refer to the New Kid as 'Douchebag."Character growth and evolution is conducted through a standard leveling and class system. Battles yield experience points and loot, and leveling up allows players to spend skill points across the various class trees. Though don’t expect anything extremely intricate. While you do have options, don’t go in thinking you can make rich variations of each character class. In The Stick of Truth, the classes cover the standard fantasy archetypes, but with a twist. There's the Fighter, Mage, and Thief, and last but not least, the Jew.The Jew class, which is illustrated with an evil-looking sorcerer character card, allows players to focus on long-range and sniping abilities to weaken, debilitate, and otherwise undermine your enemy's strengths from afar. Moreover, the Jew utilizes special abilities in 'Jew-Jitsu' and another skill known as the Sling of David, which allows players to cast the first stone against their enemies and stun those out of distance.Obviously, I decided to roll the Jew class for my character, Sir Douchebag (and so did everyone else at this event, by the way). From here, we learn the ins and outs of combat. On the surface, it looks to be a standard turn-based RPG game in the vein of Final Fantasy, and while that is true, the core combat takes a far more action-oriented and dynamic approach to engaging your foes. Players will be able to partner with other characters, such as Cartman, Stan, Butters, Kyle, and many others from the series in during battles, and many of them possess their own unique skills and abilities.During battles, offense and defense require timed button presses to maximize effectiveness. For instance, weapon attacks come in both basic and power versions. When attacking, your characters will ready themselves and pressing the attack buttons at the moment when the weapon flashes will enable the specified move. Basic attacks allow for combos, each hit requiring timed presses, and power attacks allow for a one-hit strong attack against enemies. Each has its uses and is required for specific enemies. Heavy armored enemies can be weakened through combo attacks, and power attacks can break through enemies carrying shields.Though be warned, enemies use the same skills as you do, and that's where blocking comes in. When enemies attack, a small shield icon will appear below your party members. This prompts you to press the action button to diminish the effectiveness of their attacks. Success also allows players to restore PP (yes, there's a joke for this), which power your special skills in battle. Blocking is especially important when facing foes who use attacks with status effects attached. For instance, bleeding drains character health over time, and cannot be healed unless you have special potions.I found myself really enjoying the combat. It's definitely a much more dynamic, but still tactical approach to turn-based combat. The action-oriented approach reminded me of combat from the games like Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga or Paper Mario, which really stressed that battles are not a spectator sport. I felt very active during every battle, and as enemies populate the environments during exploration, you can expect to see a lot of action. Battles can be pretty challenging, even early ones. I was overwhelmed by a group of elves at one point and was wiped out after missing the timing on blocks from a group of archers.Though it may all seem like fun and games when battling kids with fake elf ears, things eventually get real when you start battling other foes in South Park; such as Meth Heads looking to protect their stash, overzealous rent-a-cops who aren't afraid to use pepper-spray on children, and creepy territorial hobos. And that's only the tip of the iceberg.One feature that the creators of South Park wanted was allowing fans to explore the town freely, while meeting many of the series characters, and getting into trouble along the way.  "You're going to visit the town, properly," said Thomas as he elaborated on the exploration design. "There are few limits placed, which use Metroidvania-style unlocking, but there's a lot to explore, and around a lot more places around the town as well."Scattered around the town are NPC characters going about their business, and also a variety of shops, where you can buy new equipment, items, and special buffs for your characters. In Metroidvania style, players can explore the area at their leisure, but some areas are blocked off by obstacles and and obstructions that require special abilities. Interaction with the environment is a key part of gameplay during traversal and puzzle solving. Players will be able to uncover hidden paths and chests while examining and attacking obstacles. Moreover, new abilities open that allow players to activate switches from a distance, destroy obstacles with your farts, and use your other party members and friends to uncover clues and take out groups of enemies without even entering battle. I was pretty pleased with how detailed the settings were, but at times I had difficulty finding  certain objects for quests, as they blended in too well with other decorations in the background. Exploring the town of South Park felt surreal, and extremely authentic. In many ways, it felt like I was watching an episode of South Park showing off a really demented and comical parody of EarthBound, except I was actually playing it. The comparisons to EarthBound and other JRPG titles were no coincidence, as they were a major influence for the writers of the series and folks at Obsidian. They really nailed the look and feel of the TV series, as there were moments during cutscenes I'd stop playing, and then I'd have to remind myself that I was playing a game after some time passed.There are many incentives for taking time out from the main quests to explore and get to know the exact layout of the town, which is a first for South Park. Many familiar places, such as the South Park Elementary, South Park Mall, Bijou Cinema, City Wok, Tweek Bros. Coffehouse, and many others are available for players to come across and explore.Another reward for the exploration is meeting other characters, who friend you on the social media site, Facebook. Yes, this is a full on parody of Facebook and they don't even shy away from the absurdity of social media. Character's can even comment on your 'page' making jokes and mocking your performance. Your Facebook page also serves as your main menu, possessing journals, inventory, and acquiring more friends will gradually unlock special points which can be used to buy special perks to strengthen your character's abilities.Many of the characters and creatures you encounter during your quest are referenced throughout the television series, and even the most political and controversial of characters will likely make an appearance. In one instance, I came into contact with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore who needed help with tracking the fabled ManBearPig, as it was stalking the citizens of South Park. This scene totally came out of nowhere, I felt the sudden urge to drop whatever I was doing and do what he asked. How can you say no to Al Gore? Everyone involved with the game seemed pretty much on the same page. One of the key takeaways from both the creators of the television series and the developers at Obsidian, and Jordan Thomas, was the desire to make South Park: The Stick of Truth the definitive South Park experience, across all media.And judging from my time with the title, they certainly have made something unique to the series, that will speak to fan's love for the franchise. While there are some rather obvious bugs that will hopefully be ironed out, such my character being permanently being stuck in the aiming stance during exploration, and some issues with items not being clear enough to identify in the field, I came away pretty pleased with what I played.It's looking like the game was definitely worth the wait. While the developers certainly didn't have to worry about raising the bar for South Park games, which was pretty low as it was, they've definitely made something that speaks to fans of the show, and might even earn the attention of some RPG fans in the process.
South Park photo
One does not simply walk into South Park
So, where were you when South Park: The Stick of Truth was announced? This was all the way back in 2011, around the time another certain RPG title was on the minds of players. It was certainly a surprising reveal, don't you t...

