Platform: Xbox, PS3
Its not often you find yourself defeated in a game by a cape wearing Al Gore who has just summoned a secret service bodyguard, only to then unleash his devastating special move: a slide show on Global Warming which sends your party to sleep.
It has been said enough by just about anyone with a fondness for the popular ‘cult’ animated comedy South Park – The Stick of Truth is the game of the show we’ve always been hoping for. With a perfect authentic look, almost every character from the show making an appearance, and a fully explorable (yest still 2D) open world setting, it is impossible to distinguish the two.
Written and closely overseen by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the story is based on the same premise as some of the greatest episodes in the series – the ones where the children are playing a make believe game and the audience are treated to a mixture of their elaborate imaginations, and the comically crappy reality. Only this time you are the new kid in town and your mission is to make as many friends in your new town as possible.
Gameplay is based on the template of old school RPG’s, working along a similar model to the classic Final Fantasy games. This means peaceful wandering and questing across a fairly restricted open world, and turn based combat when you bump into an enemy or face a boss. All the classic elements and clichés of the genre are included, usually summarised with a sardonic quip from Cartman who acts as your instructor and tormentor in the early sections.
The combat is genuinely enjoyable despite being unpopular in todays twitch and shoot climate, featuring a wide variety of attacks requiring a surprising amount of attention to successfully pull off. Combined with a fairly complicated defense and blocking system it means a much greater level of skill is required than the old school ‘keep tapping attack unless facing a boss’ routine which most RPG’s inevitably become. Throughout you will have to make full use of skills and special summon moves to tilt the balance.
The adventure side is a joy in the early stages as you are given free reign to rumage through houses throughout the neighbourhood. Ever wondered what Mrs Cartman has tucked away in her bedside table (surely you can imagine) or what monstrosities Big Gay Al has in his garage? Even all of the disposable ‘junk’ has been carefully selected to reference something hilarious used in the show. The designers have done a expert job turning the 2D (and often inconsistently planned) town of South Park into a fully realised multi-route map but still retaining the restrictions of the characteristic 2D plain.
Some hard to please internet commenter types have complained that the games runtime is too short for an RPG but anyone expecting a 100 hour epic from a South Park game is severely damaged in the nut. There is more than enough content to justify the purchase – roughly making up a journey of around 25 hours if you close the curtains and do nothing else with your sorry existence. This really isn’t the type of game asking you to go on 5 hour pizza and beer binge marathons until your eyes bleed and you need to change your trousers. At most it suits an hour or two each session – the equivalent of 2 or 3 episodes a night, and easily enough to last a couple of weeks.
The different character classes potentially offer some replay value for obsessives but realistically they only really allow players to use slightly different moves – although one of these classes is called ‘Jew’ (only Matt Stone can get away with it) which surely justifies a play through by itself. Whether the gags are strong enough to make an instant second play enjoyable is debatable but perhaps in a few years it will ensure a fresh enough replay of a classic.
Realistically there is more than enough content on offer for a TV adaptation and pretty decent for a solid RPG.
There is of course the well documented controversy of the censorship which seems to have soured the whole release. In the age of the internet where anybody can Youtube the cut out scenes, it is the perfect example of corporations and regulatory bodies who clearly have no firm grasp on the reality of the modern world…
If there is one legitimate criticism which can be aimed at Stick of Truth it is the games lack of its own cutting edge commentary on any important current issues – such a central part of the comedy in the TV series. Without the clever moral tales hidden under all of the fart jokes, rape jokes, and swearing, South Park could come across as a little… immature. Maybe. Here it is left to stand up on the more base levels of humour, and references only devoted game players will probably get.
Then again it would be quite difficult for a game in production over several years to include new material and keep it current. Still, it does leave it feeling more like a ‘best of’ collection which if it were part of the series would feel like a let down.
Still, there is enough computer game based comedy and satire, packed in at almost every button press, to give this an identity of its own which episodes of the show wouldn’t be able to cover – well except the Make Love Not War-craft masterpiece.
For such an expansive and lovingly crafted product it is a wonder to think you can pick up The Stick of Truth for £20 – for that price who can resist. One for the fans of the show and gamers alike.