Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment, South Park Digital Studios
Ratings: M (ESRB), 18 (PEGI), R18+ (ACB)
PC version provided on behalf of Ubisoft
Licensed games are two words that when put together make many gamers cringe. In all the history of gaming where TV shows and movies have been made into video games, there have only been a few hits, with the Star Wars games coming to mind more often than many. Most games based on TV shows are often amusing for a few hours at best but lose their charm quickly, but we are pleased to say that this was not our experience with South Park: The Stick of Truth.
So let’s get the obvious out of the way, South Park: The Stick of Truth is good. In fact, it’s really good. We’ve been playing it all weekend and comparing notes and we all pretty much came to the same conclusion on all fronts. The creators of the South Park TV series have come together with Obsidian, worked closely with them, and have created something which is truly special. If you read or watched our most anticipated article last month, then you know that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were on the project from start to finish; looking over the shoulders of the game creators, tweaking here, writing there and just generally getting into the designers’ personal space to make sure that what they created was nothing short of quality.
The story in South Park: The Stick of Truth is a simple one. You play the new kid in town and can customise your character to look almost any way you want. You have no dialogue options and the new kid doesn’t talk (which in turn makes them the brunt of many jokes from characters trying to get you to talk.) Having just moved to South Park, the player is introduced by his parents who are happily enjoying their new home, when they realise their mute child has no friends to speak of. Immediately, the player is told to leave the house and make friends. The first of these friends you run into is Butters, who is getting beat up by a neighborhood kid. After a quick rescue, Butters introduces the new kid to Cartman, who invites them to play with the local Live Action Role Play (LARP) group, the Knights of Kupa Keep (KKK) and shows them the Stick of Truth. Whoever holds the Stick of Truth controls the universe and can make or break any rules in the kids’ LARP game. Naturally, this means that the Elven faction of the game steals the Stick and as a result, the player must do everything in their power to get the Stick back. The story doesn’t stop there though, as The Stick of Truth quickly escalates to a full on government conspiracy involving aliens, Taco Bell and fart throwing (yes we’re serious).
Naturally there’s more to the game than this though. Obsidian is a veteran RPG maker with the likes of Knights of The Old Republic 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Neverwinter Nights 2 and Alpha Protocol under their belts. This experience results in a lot of zany side quests which range from playing hide and seek with kindergartners, to helping Mister Hanky the Christmas Poo overcome some family issues, to helping a local restaurant owner beat up some Mongolian kids whose parents keep taking over his restaurant. There’s a lot to do in South Park and we had a hard time putting it down for stuff like eating, going to the bathroom and socializing.
Another great thing about the game is the way it looks. For those who haven’t seen the show, South Park is animated in a construction paper cut-out style and was originally filmed using stop motion. The characters don’t have much natural movement to them, instead opting to hop around to get from place to place and emote using simple head movement and facial animations. The same goes with the town of South Park with a few exceptions, like explosions and sci-fi elements. The game covers all of the above flawlessly, and from start to finish we felt like we were in a living breathing incarnation of South Park Colorado. The loading screens are also very quick and the transitions between gameplay and cut scenes are fast and flawless. The game looks so good that we didn’t even see any sharp edges or textures that would make it stand out as a game. The only graphical glitch during the entirety of our playthrough was a background character missing part of their body for about 5 seconds.
The controls are really good as well although this is where we also ran into some problems on the PC. South Park: The Stick of Truth is obviously designed with consoles in mind, as the keyboard controls on the PC are very touchy. For this review, we played it on PC and at the start of the game, we discovered that the keyboard controls made combat almost unplayable at times. However after plugging in an Xbox 360 pad and trying again, all the problems went away and it was smooth sailing. It is highly recommended that if you are going to play this on PC that you use a gamepad, preferably a 360 gamepad as the game is programmed with that in mind.
The way the game plays is very simple. Characters can walk to pretty much any area on the map, enter homes, businesses and even cross the Canadian border (yay!). Players can also use party members and flatulence to help bypass obstacles. Player inventory is accessed via a smartphone which links them to a character sheet designed to look like a Facebook profile. The more friends players make in South Park, the more abilities and summons can be unlocked. Inventory lets players change up their armor, ranged and melee weapons, stickers which augment weapons as well as junk and potions. The menus are very well organised and easy to navigate. Players also have a fast travel option by unlocking Timmy travel points across the map, of which there are twelve to find altogether.
Combat works in a similar fashion to Pokémon or classic Final Fantasy games. It’s turn based which means that you don’t have to rush into a strategy. Instead, players can take their time and work out a plan of attack. Players will have melee, ranged, special attacks, summons and one party member at their disposal to handle combat, as well as snacks and drinks which act as potions, and water balloons which act as enemy debuffs. The combat is implemented very well in game and works perfectly unless players are using the previously mentioned keyboard and mouse controls (seriously, get a gamepad).
The game sounds very good as well and in fact is one of the places that South Park: The Stick of Truth really shines. The entire voice cast is here and they are all performing at their very best. There’s even some reference humor from episodes of the show including a cut scene that won’t end because Jimmy Valmer can’t stop stuttering. Background music sounds really good as well, giving the game the feeling of an epic journey which at the same time made us giggle from the kids chanting in the background. Another really nice touch to the soundtrack is the way that it plays the South Park intro jingle when you first load up a save game, which adds to the feeling that you are in an actual episode of South Park.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a very special game. It stays true and faithful to the series it comes from while at the same time making for a truly amazing RPG experience. The characters and world are fully realized and designed so well that the game really feels like the players are a part of the show’s world. The story is laugh out loud funny and full of side quests that expose players to an interesting narrative that is both fun and ridiculous. Aside from a touchy keyboard control scheme and some almost non-existent visual hiccups, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a masterpiece of TV to game licensing that should be celebrated and used as an example to all others who wish to make the move from TV to gaming.