Oculus Rift gender swap photo
Oculus Rift gender swap

Oculus Rift used for gender swap experience (NSFW)


Trick your brain into thinking it is in a different body
Jan 22
// Darren Nakamura
The Oculus Rift is impressive technology, and it has sparked interest in virtual reality at levels not seen since the 1990s. Still, despite the improved latency in head tracking and the improved field of view, one thing that ...

ViviTouch: The future of feedback

Jan 13 // Dale North
Bayer MaterialScience created a super thin film that either shrinks up or expands depending on the charge sent through it. This Electroactive Polymer is weird-looking when it moves -- kind of like a muscle flexing. It looks entirely organic, like some science fiction stuff. A row of three or more of these segments and a bit of circuitry make up ViviTouch's actuators, replacing bigger motors and and their weights. This little board can fit in just about anything, from phones and tablets to their cases to game controllers and accessories. Simply attach a flat weight on top and you have a very capable alternative to vibration motors. Amazingly, this flat sliver of tech can do so much more than its predecessors. Unlike motors, they don't have to spin up or down to react. I saw naked actuators react to receiving a charge in a few examples -- their reaction time is practically instant. The main benefit of ViviTouch's actuators is that it can create movement so fast and fine that it can convey countless different types of feelings. Instead of the standard vibration motor oscillations, these actuators are able to play out their own kind of feel waveforms. Any vibration tech can do heartbeats or explosions, but ViviTouch has the ability to convey subtle things like a ball rolling against wood, or a car's gears shifting. Other side benefits of the technology have these actuators being completely silent and highly energy efficient.  I felt a full range of these sensations in a series of demos. All of them had me wondering why ViviTouch technology wasn't already in all of our gaming devices already. While the flat actuator on its own was interesting enough,  other smaller ones shown to me during a CES demo last week really had my imagination going. Flat, circular actuators topped thumbsticks on an Xbox 360 controller, while longer ones lined the edges of the trigger buttons. They're able to send different feel waveforms to each of the actuators. Imagine having the rumble of a tank localized to only your fingertips, while the vibration of turrets are felt in your trigger fingers. The feedback is so fine and fast that you can feel that each gun has its own kind of feedback. ViviTouch even has a developer tool that easily lets game makers apply feedback profiles to each of these actuator pads. Looking like a basic musical sequencer, like Apple GarageBand, this tool lets developers simply drag and drop pre-programmed feedback waveforms to one of the four feedback channels of the timeline. In other words, implementing this superior type of feedback would be pretty easy. And the uses go beyond controllers. I played a labyrinth-style ball rolling game on a mobile phone and could feel every roll, bump, and drop of the steel ball. Even touchscreens can benefit. I tried a demo that used smaller actuators that were placed along the edges of a touch panel. The feedback is fast and responsive enough that it could be used to give players a sort of virtual button press feedback. A new set of Mad Catz headphones have ViviTouch actuators built in. I felt tank treads rolling uphill, and gunfire vibrations had convincing pressure coming through the earpads onto the side of my head. There are even applications for audio outside of gaming. I tried on a set of modified Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones that had bass frequencies being conveyed through feedback. The sensation was like having a subwoofer added to the standard drivers -- very impressive stuff. As strange as it sounds, artificial muscle could change the way we play games.  Let's hope that ViviTouch technology is on its way to replacing motor-based feedback.
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Artificial muscle brings a new kind of rumble
You know how controller rumble works right now, don't you? In most controllers you'll find a couple of motors that spin weights. These spin up when you're supposed to feel the rumble effect, and then begin spinning down when ...

Mecanika photo
Mecanika

Mecanika wants to teach Newtonian mechanics with robots


Robots in motion tend to stay in motion; robots at rest tend to stay at rest
Sep 09
// Darren Nakamura
As somebody who has had ideas for using games as tools for education, things like Mecanika are particularly interesting to me. Though physics has become more prominent in games as time has passed, developer CREO wants to uti...
Oculus Rift goes to Mars photo
Oculus Rift goes to Mars

Oculus Rift and Virtuix Omni used in virtual walk on Mars


Where do I sign up?
Aug 06
// Darren Nakamura
If the slew of recent and upcoming games on the red planet are any indication, there is a significant amount of interest in exploring Earth's second-closest neighbor. Nobody knows this better than the engineers at NASA's Jet...
Take On Mars photo
Take On Mars

Take On Mars lands on Steam Early Access


Take Mars on! I'll be gone, in 1.026 daaaaaays!
Aug 01
// Darren Nakamura
Last month, we heard that Bohemia Interactive's Mars exploration simulation Take On Mars would be coming to Steam Early Access today. They were not lying; it is now available to purchase for $12.99 on Steam. The player acts ...
Hadron's Forge photo
Hadron's Forge

Hadron's Forge features asteroid mining, real elements


Check for updates Periodically
Jul 31
// Darren Nakamura
Minecraft in space isn't exactly an original idea. StarForge showed up last year with impressive technology to back up that basic conceit and a greater focus on combat. Hadron's Forge starts with some of the same ideas: coll...
Used games photo
By eliminating the used market AND dropping prices, publishers could profit
With all this hubbub over used games and whether eliminating them would be good or bad for the overall industry, it was only a matter of time before SCIENCE was brought in to drop some truth bombs. Professors Masakazu Ishihar...

