Licensed games have a patchy history. Occasionally something brilliant comes along – the Batman Arkham and Chronicles of Riddick franchises for instance – but usually you get a spluttering mess. South Park The Stick of Truth has the honour to be called not just a good licensed game, but a great one. But why?
The key part of any licensed experience is that it must evoke the feeling of the franchise. South Park (herein known as SP to save me typing South Park over and over again) gets off to an excellent start in this regard thanks to looking exactly like the cartoon. If someone walked in to see the game being played, they would question why you were holding a controller just to watch the TV. Bringing it closer to the show still is the fact that it is written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. And then probably the smallest, but one of the nicest, touches, is that each time you load up the game it opens with a little jingle just like when the show comes back after a commercial break.
Having said all that, a SP game would be nothing without humour that is actually funny. The game succeeds more often than. The best episodes of SP are those that focus on a target and then skewer it mercilessly. This focus and this satire is what has made SP as popular as it is. In comparison the game is quite scattershot in its targets, with no one focus. This is very much a double edged sword. It allows the game to poke fun at everything and anything, my particular favourite is a running joke about how ridiculous audio logs in video games can be. It can mean that some of the crude humour has no direct target and so lacks any context and therefore any humour. Saying ‘poop’ alone is not funny. Saying that, it is all a moot point if you aren’t already a fan of SP’s particular brand of humour. If you don’t like the show you will hate the game.
Moving past the humour, there is no point in a game being funny if you do not enjoy actually playing it. Thankfully the game is entertaining to play. It is essentially a rather simplified RPG, with very simplified turn based combat. It is almost like they have taken the gameplay from a ‘babies first RPG’ and then added the least child friendly skin to it they possibly could. In combat you have several different options for instance, a melee attack, a ranged attack, a ‘magic’ attack and a summon attack. By magic I mean fart, and variations on that theme. The most used of these being the Skyrim referencing ‘Dragon Shout’. The summons themselves are very funny, though the humour obviously diminishes with repeated use. Jesus with a machine gun may be funny once, twice at a push, but no more than that. In open world gameplay there are lots of things to see and do. Plenty to interact with. You will find yourself visiting all the locales from the show; the school, Tom’s Rhinoplasty, Cartmans house, Canada, to name but a few. You are in for a treat when you reach Canada. You will not find yourself getting bored for its 15 hour runtime.
But what about the story? If the humour is there and the gameplay is there, you still need a driving force. Thankfully the story delivers exactly what you expect of SP. Just a few of the story beats it manages to cover elves v humans, aliens, Nazis, zombies, underpants gnomes and Manbearpig. No one element manages to outstay its welcome.
A big talking point in the lead up to the games release what that certain scenes had been censored in Europe. Personally I had no issue with this. For those who do not know, the scenes censored include an anal probing and an abortion. I cannot say I felt I missed out by not getting to give someone an abortion. You may disagree. Censorship is a thorny issue, though, an definitely a topic for another time. To sum this particular issue up, it does not take away from the game at all.
I haven’t really dwelt on any negatives so far, but they are there. As alluded to with the summons, the humour can become repetitive. Most characters only have two or three stock phrases during battle, or if you talk to them outside of battle, and once you have heard each one of them for the tenth or twentieth time, you may wish they would just act like mutes. It is an issue all comedy video games have, and as a common grievance you would have hoped that the developers would have included a little more variety in speech. A strange annoyance I encountered was slow down. On more than one occasion the game started to chug a bit and the frame rate took a hit. In a game with high end graphics this can be understandable, but for a game that is as simplistic as this it is just bizarre.
In summary then, this is a game for those who are already fans of the franchise. It will not convert those with a dislike of the crude humour and language. The gameplay is solid, but is not a reason to buy the game; the reason to buy falls firmly in what the license brings to the table. So for SP fans, pick it up and prepare to have your funny bones tickled.
Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments box below…