Review by Donald Love 87
Like trying to contest an ocean with a glass of water
Watching South Park is much like being on a roller coaster ride (yay, not a cliche at all!). One moment it's high up there being the finest political and social satire ever, and then it just crashes down into fart-jokes and swear words. So how do you make a good game out of that? By doing a 3D shooter featuring the kids and other characters from the series? Nah, probably not. It's what they did in this case, and it isn't really what I'd call good.
First let me inform you a bit - if you've got an Expansion Pak installed, you can choose the ingame graphics to be "hi-rez" (fullscreen or letterbox) instead of the standard "lo-rez". The problem is that the graphics are bad no matter what setting you're on. There are two big, basic problems with it - it's simple and foggy. The fog is a problem for many games, but I've never seen one as bad as here; the draw distance is only a few metres ahead. It also feels worse with less distance in a game like this where the graphics are so blocky and simple - most houses are just one color "blocklike" things. Surely, I guess they tried to recreate the style of the show, but in my opinion they failed.
The character 3D models look a bit better, but still isn't that impressive. I like the looks of the kids and other famous characters (Chef!) from the show, but the enemies just feel standard, repetitive and boring. There are only a handful of different enemies for each chapter, and you'll see a lot of them so variation would be nice.
Sound effects and music
This is what I think is the high point of the game. That's probably a pretty bad sign, considering I usually think it's hard to remember the sounds of a game and what to say about them when writing a review. There's some voice acting in here, and it's good too. Everybody is recorded by the original voice actors, "including Isaac Hayes as Chef", as it says on the box.
Music, and sound effects other than the voices, sadly aren't as interesting. The music seems to take some tones from the South Park theme and tries to mix it with the soft and easy music from Goldeneye 007. That doesn't work very good, even if I like the smooth, seamless transaction from the "field" to "cave" tunes when entering different types of areas in a level. The sound effects, while not bad, they just aren't that interesting. Also, just like with the 3D models, there are too few of them so you'll be very bored with the enemy sounds after a while.
This is just a mess. The story is built from the worst parts of the South Park humor - the clear out random strangeness, and the fart jokes. I really miss some of that great political satire, and it saddens me to see that we won't get to fight Saddam or the devil as a final boss. Instead, I don't know if we get bosses, ideas and enemies exclusive to the game, or if they're one-offs from episodes I haven't seen (I know the aliens are in the show, but what about the rest?), but they just don't feel that interesting. Over the course of the game, you'll be up against turkeys, clones, aliens and... toys? Yeah, random is the word here.
Still, they tried to explain it a bit. There's a comet headed towards the earth, more specifically South Park, and that comet has some kind of spooky effect on things - it make turkeys attack, it make aliens invade town and a lot of other strange things. Of all excuses I've ever heard to try to explain why you're doing something in a game, it's probably the lamest. Do we even need a reason to why the aliens are attacking? Can't the reason be that they want to take over? The only thing which makes sense is that only four kids can save the town - not the army, navy, EPA or anybody else gives a damn about that crappy little town.
There are two control styles in the game; the first one is that you move with the control stick and use the C buttons to look around, and the other is to move around with the C buttons and use the control stick to look around. I find the second one much better, mostly because I've gotten used to it through other games (where it, for some reason, usually is faster than the other) but also because it gives you more precision in aiming. Which is needed, considering the game lacks any kind of auto-aim feature whatsoever. These controls work fine for me, and even if I think the control stick can be a little strange in the response - the early crosshairs movement is much faster than the looking movement it becomes on a lengthy push. I'd like to keep my crosshairs in the center of the screen all the time when I'm using this method.
The other controls are the same no matter what style you're using. Z is used for firing a weapon, A & B switches back and forth between weapons (which is the only way to do it too, I'd really like a paused menu for that), D-pad down switches between a weapons primary and secondary mode, and you jump with R. The jumping feels a bit unusual to have there, but the big problem with jumping isn't the button it's tied to, but rather that jumping in an FPS has always been a problem considering the fact that you can't see your feet. In this game, the jumps also feels unusually short.
