Played Out week 01 // South Park: the Stick of Truth

Diving right in there with the heavy intellectual shit.

Stick of Truth is a game based on the gleefully offensive and juvenile cartoon we all loved in the early 00s developed by Obsidian Entertainment, one of a dozen studio formed out of the wreckage of Interplay’s famous Black Isle division. With the notable exception of spy shooter Alpha Protocol they’re mostly known for breathing life (and bugs) into other people’s bland CRPG properties, such as KOTOR 2 and Fallout: New Vegas. I’m a big fan of their work because both their focus on player choice and general standard of writing are outliers in today’s gaming landscape so when Stick of Truth was first announced I wasted no time in joining the chorus pre-emptively declaring it the greatest game ever made just because on a conceptual level, dude, Planescape: Torment x South Park!

Where the game actually succeeds at being the greatest is in its uncanny resemblance to the show. Long have licensed tie-ins promised either implicitly or explicitly to deliver an interactive experience indistinguishable from their source material but this is easily the closest any game has gotten to that particular holy grail. It doesn’t just look and feel like an episode of South Park in carefully staged cutscenes or when you squint at just the right moment, it looks like South Park all of the time. The production values are right up there with the TV show too, and the game runs exceptionally smooth so even the movement feels right. We’ve come a long way from Midway’s millennial turkey-centric South Park outing and Neverwinter Nights 2.

Which does raise the question whether you even want to run around an eerily perfect South Park in 2015. Like a lot of (semi)functioning adults I haven’t really been paying attention to it for about the last decade or so. Even though it’s the only animated series with a turnaround short enough to address current issues (just one week) the things it had to say got predictable after a while and the once cutting edge humor just seemed gross once the shock of seeing it broadcast wore off. It got irrelevant. But the oddest thing happened once I started running around the town. The decade plus of (yes, fine, admittedly hipsterish at first) disdain gradually faded away to be replaced by memories of the time my friend printed out a couple of Cartmans which we proudly pasted on our highschool agendas, and that time when at one of the last parties where we weren’t allowed beer (it must’ve been someone’s 15th because the law here back then was you could drink from 16) everyone crowded around the host’s PC to hear a download of the Unclefucker song and some of us laughed so hard we had trouble breathing. I never knew I was nostalgic for the Okama Gamesphere (‘the hottest graphics 2001 has to offer!’)  until this game had one sitting in a drawer as a random loot item.

The gamey parts of it are solid enough but not mindblowing. Battles resemble the Mario RPG/Mario & Luigi line with timing-based commands to determine your attack or block’s effectiveness. They’re generally over quite quickly. Around town there’s a lot of ‘Use your ABILITY to AFFECT THE GLOWING HOTSPOT in order to progress’ type puzzles where you move reticules across the screen and pull a trigger button. Sometimes they’re clever, sometimes they’re frustrating (if you’re an idiot like yours truly), mostly they’re obvious.

The unexpected star feature here for me though is how good South Park’s worldbuilding and writing looks compared to your average video game fare. Something as basic as the ‘these are just kids pretending to be in a by-the-numbers Fantasy conflict’ premise is hard to imagine getting the nod from any publisher big enough to fund a game this expensive if it weren’t attached to the South Park IP. And it’s oddly appropriate that South Park, a show once lauded for its subversity and ability to get away with anything, is once again relevant in the second decade of the 21st century as a way to sneak a pretty weird game past the bean counters.

Price paid: 14 bucks Time played: 6.2 hours  Would you play it again: yup


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