TUG: About my Kickstarter & the need for science in games

May 30 // inoritewtf
First, what experience do we have actually making games? As it turns out, tons. It is not a well-known fact, but many of those world-changing bits of tech -- or amazing AI systems, or data systems, or networking system -- were built for the industry by contracting a member of the academic community, and built upon by teams working under the publishers. Of course, no credit is ever given; it's in the best interests of the publishers to assume full credit for their next big thing, and that is good and fine. In many cases, the publishers ask for things they can rarely even figure out how to use, and things are left behind or years later turned into some third party software touted about by another group who bought the rights as the "next big thing." We rarely have the chance to continue the work on some of our creations, and it is even more rare that we are ever able to share/publish what we have found from the development and research of those topics. OK, that covers the technology side, but what about design? We are speaking of an open-world sandbox game, with elements of role-playing, so let's deconstruct what that is. It is an open environment where the ultimate variables are the environment and the other players. This is our "hood" as it were. Academics and areas of science have been tearing apart these things for generations, literally. Human interactions for conflict on an individual scale, or motivations of group interactions, religion, culture -- you name it, there is a field that obsesses over it. But what's more, we obsess over it for the sake of knowing it, not for the sake of capitalizing on it. Sounds stuffy, right? How do you make any of that fun, or avoid making some simulation of life out of it? This comes down to perspective. It's not just some big "proximity marketing ploy" that we are all gamers; we really are. We raged with the lot of you when we got shafted on conclusions to trilogies being cut short of what was expected. We get all kinds of raged when they nerf our classes, or weapons are lacking proper balance. We get all kinds of sour grapes when publishers claim variety, but we get the same dungeon over and over again with artificial walls. We play games: not just for research, but because we grew up with all of this. Before anything else, fun is a priority. Things need to "feel" good, and this is why we are releasing the game in such an early phase. We do not do well guessing at things; we act on data/information. [embed]254708:48869:0[/embed] So how can science and data in games make things better? Take a step back and think of all those "what ifs" or "I wish" things we thought of in games, before we just started accepting that things were this way in games. What if the monsters actually had some kind of sense to their behavior? What if combat was not based on some arbitrary number solely reliant on a grind? What if the economy in a game actually was a working economy and responded a certain way? What if the actions I took in a world really made a difference? OK, admittedly there are a lot more in the role-playing areas of what ifs. But look at some of these and some of your own scenarios. From tens of thousands of players we have interacted with over the course of the past several years, the overwhelming majority of these "what ifs" were all asking for human systems in games. Things that we know of from our own real life. And why not? We are looking to act out a different role in another world -- these are the logistics that are important, not the presentation. These systems are what we are great at. It is almost comical how often these fields of anthropology, sociology, psychology, cognition, etc. have been looked at as "pointless" for the world, aside from academic bantering over semantics. And yet, these fields all revolve around understanding the world and human interactions within it, and can easily be translated into creation of worlds as well. We have seen many micro systems work effectively in the past, and we have an opportunity to converge our fields with other gamers, modders, developers, and artists to make something genuinely special. We've got an experienced and talented creative team of veteran designers, writers, and artists who are dedicated to making TUG an aesthetically coherent and unique creative vision, with a deep thematic drive guiding its creation. [embed]254708:48870:0[/embed] Will it suck? Perhaps! But we have built the technology and the system to be "data driven and modular," which may sound like more catchy buzz vomit, but this is hugely significant. It means that systems are swapped in and out with ease, that we can make the tech available to others to test and create their own worlds, that hugely complex algorithms emulating world economies, or AI systems, or even weather cycles can be plugged in and taken out with ease, allowing us to constantly change and refine in the spirit of not suck. And given that we are not trying to be the next big sexy thing -- we just want to make something fun we want to play, and gain better understandings of who we are, and how we do things -- we will keep at this until it's done right. But we cannot do it without your support, even if it's just sharing what we are doing with others. Backing, or even sharing this project with others, can make a world of difference to videogames, technology and with a little luck, maybe even the way we see the world.
TUG Kickstarter photo
Promoted from our Community Blogs!
[Peter Salinas -- one of the social scientists working at Nerd Kingdom -- hit up our Community Blogs recently to share a bit about the thought process behind their new game TUG. Pretty neat stuff! For more information on the...

