It’s interesting how resonance can be such a driving factor in genre gaming. For example, countless clones of various games exist in the mobile space, but manage to survive through thematic foundation. Jumping Finn might take its cues from Angry Birds, but because it features the popular Adventure Time license, it thrives. And these sorts of “cash-ins” often excel when licenses or themes are tied to gameplay mechanics in more appropriate form.
South Park: The Stick of Truth could be argued as being a Paper Mario clone, and you’d be right in throwing that comparison out there, but where the game elevates over its obvious gameplay foundation is in its celebration of everything Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It’s bloody funny, for one, and two, it realises the world of South Park in a way that’s never been done before while poking fun at itself for that very reason. Like Deadpool or CM Punk, South Park: The Stick of Truth is fully aware it is a videogame based on a TV show that has, from the beginning, adored videogames -- it’s as meta as meta comes.
But this is
South Park, and I don’t want to overthink it too much, what with all the dick and fart jokes just lying around this fully realised digital town, and believe me, they come aplenty.
Gameplay largely sees the player taking missions from other South Park characters while generally avoiding or confronting the enemy, who happens to be a group of kids in South Park. If you’re at all up-to-date with the series, you’ll know that the boys of the town role-played their own interpretation of Game of Thrones this season. This split them into two groups, but rather than follow the plot of the popular HBO series, they went in various directions; pulling information and ideas from a number of fantasy and videogame sources which, obviously, lead to the actual
creation of a videogame based on their made-up adventures.
So back to that Paper Mario comparison. The Stick of Truth is a turn-based adventure RPG with real-time inputs. You’re thrust into a battle scenario when you attack, or are attacked, by an enemy in the open-world proper, and each character takes a turn to inflict damage. You have all the usual RPG components in battle such as magic, potions, items and weapons and these can all be used as you see fit during your turn. When you’re attacked you can time a button press to diminish the attack value which is, classically, similar to Paper Mario. You can also have a party of characters who you also control in battle, and each time you attack, timing another button press means you can potentially inflict more damage. Again, just like Paper Mario.
The “open-world” I mentioned before is also very similar to the popular Nintendo RPG. While you can move about the town of South Park however you see fit, you’re confined to a faux 3D space with limited lateral movement. This doesn’t mean there aren’t different pathways through levels though, and Obsidian ought to be applauded for the puzzles and traversal options they’ve offered here. A sequence that saw me helping one of the boys escape from detention in the school, for example, not only rewardingly recreated the oft main stage of the show in interactive form, but gave me multiple paths and ways to proceed. It’s in the illusion of the show’s paper collage presentation that this expanded movement and progression idea really shines.
Where the game truly separates itself from the aforementioned title though, is in its maturity. South Park has always been unashamedly adult (it’s alarming my two-year-old says “South Park” whenever he sees it), and in The Stick of Truth its trademark humour comes through in spades. No foul language is held back, not any crass or crudeness either. If you’re easily offended then the game is definitely going to make you uncomfortable. It features farting, swearing, blood and guts, Nazi cats, Cartman-specific bigotry and even an abortion scene (which we get censored out in Australia, replaced instead with an image of a crying koala). And this is only what I’ve been exposed to so far -- given it draws from 17 seasons of characters and storylines, you can definitely expect it to pack a serious maturity punch. And I’m not complaining about that at all.
The short one-hour demo I took part in saw me playing the game on PC and in comparisons to the show in HD, it’s essentially 1:1. It might not seem like this is a big deal, but when you’re actually playing and interacting in the world, it is. Things like explosions or how people bleed or react when they’re injured are lifted directly from the show, and it’s really great to see a visual gem like this spewing forth from Obsidian. It’s no secret they don’t have the best track record in complete, issues-free development, but what I played looked and handled like a dream. It’s obviously far too early to call the game a success, but if this is a representation of the quality goal (and a result of the delay), then this will wind up being a very big feather in the studio’s cap.
It’s a bit disappointing at this stage that there hasn’t been an announcement revealing the game coming to next-gen machines, which still feels like a missed opportunity -- especially in the wake of the quality of the PC version, but it’s early days yet. There’s also the idea that, as a fairly heavily scripted narrative with a lot of cut-scenes, this might not be for everyone, but if you’ve ever enjoyed an episode or season of South Park, there’s value here. It’s difficult for me to sit on the fence though, because I’m a massive fan of the series and especially of the quality of writing and the presentation over the past 10 seasons, but as a huge fan I can tell you they’ve hit every beat. The game reeks of Matt and Trey’s heavy involvement and that it’s interactive in RPG form the way that it is, just makes that much more appealing. Honestly, I’m Goin' down to south park gonna have myself a time!