Single cognac + bitter lemon + angostura bitters = centaur spice

Ok, it’s been quite a while since my last blog post. I’d offer up the usual feeble excuses (too busy, not enough time etc) but truth be told, I just haven’t felt like updating my blog in an age. There has been a lot happening recently but this requires downtime just to recharge sufficiently for the next task. Other lower priority activities – secondary importance, if not tertiary.

In key updates: I finally made it to Dublin over 3/4 April, staying at the Trinity Lodge (nice hotel btw, recommended). Got to the airport early enough for a long lunch at Giraffe (all day vegetarian breakfast) and a coffee whilst chuckling at Viz. AFAIK, it’s the first time I’ve been to Terminal One; can’t see why they’re going to be demolishing it but I would hope that BAA know what they’re doing. Flight was totally crowded being a rush-hour journey but amazingly enough, the only free seat on the plane was the one between me and some fat guy; no snickering please.

Impressions of Dublin – overall, the city felt…sad. Melancholic. The pervading atmosphere had a tinge of gloom but then again, Ireland was hit especially hard in the recent economic predations. Perhaps it was lingering echoes of that. It also reminded me of a larger version of Bloomsbury with all the tall townhouses interspersed with the greenery. Of course this was just the city centre. What I saw on the way in from the airport was a mini-version of Docklands. The people seemed upbeat and cheerful enough though. Took a while to find what I thought to be a half-decent Irish restaurant and even then it was a tourist sting operation but at 10pm, I was too tired and hungry to care. Wowed the waiters as I downed two bottles of Magners in mere seconds whilst waiting for my Irish Brie starter.

Breakfast in the hotel was fantastic though I think the waitress was disappointed when I settled for poached eggs over the Full Irish (John D at work warned me about white pudding as a herbivore) but made up for it by attacking the pastries with aplomb. Lunch was in Ely’s wine bar and I had the Thai curry, again nice but a little disappointing. Great venue though. So I think I walked around the city centre three times in total, up and down the river, through the winding streets, the shopping area, Trinity Green and the like taking in the sights. Didn’t do the castle however and dithered over what tacky souvenir to buy as there was no proper landmark statuette. In the end I settled for Molly Malone in a snow globe and some Guinness flavoured truffles. Got drunk in the airport waiting for the flight home – wasn’t my fault, the cider was moderately priced. MODERATELY PRICED! Now I know why celebrities get chucked off planes for being tanked. It’s great fun!

I think I’d go back to Dublin, but with someone. There are cities you can enjoy solo like Berlin or Paris and there are cities which work better in groups such as Dublin. It’s a vibe. But next…hmm, either back to Berlin or perhaps somewhere new. Vienna might be nice or perhaps somewhere in Canada.

What else? Two weeks leave immediately after Dublin – first week was spent doing stuff with other people, the second week was a self-indulgent week. I didn’t plan it that way but when you lose your only set of house keys and Dom being in Portsmouth for three days…your priorities kinda change. £95 for an emergency locksmith visit, that’s a new experience. Swam a bit, had people round, went out, had sex, had more sex, got appallingly drunk more than once…bought South Park: Stick of Truth…

So: contemporary game on the Xbox time. Yeah, I went to Game, saw a second hand copy for £25 and a brand new copy for £30 so paid the extra and got me the new game (albeit with the £16 stored on my reward card). I didn’t know much about the title other than it was an RPG and loosely based on the general Dungeons and Dragons-style episode. A good start, no preconceptions.

Premise – You’re the new kid in town with a secret and you arrive in the middle of a fantasy crazy where the kids have divided into two factions (humans and elves led by Cartman and Kyle respectively) and are fighting over the “Stick of Truth”; a MacGuffin. With the theft of the stick from Cartman’s faction, you get caught up in the craze and go a-questing in the town of South Park, interacting with all sorts of characters and fighting all sorts of beings.

Graphics – top notch, it’s just like watching a long episode of the cartoon, complete with the crude animations. Both foreground and background objects are clear and crisp and easily distinguishable. Some of the text could be a little larger in the inventory screens but that’s more a personal preference. The FMV sequences flawlessly amend your character’s current aesthetic (which can change rapidly during the course of a game) without any jarring or other crashes. The Canada section of the game – genius.

Sounds – Again, because of the heavy input by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, none of the sounds are out of place from an episode of South Park and of course there are plenty of meta references and call-backs to previous episodes, character themes. When you go into shops, a lot of songs are played in the background including some of the finest from Chef’s repertoire and Jennifer Lopez’s “Tacos”. The voice acting is top notch with so much variety; there’s less repetition for generic phrases. The characters sound involved in the game, not some bored actor reading from a script.

Gameplay – fairly standard RPG, turn based battles, minimal exploring on the map and with Timmy’s bike, there’s no endless traipsing over maps back and forth sucking the pleasure from the game. Novices can pick up the mechanics of the game pretty quickly, the menus and inventories are simple enough, screens aren’t too crowded with useless data. Everything was balanced about right; Obsidian have really outdone themselves.

Replayability & Lastability – there are four classes of character to play through the game as leading to different combat experiences but the generic storyline remains the same so a second play through will seem repetitive and it’s difficult to ascertain whether one will bother a third or fourth time (except changing the difficulty levels). That said, the game is fairly well contained. There’s a little backtracking to be done but it’s not enough to detract from the overall experience. Levelling up of characters is done at appropriate stages but you reach the level 15 cap fairly quickly which is disappointing, particularly if you head to the forest and grind your way through battles. Some way of dodging the horribly overmatched battles would be nice but not critical.

Extras – there have been two downloadable packs released (to date) giving three new outfits each + one with both packs combined. They’re quite “low level” outfits meaning they’ll be pretty useless in the later game but do look quite pretty. Worth the money? Probably not as it happens, more would have been nice.

Overall – definitely worth a punt, especially if you’re a fan of the show. It’s probably a good way for noobs to get to grips with an RPG as it isn’t overly complicated. The humour is fantastic, graphics and sound are superb whilst it’s easy to get absorbed into the game. Biggest gripes are the length of the game as too short and a the low level cap. But hopefully, the experience will be positive enough to spawn a sequel as it’s definitely worth investing in.