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Study claims piracy isn't as bad as publishers tell you


Shocker, the ESA cannot be trusted!
May 16
// Jim Sterling
The Electronic Software Association will tell you piracy is so bad, 10 million nefarious downloads of 200 games can happen in a single month. According to an independent study, the ESA might be overestimating by a c...
TUG Kickstarter photo
TUG Kickstarter

Kickstarter game TUG wants to create worlds


Exploration, discovery, crafting, survival, role-playing, adventure, and science
May 02
// Darren Nakamura
We've covered a lot of Kickstarter projects recently on Destructoid, but none in recent memory have been quite as ambitious as Nerd Kingdom's TUG. The single sentence description that has been bandied about is "it's like Min...
Science photo
Science

First-person shooters linked with better working memory


"Did he fire six shots or only five?"
Apr 27
// Darren Nakamura
Dr. Lorenza Colzato at the Leiden University has headed up a study on working memory among gamers and non-gamers. The results were published Psychological Research, and the team put together the video above to spread the wor...
Tetris photo
Tetris

Tetris could fix your lazy eye


Hey, I'm over here
Apr 23
// Dale North
BBC News says that 1 in 50 children have a lazy eye, and that Tetris could help to fix their weak eyes. Doctors at McGill University has research that shows that playing the greatest block dropping game of all time ...
STEM Video Game Challenge photo
STEM Video Game Challenge

STEM Video Game Challenge at the White House Science Fair


Leaders acknowledge the good that videogame development can do
Apr 22
// Darren Nakamura
For the second year now, the White House Science Fair has invited National STEM Video Game Challenge participants in its effort to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) among American youth....
Videogame camp photo
Videogame camp

Summer game design programs increase in popularity


When did camp become so cool?
Apr 16
// Taylor Stein
New data put forth by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) shows a promising increase in the availability and popularity of videogame design programs within U.S. summer camps. With more than 100 camps and 690 programs...
Science of BioShock photo
Science of BioShock

BioShock Infinite vs. quantum mechanics


Schrödinger's cat: dies, died, will die
Apr 15
// Darren Nakamura
First off, there are major BioShock Infinite spoilers in the above video. Don't watch it if you haven't finished the game. While playing through BioShock Infinite, I wondered how well researched the science was behind some o...
Planet Explorers  photo
Planet Explorers

Open-world sandbox Planet Explorers gets a Kickstarter


And it continues to be my dream game
Mar 24
// Fraser Brown
I'm an explorer at heart. I derive a vast amount of pleasure from wandering around game-spaces, experimenting with mechanics, and generally seeing what trouble I can get into and hopefully get out of. Some of my fondest memo...
Science and gaming photo
Science and gaming

Study: Playing videogames improves visual skills


So they don't rot your brain after all
Mar 20
// Taylor Stein
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto has found another positive effect that videogames have on players, an improvement of visual searching skills. Based on a set of experiments led by Sijing Wu, a PhD...
Brain training photo
Brain training

Play videogames for an hour a day to enhance cognition


Train your brain with games
Mar 20
// Taylor Stein
According to Adam Chie-Ming Oei and Michael Donald Patterson of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, playing videogames for just an hour each day can improve performance on subsequent cognitive tasks. Good news cons...
Torment setting photo
Torment setting

Torment: Tides of Numenera: A billion years in the making


It certainly feels like I've been waiting this long
Mar 06
// Fraser Brown
With the ridiculously speedy success of inXile's Kickstarter for Torment: Tides of Numenera, it's only a matter of time until we'll be diving into the role of the Last Cast-off, the title's protagonist. I got up to speed on w...
Science photo
Science

Study shows videogames can help create better surgeons


Trauma Center, eat your heart out
Mar 01
// Darren Nakamura
This isn't the first time that a scientific study has come up demonstrating the benefits that videogames can have on budding surgeons, and it surely won't be the last. It makes sense: spend time developing hand-eye coordinati...
Dreams photo
Dreams

Study: Gamers have more control over their dreams


Eat, sleep, game
Feb 20
// Taylor Stein
Why do we dream? Amongst the foggy midst of hearsay, medical expertise, and decades of research, the simple answer is, we have no idea. One thing we can all agree on is that dreams are weird. Why my brain transported me to...
Muscle-zapping controller photo
Muscle-zapping controller

