South Park: The Stick of Truth Review
I’ll be frank: I’m not the biggest “South Park” fan. I mean, I was but over the years, the gutter humor has worn a little thin. And as the latest video game adaptation isn’t exactly light on the disgusting, potentially offensive content – you can only hear the word “douchebag” so many times before it stops being funny – this isn’t really my thing. Were I to score it for myself, this game maybe gets a 7.5. However, I must practice what I preach, in that critics are supposed to analyze games for the target audience and in that respect, Obsidian’s got a clear-cut winner.
There’s absolutely no doubt that South Park: The Stick of Truth looks almost exactly like the long-running cartoon. In fact, I actually think it looks better in some respects. The developers effectively capture the essence of the series by focusing on the well-known visual quirks that give the TV show that singular appeal. You know what I mean; it looks like an eight-year-old drew it but at the same time, there’s an unmistakable layer of slickness. That’s precisely what you find in this game and it’s a godsend for die-hard fans. You’ve never seen a “South Park” game look this good!
The sound is yet another triumph, as that familiar (if occasionally grating) voice acting makes its presence known in the first few minutes. Cartman’s trademark whine is only one example; the bottom line is that the video game looks and sounds exactly like the TV show. That’s a pretty hefty accomplishment. The soundtrack fits, the effects fit, the voices definitely fit, and all in all, you’re looking at a truly interactive version of the extraordinarily popular television series. If someone walks through the room without looking at the TV, they’ll think you’re watching an episode. And even if they do look, they’ll still think that.
Therefore, it goes without saying that Obsidian did their job in the technical department. It’s not a mind-blowing presentation but it’s not supposed to be, either. It’s designed to mirror the show and it does just that. Let’s pause for a moment and acknowledge that very rare truism, because we’re talking about a licensed property here. Games based on movies and TV shows are notoriously mediocre (some can’t even aspire to mediocre). Well, many are arguing that The Stick of Truth might be the best licensed property game in existence and while I won’t go quite that far, I’ll admit it’s certainly in the running.
The game itself is a gloriously low-brow cacophony of razor-sharp jokes and over-the-top scenarios. Technically, it’s a role-playing game, in that you have classes, abilities, and individual character advancement. However, when compared to other games in the genre, one has to recognize the following fact: South Park is like…Role-Playing Lite. Just about every element of a true RPG can be found in this 10-12 hour adventure, but each element feels simplified for the sake of the target audience. I mean, that’s cool with me, but it needs to be mentioned.
The problem is that the game doesn’t present much of a challenge, and if it weren’t for the ceaseless barrage of innuendo-laden puns and outright shocking segments, the game would feel a tad underwhelming. However, if you’re willing to overlook this, if you’re not anticipating a Dragon Age-type experience (and you really shouldn’t), you should be in for a very tasty treat. You need to qualify as a card-carrying “South Park” aficionado but if you do, you’re gonna have a blast. From the moment you begin, you’ll have a smile on your face, ‘cuz you know the laughs are coming.
That’s sort of the key: The game is really fun to play. It’s not deep and it’s not hard and it’s not politically correct. It is – and let me emphasize this – exactly what “South Park” is. You play as the new kid in town. You don’t have much to say; in fact, you say nothing throughout the entire bizarre quest. However, you’re important. You’re so important that the fate of the town and indeed, of the world, rests upon your shoulders. There’s also some sort of alien invasion going on, but that’s almost irrelevant. What matters is the setting, style and atmosphere, all of which are cut directly from the popular show.
You choose one of four character classes: Fighter, Mage, Thief and Jew. Yeah, you read that correctly. If you select the latter class, you’ll use the sling of David to attack your enemies, and there’s even a circum-scythe to inflict bleeding damage to a certain part of your opponent’s body. However, while each class certainly has its own skills, you can still equip any weapon or piece of armor. You can also customize your weapons with “strap-ons” and you can emphasize your armor with patches, but again, here’s the “RPG Lite” factor: It doesn’t matter too much what you choose to equip because it’s unlikely that you’ll ever die.
You can bring a buddy into battle so it’s not exactly a party, per se, but it’s nice to have a partner in combat. Each character has unique special abilities, so pick your favorite and soldier forth! There’s all sorts of grossness to encounter, and that includes hitting up toilets for feces, which you can then fling at enemies. They’ll throw up when you do. The point is that despite the lack of depth and difficulty, you’re always conscious of the environment and in fact, this is “South Park.” Each character is perfectly displayed and presented and all his actions gel with his TV persona. In this way, The Stick of Truth is the ultimate fanservice video game.
Whether you’re exploring, fighting, or watching yet another absurd scene that likely isn’t suitable for anyone under the age of, oh, 30, you’re always having fun. That’s the goal of any video game, isn’t it? It doesn’t really matter that your choices don’t have a huge impact on the story, and it is an RPG, even if it’s a little light on customization and content. From start to finish, you’re enjoying the nutty quest; you’re indulging in the gleefully sick jokes and the segments that are in such horrible taste, you can’t help but laugh. It’s a wacky, wonderfully juvenile, and especially rewarding ride for the fans, and that’s critical.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a love note to all you loyal fans. It’s not perfect and it’s bound to get some complaints concerning the ludicrous content, but hey, what did you expect? It doesn’t do quite enough with the story or role-playing elements (if it did, we could fully lose ourselves in the experience) but other than that, it’s difficult to find a problem. If you’re easily offended, steer clear. But if you’ve laughed at the no-holds-barred, no-punches-pulled comedy of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, you’ll very likely enjoy this game. It’s not very long but I have a feeling that when it’s done, you’ll say you’ve had your fill…and your face will still sport a smile.
The Good: Fantastic and amazingly accurate visual presentation. Great voice performances and effects. Perfectly captures the style and spirit of the show. Accessible and entertaining from top to bottom. Raucously hilarious at all times. A true-blue love letter to fans.
The Bad: A little on the short side. Light on the story and RPG elements. Definitely too gross at times.
The Ugly: “This game revels in ‘ugly.’”
3/6/2014 Ben Dutka