When approaching a review of any videogame that is inspired by or is an offshoot from a movie or TV series, there are two questions that become paramount when considering the game’s success or failure. How faithful is it to the source material? And how does it stand up as a videogame? Newly released, Role Playing Game, South Park: The Stick of Truth, from Ubisoft and Obsidian, is no exception to this kind of scrutiny.
The South Park licence has undergone the videogame treatment before, with – if we’re being kind – mixed results. Seemingly trying to emulate the success of games like Goldeneye and Mario Kart. Forgettable and irritating first person shooters and kart racing games were produced, along with a fairly terrible party game (Chef’s Luv Shack, 1999); all lucky to scrape 4/10 in most reviews.
South Park slipped off the videogame grid almost completely until South Park: The Stick of Truth was revealed back in 2012. Expected to be released in 2013, the game was hindered by delays and the closure of publisher,THQ.
Thankfully, after picking up the rights to the game, new publisher Ubisoft have kept the game on schedule and delivered the game to our doors ready for the Friday, March 7th release date in the UK.
But what exactly have they delivered?
Firstly, with regard to how faithful they have been to the source material, there is no doubt that this is head and shoulders above any of the other South Park games.
The look of the game is truly impressive. Instead of trying to create a ‘videogame’ world, that resembles or is based upon South Park, the art direction has given us: South Park. It looks, moves and feels exactly like the show. The animation is identical, the characters and voice acting are taken directly from the show too. It may have seemed a bold statement at the time, but when it was suggested this game would be like playing a season of South Park, it was pretty much spot on.
The close involvement of South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker is evident from the moment you start to play (they were emphatically and outspokenly not involved in any of the previous attempts at games). The premise of the game is simple: you play as the new kid arriving in South Park where the kids embroiled in an epic make believe war for the Stick of Truth.
After the typical day of school and chores, the children in that snowy mountain town, don their cosplay clothing and take to the streets to play Humans vs Drow Elves. You first encounter the ‘humans’, led by Grand Wizard, Cartman. He invites you to join him in the Kindom of Kupa Keep (or ‘KKK’ as he repeatedly refers to it). Here you get to choose your class (Fighter, Mage,Thief or Jew) and from there the quest begins.
The trademark foul mouthed, sharply observed and keenly satirical comedy the show is known for, oozes from every pore. Within the first 10 minutes I genuinely laughed out loud (and spilled my tea) on multiple occasions. The writing makes a range of playful and biting observations of everything from the culture of celebrity, the world of religion and sexuality to family planning and even videogames themselves (the self-referential audio recordings were a particular highlight for me).
Fan service is paid and then some! Literally littered throughout the town are hundreds of tiny references for those who have stuck with the show through all 17 seasons (so far). Be it the Betsy Donovan memorial toilet in the garage next to Clyde’s house (from Season 16), right back to the presence of ‘Weight Gain 4000’ as a power up (from Season 1). There is so much packed in here, that it very quickly made me regret the fact that I haven’t watched the more recent series as faithfully as I used to. As aware as I am of Al Gore’s Man Bear Pig obsession and Chinpokomon (that features as the one of the game’s collectibles) – I also know there are some references I am probably missing.
There is no mistaking this is Stone and Parker’s baby, the long delays due to publisher switching aside, this is a game they were not prepared to green light until it looked and felt like South Park. In short, it’s hilarious.
When it comes to gameplay however, this is very clearly Obsidian’s domain. As far as the satirical genius of Stone and Parker extends, perhaps their greatest achievement with this game, is knowing their limits. Handing over the gameplay elements to the experienced team at Obsidian Entertainment was a master stroke. Obsidian have handled some pretty heavyweight titles in their history, including Knights of the Old Republic 2, Neverwinter Nights 2 and Fallout: New Vegas.
The game is huge, though centered around the town (that was mapped out for the first time especially for the game), you will spend a good deal of time questing away from streets too. As you acquire more items and ‘skills’ (I won’t spoil anything here), more of the areas, along with a few hidden gems, become available.
Combat is very similar to something like Paper Mario. Standard turn based, but if you can perfectly time a button press, you can take extra damage off an opponent or reduce the damage you take. Your health and ability points replenish after each fight, but your magic can only be replenished through consuming mana potions (usually gone-off food, that builds up a good store of gas).
Housed within the simple look of the game are surprisingly deep RPG elements, especially the equipment and combat systems. Clothing (hat, clothes, gloves) all have individual benefits. Different weapons can be accessed when your character reaches a certain level. Additionally, different stickers can be added to your weapons and armour to give extra boosts (like getting a perfect hit grants you 10 health points or add 15% fire damage).
Deciding what to outfit your character with in terms of weaponry is great fun and easy to change if something isn’t working.
Everything one would expect from a good RPG is present, it just has a South Park veneer, complete with quirky humour that actually makes a lot of sense. For example, you can replenish your health by eating cheesy poofs; gain extra strength by chowing down on Weight Gain 4000 (BEEFCAKE!!) or speed your character up (gaining extra attacks) by chugging some of Tweak’s organic coffee.
Brilliant little touches like adding a dead bird to your stick weapon, grant that weapon a ‘gross out’ ability, making your opponents feel ill and therefore unable to use consumables that could replenish their health or boost their stats. If the enemy IS buffed, you can remove their buffs by tossing a water balloon and drenching them, taking away their extra powers. Staples of RPGs, yet somehow more coherent within the South Park universe.
The whole thing is perfectly crafted to act like a turn-based RPG, while never breaking away from the idea that this is kids playing at war.
South Park does have some little niggles. As deep as the weapon and armour systems are, you only ever have to worry about your character. You can’t buy and outfit new weapons and clothing for Butters, Kenny or Stan – something which might not seem relevant to some, but anyone who has spent time with RPGs may miss this involvement in your party’s progress.
There are also some minor technical difficulties. At certain points, primarily when loading a new section of the town or when the game auto-saves, the game will stutter briefly (at least on the PS3 version). However, if ever there were a game that could gleefully stutter along without it being an issue, South Park would be it. The deliberately crappy animation has always been a feature of the show, this is just a little more emphasised. Certainly not game breakingly so. There was also one moment that my character got stuck on a ladder near Kenny’s house, but a quick reload of the auto-save point as I entered the shack sorted that out and it didn’t happen again.
These tiny gripes aside, South Park is an absolutely incredible achievement that offers everything you could want as a fan of the show or as a fan of RPGs and videogames in general. Lovingly crafted, with stunning attention to detail and a plethora of plots and subplots that are worthy of the show. South Park: The Stick of Truth is setting a new bench mark for TV and film videogame crossovers.
Richard is a father, teacher, gamer and writer. He believes that The Last of Us and Olli Olli 2 are the finest games ever made, feels that the StarWars Saga should only be watched in ‘the Machete order’ and once cleared Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in one sitting. Took him 20 hours, four cups of tea and a sausage roll. You can follow him on twitter @TLOUFactionsMP or @VigilanteSanta and view his occasional twitch outbursts on twitch.tv/spooklebeans.