Goodbye rumble controller, hello electric shock


No pain, no gain
Feb 18
// Taylor Stein
The next stage of videogame evolution might take place where you least expect it: within your body. A team of German researchers have deviated from the traditional rumble-controller formula, instead embracing an entirely new ...
Sexism photo
Sexism

Another study shows that gaming has a sexist problem


We're still reporting it because you're still denying it
Feb 15
// Stephen Beirne
Slowly but surely the academic evidence is building up. A new study conducted by researchers at Ohio University has found that women playing multiplayer on Halo 3 receive three times as much abuse as men. Confirming what i...
Mega64 photo
Mega64

Does Missingno exist!? Mega64 will solve this mystery!


The VG Fact Checkerz are on the case!
Feb 08
// Tony Ponce
Pokémon's elusive Missingno! Where is it? What is it? Is it based on a real-life animal? Are there any other undiscovered creatures in the wild as mysterious and incredible as Missingno? The VG Fact Checkerz take to t...
IRL Mario Kart photo
IRL Mario Kart

Real-life Mario Kart with REAL WORKING ITEMS OH SNAP


Thanks, science!
Jan 23
// Tony Ponce
Yeah, we've all seen so-called "real-life Mario Kart" before, but always as a parody rather than a legitimate adaptation of the game mechanics in a physical setting. But wait around long enough and the magic of SCIENCE will ...
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Famitsu poll: PS Vita is Japan's most desired console


People want, they just ain't buyin'
Jan 22
// Jim Sterling
According to a poll by videogame magazine Famitsu, Sony's ailing PlayStation Vita is the most desired console in Japan.  The survey found that 64% of respondents wanted a PlayStation Vita. The second most desired system ...

