Formats: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed)
Price: $79.99 (Consoles), $55 (Steam)
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
South Park has long been the Riddle Of Steel of the gaming world. Despite its simple art style, easily recognizable characters and style of humour that has always been far more versatile than it’s credited with, nobody has been able to translate the show effectively into game form. Many have tried, but none have really understood that solving this riddle required more than processing power or this week’s most popular and/or marketable genre, but an understanding of the show itself and why it works.
Thankfully, after almost two decades of shoddy South Park games, the riddle has been solved by none other than creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with the help of RPG legends Obsidian Entertainment (Neverwinter Nights 2, Fallout: New Vegas). Playing as a predictably mute and nameless new kid, you’re thrown headlong into a vicious play war between Cartman’s human army and Kyle’s elves that quickly escalates into the kind of epic-scale ludicrousness Parker and Stone have made their bread and butter.
Essentially, the game’s plot is little more than a greatest hits tour of South Park’s seventeen-year history (Feel old yet? We do…). This may sound like a criticism, but the veritable torrent of callbacks and classic characters is nothing short of a constant joy for fans, Parker and Stone’s consistently funny script wringing a ton of value out of skewering every videogame trope that crosses its path. Non-fans may feel differently of course, but one would assume that they wouldn’t be playing the game in the first place, and if they are they probably shouldn’t be surprised if the game based on stuff they don’t like is full of stuff they don’t like.
Having said that, the game actually plays well too, with Obsidian backing up the funnies with a surprisingly strong RPG system favouring exploration and simple, Paper Mario-style combat, with agreeably diverse tactics available between the game’s four player classes (Fighter, Mage, Thief and Jew). Rather than try and shoehorn the property into some unrelated and unsuitable genre as per every other South Park game, Obsidian smartly let the property dictate the design of the game, resulting in something that may not have the complexity hardcore RPG fanatics crave but is perfectly suited to support the writing.
All up, you can expect the main story to last somewhere in the region of 10-15 hours: relatively short in modern RPG terms, but understandable given the brisk pace of the series. As it stands you’re basically getting a season’s worth of material in this 10-15 hours with not an ounce of flab on it, and perhaps the best recommendation I can give to fans is that the big, gleeful smile I got on my chops in the first hour was still there at the fifteenth. South Park: The Stick Of Truth isn’t just an early contender for pleasant surprise of the year, but a legitimate contender for best licensed game ever.