South Park video game sticks it to the man

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South Park: The Stick of Truth. Image: Ubisoft.
South Park: The Stick of Truth. Image: Ubisoft.
South Park: The Stick of Truth. Image: Ubisoft.

If one rule governs South Park: The Stick of Truth, it is the Gentleman’s Oath: “Never, ever, fart on anyone’s balls”. Everything else is fair game, in the first South Park adaptation designed by the series’ creators, in which the show’s cast embarks upon a noble quest to become more offensive than ever.

Dumped into town as the ‘New Kid,’ the player goes full ‘Chosen One’ as he enters what amounts to a turf war between children. Bloods and Crips have been replaced by Cartman’s ‘men’ battling Kyle’s ‘elves’ for possession of the titular Stick, in a continuance of the last season’s Game of Thrones episodes. The New Kid is given the choice of four classes, Knight, Mage, Thief or Jew, and sets off on an adventure. The visuals catch the look of the show perfectly, and there is rarely a moment that does not feel like what you’re playing is just a long, interactive episode.

There is also a vague and perhaps fitting resonance with the video games of our childhood – there’s a lot of wandering around a cartoon world finding collectibles – only now it’s pubes and dildos being collected to (worryingly) sell to other children. Of course, the game’s meat is combat, well presented visually, with a naturally heinous and scatological veneer to a conventional turn-based system that can become fairly mechanical. It’s fortunate then that the thrill of farting an enemy apart takes a while to get old. Side missions such as a quest to ‘find Jesus’ unlock special attacks which are worth using, though in general this is an easy game with pretensions of being more tactical than it is, and there is no need to horde these unique moves.

The level cap arrives irritatingly early if you spend time doing the side missions, and this can lead to a late game where your character no longer develops. The fact that most of the characters in a 16-hour game are voiced by two men also tends to show, with little variation in background chatter, and it can begin to feel rather repetitive.

The atmosphere remains South Park, but it’s sometimes only skin deep. Nevertheless it is wantonly offensive, delighting in a level of crass and tasteless humour that exceeds even the show itself and occasionally teeters on edge of true obscenity. This may be a tad subjective, but when you’re beating a giant bawling aborted Nazi-zombie foetus into submission, well, some people may not blink, but even I paused. That said, the scenes infamously cut from console releases are over-hyped, though a poorly ported PC version which left me hammering ’S’ for quarter of an hour to close my sphincter against a gigantic anal probe may have coloured this verdict.

Repetition made it all rather banal. Given its pedigree, one might expect a fairly intelligent satire on the conventions and prejudices rife in games, but the commentary lacks depth, relying mostly on tired gags that feel decidedly unoriginal. Despite the show’s acclaimed World of Warcraft episode, which has continued resonance here, Parker and Stone are perhaps out of their comfort zone, with most satire revolving around a flatulence heavy bastardisation of Skyrim, and being fairly blunt at that. While South Park’s method has often been more of a hammer blow than needling wit, it does not compare to the equally irreverent and offensive Saints Row series in its break-down of the genre.

The game is as much a homage to the show as a spin-off, and for fans it is pleasing to see that across the board the game looks back lovingly to the first series. The plot itself springs from the show’s inaugural episode, and those characters who have fallen by the wayside as the series gradually left the confines of the quiet little red-neck mountain town, such as Jimbo and Ned, get more screen time than they have for a while. Stick of Truth is an extended episode with an unambitious but pleasantly functional game beneath, but it doesn’t have to push gameplay boundaries. It doesn’t want to. This is South Park: The Game, and it is relieving to see that the show’s spirit has survived the transition across mediums.

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