Review: A New Beginning: Final Cut

Jan 04 // Fraser Brown
A New Beginning: Final Cut (Mac, PC)Developer: Daedalic Entertainment Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment, Lace MambaReleased: December 11, 2012MSRP: $9.99 The future is bleak. Isn't it always? Mankind is on the brink of extinction and a solar flare is about to wipe out the few remaining humans. Living underground, the residents of this apocalyptic world have come up with a zany scheme to save the world. It's time they took the "final step. The step back... to the past!" And with that cringe-worthy line the game chugs along, spewing out atrocious dialogue like it was going out of style. The plan, known as the Phoenix Plan (subtle), is to stop climate change and to get people to use algae instead of oil and nuclear power. A scientist from the '80s, Bent Svensson -- rocking a groovy porno mustache -- is roped into helping, and players are treated to ten or so hours of terrible pacing, energy mogul caricatures, and a lot of moaning. Oh yes, and they will have to hear the word algae repeated over, and over, and over again. Algae can bugger right off, at this point.   Characters generally fall into two camps -- detestable, or just plain stupid. There's some exceedingly forced character development, but it's quite hard to spot amid the dozens of schizophrenic, inconsistent buffoons that litter the game. These inconsistencies are noticeable almost straight away. During the prologue, Bent Svensson -- who has dedicated his entire life to developing a clean source of renewable energy -- laments the rise of pollution. He doesn't even like to kill fish, yet kills a bird with a machine that essentially poisons the avian bystander. His reaction is to not care at all, and he even mocks someone for feeling bad for the wee, dead fella. What a guy! He's the hero of the tale, by the way.      Honestly, I'm the sort of lazy "idiot" the game criticizes frequently. I don't bother to recycle, and I moan a lot about expensive energy-saving light bulbs, but I am interested in intelligent adventure games and hard science-fiction, which A New Beginning purports to be. It is neither of those things. The game's message is utterly inane and deals with the complex issue of climate change with the sophistication of an infant. It is very clear that the developers think that their message is important, and they go so far as to break the fourth wall and point out that a science-fiction thriller can make a difference. Maybe it can, but not this one. There certainly isn't a requirement to be environmentally minded to play the game, though, since even environmentalists will find the experience to be incredibly oversimplified.  When I think of time travel and adventure games I get all flustered. It's a combination ripe with possibilities and creative solutions to puzzles, thus I couldn't wait to see what Daedalic had in store for us. Not bloody much, apparently. It's employed twice in the whole game, but mentioned a hell of a lot, usually by Fay, one of the game's two protagonists, as she tries to tell everyone that she's from the future, so she knows stuff. World shattering stuff. There are no Day of the Tentacle-style puzzles here, that's for sure. In fact, there are no puzzles at all which involve the use of time travel. Baffling. Utterly baffling. Compared to the dialogue, the terrible story is award worthy. Daedalic needs to fire their translation team and their QA testers, because anyone with even a basic understanding of English would have been able to spot countless errors just within the first fifteen minutes. Sometimes it seemed like there was a mistake every time someone uttered a word. More often than not, the same mistakes reappear constantly, and the text frequently fails to match the audio.  In a genre unfortunately known for poor voice acting, A New Beginning takes the cake. Without fail, every single character proves to be incapable of sounding like an actual human being, or even a believable facsimile. I don't know if it was due to the poor writing, bad direction, or just doing it all in one take, but the whole thing just ends up being an auditory crime.  Fay is one of the worst offenders, in great part due to her being the most vocal character. In a ruined archive in the middle of a decaying San Francisco of the future, Fay manages to sound like she's having an orgasm not once, but two times. This would have been fine if the game had turned into a more blue adventure, but sadly this was not the case. In one instance it is the voice actor's interpretation of someone falling down mid-sentence, the other is just her trying to say "umm" when she's confused by an irritating computer program. Call me childish, but I found it hysterical. I suspect that this was not the reaction the developers had hoped for. In the puzzles there is some respite to be found, thankfully. Some verge on convoluted, but overall I found them to be organic, logical, and sometimes even quite clever. I must confess that a few stumped me, and I was really forced to wrack my brain for a solution. That doesn't happen very often in modern adventures. Lamentably, they do become somewhat repetitive, often devolving into twisting something and sticking it somewhere; the result is they aren't as satisfying or imaginative as they could have been. Regardless, they are a breath of fresh air at a time when puzzles often get far less attention than the narrative among A New Beginning's contemporaries.  The biggest issue with the puzzles is that I didn't really feel motivated to figure them out. I didn't care about progressing through the story, and I dreaded having to listen to any more offensively bad dialogue. If I hadn't been reviewing it, I'm sure I would have either skipped some of them (the trickier ones have this option) or tried to find a walkthrough. Actually, if I hadn't been reviewing it, I would have stopped playing after an hour. If I'd given up, I would have missed a lot of the absolutely gorgeous artwork, though. The hand-painted backgrounds and pleasing character art are by far and wide the best thing about A New Beginning. Detailed, striking, and full of color -- it's hard to believe that the rest of the game appears to be such a half-arsed effort. I'm afraid to say that this highlight is marred by extremely poor animation that makes the stop motion animation of The Lost World or King Kong look completely fluid and seamless. The cutscenes also compare very unfavorably to the regular art work, attempting to mimic a confused comic strip. These comic-style scenes are also rife with hilariously awful lip syncing that leads to most characters doing curious impressions of fish.  The German-language version -- which was the original -- is meant to be better, but alas I know about ten words in German so I really cannot confirm or deny this. It does strike me that the worst aspects of the game are due to the terrible effort made by the translation team and English-speaking voice actors, though.  If you are truly desperate for good puzzles and sumptuous art, then you could do worse than play A New Beginning, but I found it impossible to look past the many issues and really enjoy the few things it manages to do right. There are too many superior adventure games to count, and it's not even one of the better games with an environmental message.  
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Let it end, please
I've just saved the planet, and I couldn't be less enthused about it. A New Beginning is a self-styled eco-thriller with a spot of time travel and science fiction thrown in for good measure. It launched in Europe a couple of ...

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LA Game Space to unite art and research under one roof


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The goal of the Attract Mode gaming collective is to spread videogame culture and awareness by selling handmade gear, hosting art galleries / festivals, and other such events. Two key members of the group -- Attract Mode co-...
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