Review by Bloomer
"'Screw you guys... I'm going home.'"
I rented South Park for the weekend, and I am about to do everything within my power to dissuade you from having even this much (or this little) to do with the game.
Yes, I'm an enormous South Park fan too, and it's truly surprising how poor this game is in almost every department when they had such great source material to work from. Then again, maybe it's not such a surprise, given the long and fine tradition of poxy film and television to video game translations. Apparently the other South Park franchise games which followed are all totally weak as well, and that makes me a very sad panda.
This South Park is a first-person shooter. You will take control of the four main kids, Cartman, Stan, Kyle and Kenny (though with basically no gameplay differentiation between the four), and play through a series of bland stages in which you have to shoot too many bad guys to save the town from destruction. The bad guys include the mutant turkeys, mad robots, 'visitors' (I.E. aliens), killer cows and Huge Evil Clones. There's also a deathmatch mode in which you and a friend can each choose a character, this time from an actually impressive range of about a dozen from the series, and kill each other.
So wherein lies the disaster? Basically there's no coming back from the abysmal gameplay on offer here. The South Park schticks themselves try to save the day for fans, but they're delivered in this game with all the technical slickness of mud. This leaves us with... a big pile of mud.
The first thing you notice when you start to play South Park is how blurry and foggy it looks and sounds. Imagine straining to peer through an incredibly greasy screen in an arcade while some irresponsible youth pours a milkshake into the speakers. Odd handfuls of the graphics (mostly the characters) manage to capture the charms of their flat brightly coloured counterparts from the TV series, yet somehow, with issues of scale, there's just no differentiation in the scenery. Areas are too wide, gradients are invisible and there's a constant fog in front of your nose. To top it all off, it moves very sluggishly. If you've seen Quake II for the Playstation, which is an astonishing technical achievement with vastly more complex terrain than is on display here, you'll wonder how South Park's programmers made its very simple elements move around like bricks. Or maybe you won't. These programmers are from Acclaim, after all.
A level starts with you grabbing ('meeting up') with your friends. This was almost the cutest part of the game. Listening to them yell out, 'Hey I'm over here!', then cursing when you hit them with snowballs (your basic weapon) for laughs, is entertaining. But all of your friends generally start the level within a snowball's throw of you. Collecting them feels almost pointless as there is never a challenge or purpose. And your ability to play as any particular kid is actually just a function of weapon selection, so you're hardly aware of changing characters in general, only weapons. That's eighty percent of the fun factor dead already!
Next, you need to start strolling around until you find some enemies at random. You have a radar, but it's woeful. The game just seems to teleport enemies in to you in 'waves', and before a wave materialises... it didn't exist. You weren't able to spot it on the radar, so how did you find it? BY ACCIDENT! It's arbitrary and annoying as hell. You might search a level front to back three times, just waiting for the game to feel generous enough to trigger another encounter for you.
There are only three kinds of enemies in the whole game anyway, and only two for general purposes:
1) Minions - Basic enemies, including turkeys, cows, visitors etc...
2) Tanks - Larger versions of minions who can take more damage and produce more minions. If a tank makes it past your kid(s) to the town, you have to try to save the town in a pointlessly easy penalty level.
3) Bosses - In a league of their own. If a boss kills you, it's back to the start of the whole arduous level, not just the boss battle. Terrible.
Out of fairness, I'm obliged to mention the range of weapons on offer because they're the best part of the game. Snowballs, sponge dart guns, toilet plungers, a cow launcher, and - my favourite - the bright red dodgeball with which you can smack foes in the head. This was all so inventive. Unfortunately I just can't care very much, what with the sluggish, unchanging and random gameplay and great long gaps in which no enemies appear.
There are hundreds of sound bites and effects in here from the TV show, which should have been cool. When you first control Cartman, and he starts yelling: 'You damn turkeys', 'Man you suck!' or 'I'll kick you in the nuts!', you might laugh and think it's as much fun as you'd hoped. But very quickly you notice that you're straining to hear him. Or anyone else. I don't know exactly what they did with the sound, but my guess is that they just sampled everything at too low a frequency. This was a big mistake. All the screaming and cursing should be crisp and obvious. Instead, you'll find yourself going to the options menu and painstakingly adjusting the levels just so you can hear what's being said by all.
The music fares no better. There's just one main theme, arranged in several different ways. The best way I could describe it is 'barnyard frantic'. It's okay, but not very okay after about three levels, and you're mightily sick of it after that. They could have at least worked out different themes for every level; as is, the soundtrack just smacks of laziness. Incidentally, if you you're ever curious enough to turn the volume up, you'll realise that the music is riddled with clips of static and yuckiness anyway.
Penultimately, it is my weary duty to report on South Park's deathmatch mode. The range of characters you can play here opens up significantly, and each character has a small range of their funny catch-phrases and curses on hand for when they take damage. You unlock each character by completing a standard level in single player mode (about the only thing that might ever trick you into continuing to slog away at it...) Yes, you can play as Chef, or Mrs. Cartman or even my favourite, Wendy Testaburger. However, there is no differentiation between these characters in how they play, and that my friends is the end for this game. The only reason to try deathmatch is to watch your favourite characters wander around and hear their teensy inventory of funny lines for a few minutes, since the gameplay here is as sluggish as in the main game, and the arenas are tiny and boring.
In terms of its first-person shooting genre, South Park is the ultimate dud. When you cap that off with the fact that technically it's so terrible - graphics and sound from the show are dismally presented - you have a game that won't keep anyone (fan of the show or non-fan) interested for long at all. You don't feel you're in it, you feel like you're trapped behind a pane of glass with vaseline smeared on, straining to hear the bad sound.
Do not be tempted, South Park fans, because I guarantee that this game will bore and disappoint everyone. Just watch the show instead.
Screw you guys... I'm going home.
-- South Park -- 2/10 --
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 01/27/01, Updated 12/04/01
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