Speaking of short - the characters. Everybody who's a bit familiar with N64 multiplayer gaming will know about Oddjob. The character in Goldeneye 007 who were great to pick for multiplayer matches because he was so short. Now, imagine playing through the entire game like that. It's just so annoying that you feel so extremely small all the time. Of course it can be explained with the fact that they're kids, and at least some of the enemies are adjusted to it so you won't need to raise your crosshairs, but what really irritates me is that you often need to get so up-close with something (like when you're jumping up a ledge) that all you see is some brown or white wall color. It also often make you misjudge the angle or length of a jump, which leads to you having to start jumping sections over because you fell down.
As I mentioned in the beginning, the game plays out as a 3D shooter. Still, I wonder why. Goldeneye had already been released, and it set the standards very high. Things they might could've gotten away with here now feels very dated. Anyways, enough about the comparing rant, this game actually has some ideas of it's own.
The main game, singleplayer story mode, is mission- and level-based. While the objectives aren't as varied as most normal mission-based games, there are five different episodes in the game with three or four levels in each episode. These levels are usually built around the style that in the first one you gather your three friends (you choose which kid to play as when you start a new game), in two and three you just battle your way forward against enemies, and if there isn't a boss at the end of the third level, the fourth is mainly just a boss level. Sadly enough, all of these levels won't feel that unique, and it'll start to feel repetitive pretty fast.
No FPS game is complete without enemies, right? Here, there are a few different types of enemies per episode. While they might look pretty different, they still have mainly the same function. First, there are the normal, weak enemies - they attack in swarms and are generally pretty stupid. The AI isn't so good so if they can't use their only attack (which just consists of charging at you) they only walk around in circles. Then in some levels there are enemies which are capable of firing ranged shots at you. Something more interesting is the tank enemies - these are enemies with rather high HP which has a health bar you need to bring down. All of these can summon more of the weak kind of enemies, and some of the tanks also has own attacks. Overall, the enemies just feels uninspired, and it's very old fashioned to just use a stampede of enemies triggered by entering an area instead of trying to create some AI that you can actually try to sneak up on.
The tank enemies, however, bring a pretty fresh aspect to the gameplay. These are all heading towards one goal; South Park. The town. So in the levels where there are tanks, there's also a flashing red circle and a sign saying "South Park". If the tanks reach that circle, then it's... not over? Yeah, it's not over, and you get to play as nothing happened. Until you beat the level. If you let any tanks get to town in the level, you'll be taken to a penalty round, where you have to defeat the tanks you let through. This is on a very tight time limit, and I think it's hard to defeat more than three or four before the entire town is in ruins and you lose. I think this is an interesting and original aspect of the game, and it makes you work hard to defeat the tanks in the normal levels while it's more fun than if you had lost if they just reached town.
The levels in the game are some of the most boring I've ever seen. As I've mentioned earlier, most things are just one color, and another thing I also mentioned are the scale issues. But the levels are just so repetitive - snowfields, caves, the town. It's not even close to being as varied as most other games out there, and it also makes it easy to get lost because in many areas there are not many unique landmarks to navigate by. The developers tried to counter this by adding arrow signs to the levels, but these are rather small and can't really compare to unique features and landmarks in a level. There are also hidden areas in stages, where you can pick up some extra weapons, a bit of health or ammo. I've only found a few, but what really annoys me with the ones I've found is that many are hidden with no sign. Not as in hard to notice paths, more like they are hidden behind a passable texture of a cliff wall, it surely isn't well made. Lazy level design at it's worst.
