South Park has been running for over 16 seasons, and unlike other regular shows - especially animated ones - it remains as funny, as relevant, and as controversial as it was when it started. It’s no surprise that during that time there have been numerous attempts to translate the show into games, but the results have been overwhelmingly unsuccessful. The problem is censoring: it’s simply not possible to translate the style and humor of South Park without incorporating the obscene, racist, profanity-laden plots and dialogue. PG South Park just isn’t South Park.
Enter Obsidian Entertainment, the developer behind hit role-playing games such as Fallout: New Vegas. The studio is closely collaborating with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to produce what may be one of the best South Park episodes.
Because that’s exactly what the game feels like, a South Park episode.
South Park: The Stick of Truth begins with a brief opening that mimics the cut-out style and cutaways of a typical episode. It introduces ‘the new kid’ whose family has just moved to the Colorado town. The parents suggest exploring the neighborhood to make some friends so that they can get some “alone time”, and as they exit inside you could be forgiven for thinking something went wrong, as the scene seems to freeze.
A nudge of the joystick says otherwise, this is the game, looking and animating exactly like the show, from the cut-out 2D houses right down to the bouncing walking movements.
Pivotal to the experience, of course, is meeting and interacting with our favorite characters, the first of which is Cartman. He has claimed the title of Wizard King amongst a group of live-action role-playing playing (LARP) kids, including Butters. South Park fans can rest easy: Cartman sustains a diatribe of profane and racist remarks with typical foul-mouthed precision – the kind that makes us laugh while knowing it’s wrong.
Using LARP as a conceit – and when considering Obsidian’s background – it’s no surprise that the game is an RPG. Character customisation screens give the player the ability to deck out every area of his or her character with anything from knight’s armor to monocles.
Weapons can also be combined for multiple attributes, for example a toilet plunger combined with toxic bloom creates a glowing melee weapon with a kind of poisoning effect. There also appears to be four character classes to choose from: Cleric, Mage, Fighter, and Thief.
All that follows the first step however, where Cartman asks you to enter the name of your character, whereupon text input popup lets the hero’s name be chosen.
Or so we’re led to believe: “You have chosen the name, Douchebag” intones Cartman solemnly. A yes or no prompt appears. Choosing no, Cartman responds “No, no, I’m pretty sure your name is Douchebag”. Douchebag it is.
Before starting the first quest to get Cartman some Kung Pow Chicken, the encampment of the Wizard King is attacked, and the hallowed Stick of Truth is stolen: “Goddammit Clyde, your one job was to guard the fucking stick of truth!” screams Cartman.
A later level set in a graveyard has a more ominous tone, broken slightly by in-joke references such as the memorial to Mrs Choksondik. Here the turn-based battle is shown, as Douchebag and Cartman battle a group of vampire kids.
Default attack moves are available, broken up by special moves such as Dragon’s Breath (a firework in the face), Burning Cloud (a lighted fart) and Rochambeau (a kick to the unmentionables). The ultimate attack, however, is a summoning of Mr Slave who - well, anyone who has watched the Paris Hilton epsiode of South Park will know what happens next.
So far, South Park: The Stick of Truth looks to be the game that fans have been waiting for: brutally crude humour, perfect imperfect animation, and solid gaming mechanics.