If you used the terms role-playing game and South Park in the same sentence prior to the announcement of South Park: The Stick of Truth, I probably would have laughed in your face. South Park has established a longstanding reputation for comedic excellence that goes all the way back to the show’s debut in 1997. The show has evolved over the years (now approaching its 17th season), and so has its comedy – the same cannot be said for its games however. South Park never had the presence on video game consoles that it had on the television screen starting with South Park for N64/PS/PC released in 1998, to the poorly-received South Park: Tenorman’s Revenge for XBLA, released last year. South Park has had a total of five video game incarnations – all five were duds.
The creators of South Park, Matt Parker and Trey Stone, continue to have a very intimate relationship with South Park – to this day they still do most of the writing, voice-acting, and directing. For the first time, the creators now have a strong voice and influence in a South Park video game.
South Park: The Stick of Truth pits an army of elves commanded by Stan, and humans lead by Cartman. Their costumes are based off those that they wore in the season six episode, “The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers.” Even if you are not a die-hard fan, it is not hard to recognize that the game is very much in the spirit of the show; thus many aspects of the game are references to the show and pop-culture. There are curses (f-bombs aplenty) and black humor that are flung around with the same level of cavalierness as they are in the show are the core of the game’s narrative. Obsidian Entertainment has not reigned in the shows comedic attributes in the slightest. Coupled with the fact that the game is produced to look just like the animation style of the show along with the involvement of Parker and Stone, at times I truly felt like I was watching an episode (or the long-awaited sequel film).
The hands-off sequence which we were shown depicted a battle in South Park Elementary between Stan and Cartman’s aforementioned Elves and Humans, respectively. Most of what we saw in the demonstration depicted the humor and the animation style of the show that I mentioned before. Moving through the school and fighting enemies was very much akin to moving through a dungeon in any popular RPG. Fans of the RPG genre and/or South Park will find something to like in this game. The numerous references to pop culture and use of black humor utilized in the dialogue also resonate to the gameplay. The menu for instance, is fashioned as a Facebook profile – all of your allies, powers, and items can be accessed through it.
While South Park: The Stick of Truth has taken on the aspects of a fantastical RPG, it is wholly grounded in “reality.” Casting a fire spell is depicted on screen as lighting a fart or igniting the spray from an aerosol can. This leads into probably what was my only major gripe with the game. A majority of the “powers,” while funny, were feculent in nature, one way or another. This should not be misinterpreted as a complaint about the powers themselves, as I am more concerned with having a more diverse selection. I am a fan of comedy, and on a personal level I feel that we should be able to make fun of anything no matter what the subject. South Park has embodied this philosophy for years, so it would be nice if it were reflected in all aspects of its gameplay – hopefully there is a lot more to it than simply farts and sh*t.
This demonstration was unfortunately very brief, which was disappointing because I was guffawing almost literally from beginning to end. Obsidian has put together what may arguably be the most well-received South Park game, partly because it looks to be very truthful to the show in its look and writing.
South Park: The Stick of Truth will be published by Ubisoft for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on November 19th, 2013.