Speaking about the weapons. Some of them are rather fun, but still won't feel very good. The default weapon you'll use is the snoball [sic] and because you'll want to conserve ammo for tanks and bosses, you'll use it a lot. What I don't really like about the snoball is that it's thrown at an angle (from your right hand), which sometimes causes it to miss a target in the middle of the crosshairs if it's too close. Other weapons are easier to use, and some even are like normal FPS guns - even if they are toys. Every weapon has a secondary fire mode too, which gives you higher power in exchange for more ammo usage or longer reload times. What's a bit strange is that most weapons are linked to a kid. As I mentioned, you pick your "main" when starting a game but pick the others up at the beginning of each level. So, you can't use a gun before you've both met the right kid and picked up the gun, as switching guns also means switching kids. I would've liked the kids to be different in another way - what about letting one be faster, one hit a little harder, and Cartman, well, he could just be really good at taunting enemies. A thing I really don't like about the weapons is that all ammo is rather scarce except for snoballs (they're endless!). It might work in Resident Evil type of games, but in this kind of game you want to be able to use the guns you pick up, but here you won't dare to because you know that those 80 dodgeballs you pick up will need to be used on upcoming tanks (or a boss) or you won't have time to kill them before they reach town.
There's also a score aspect of the game, and you get points for killing enemies and tanks. The longer you can go on without dying, the higher the score will get since it carries over from level to level. When you die, you get the choice to continue and will enter your name into a high-score list. After you beat a level you'll also have the choice to save the current progress to a memory card, which I feel is a bit cheap on a system like the N64 where you actually CAN save to a cart. But in this game, they won't let you. At least it only takes up 2 blocks.
I haven't really had a chance to test multiplayer against humans, but I've checked it up a bit on my own. The goals of this are the same as almost every other FPS on the N64; most kills in a time limit or first to a set number of kills for 2-4 players. Then, you select characters, level and start killing each other!
The thing I noticed at first when checking this out was that the levels were incredibly tiny. More like small arenas than the actual "battlefields" you can find in, say, Goldeneye. The problem with that is that spawn points are rather limited, when testing I once killed a player still in the spawn point with a sniper chicken. Next spawn point? Exactly the same spot. If that were in a real match, spawn point killers would be overjoyed. But it's just another example of a strange oversight the developers should have noticed.
Other than that, the multiplayer might be fun. There's plenty of levels to chose from, and even more characters. From the start, only the four kids are available, but as you progress through single player you'll unlock one character per level. If you're not up for the challenge of SP (or don't have a memory card to save your progress to) you can also unlock them with passwords you get at the end of each level (or at a site like GameFAQs). Note that the passwords are only for unlocking the characters, and cannot be used for saving in single player. The characters might be a bit unbalanced, as like in single player the kid characters are the Oddjobs of the game. Even if some have their tinyness outweighed by lower energy, it still feels very uneven. The weapons you get in multi are almost the same as in single player - one has been added and one is a bit tweaked. These are much more even than the characters, the only underpowered one is the snoball, but as the levels are so small you'll quickly find something better. Unless a spawn killer gets you.
Overall, I see how it can be fun for a small amount of time, but if you and a few friends start out an evening by playing this, I can still see how it gets swapped for Goldeneye or Perfect Dark before the night is over.
While I really would've loved for this to be a great game, to show people that license games can be perfect, it isn't. It really isn't. The tagline about oceans and glasses of waters is what you see when you're comparing this to Goldeneye. I still don't understand how the developers could go up against what was the top FPS back then, which more or less revolutionized the genre and modernized it. Here, we don't have hatshots, we have enemies rushing you. There ain't much of the strategy fun that Goldeneye has. I really think this game would've been better off as a 3D platformer, those games are much easier to get enjoyable than a shooter. But most of all, I think this game would've been better off if it were good.
As it is now, it's got boring graphics and horrible draw distances even with an expansion pak installed. The little part of gameplay that doesn't feel outdated are the tanks, which gets annoying because they mostly just spits out even more of the normal enemies. The story isn't up to South Park standards, with no political satire whatsoever, though the funny dialogue (sound is still good, at least) makes up for it a bit. Multiplayer could potentially be fun, but as I said I think people will just favor Goldeneye.
Overall, this is pretty much a disappointment, for gamers and for South Park fans. If you want an FPS for the N64, I'd recommend you to get Perfect Dark, Goldeneye and The World is Not Enough before even starting to consider this. I think the Turok games are pretty good too, even if I haven't played them. I give this game 5 out of 10 - it's purely bad in some aspects, while some things are just outdated (even at the time of release).
Product Release: South Park (EU, 05/03/99)
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