In its 17 years on our screens South Park has offended pretty much everyone with its caustic humour but its games have struggled to bottle the show’s comic magic.
South Park: The Stick of Truth plans to change that with an outrage-soaked RPG written by show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone themselves. But after delays that even the show took the mick out of and last-minute censorship for us sensitive Europeans, will the end result be as welcome as a ginger kid in Cartman’s bedroom?
Straight off the telly
The first thing that strikes you about The Stick of Truth is how good a job the developers have done at recreating the look and feel of the show. The jerky animation could have come straight off the telly and the town of South Park is there to explore in all its dark, surreal glory.
What’s more, for much of the game’s 15-plus hours, the series’ vicious humour shines through - not least during a wickedly funny lampooning of gaming’s obsession with audio logs. Only the high amount of loading between locations lets the atmosphere down.
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The new kid
Rather than being cast as one of the show’s familiar characters, you play “the new kid” who arrives in the midst of a Lord of the Rings-style play-war where elves and human battle for the all-powerful Stick of Truth. Eric Cartman, leader of the humans, decides you are the chosen one and gets you running errands to help him win in traditional RPG fashion.
Alongside the main quests there are plenty of madcap side missions to keep you amused - from helping Al Gore catch the ManBearPig to collecting scattered Chinopokomons. No idea what either of those things are? You’ve not watched enough South Park.
The quest structure adheres to role-playing tradition, but the Stick of Truth is really Dungeons & Dragons reimagined by Cartman.
The character class options set the tone, offering a choice of fighter, mage, thief or - ahem - Jew. The latter of which can shoot stars of David at foes. Where other games offer magic, Stick of Truth invites you to master the art of targeted flatulence, and weapons are made more deadly by attaching tufts of ginger pubic hair. It’s exactly what you’d expect and want from a South Park RPG - a game that walks the line between puerile and satirical to hilarious effect.
When it comes to battles The Stick of Truth is surprisingly old-school, opting for turn-based combat reminiscent of Japanese RPGs such as Final Fantasy. Winning comes down to using your abilities and items wisely rather than frantic button bashing.
That won’t be to everyone’s taste - as Cartman says early on: “I know it’s lame but taking turns is how we’re doing it” - but in truth it’s not “lame” at all. The intricacies of the battles give the game proper depth.
When it comes to flaws the game’s biggest problem is its cluttered map that does little to help you keep track of individual missions.
And then there’s the censorship. Several scenes involving mini-games about anal probes and abortions have been replaced in Europe with screens explaining that it was done for our own protection. Because obviously Europeans are really easily offended by these topics. Unlike Americans.
In truth, losing these sections is probably no great loss, but this is an 18-rated game so it irritates all the same.
South Park: The Stick of Truth verdict
The Stick of Truth has had a torrid time making it onto our shelves but the end result delivers on the promise - bringing the crazy world of South Park onto our gaming screens with the cutout animation and all the acidic humour intact. And it’s backed by strong RPG mechanics to boot.
Like a visit from Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo, it’s just what game-loving South Park fans have been waiting for.
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