South Park: The Stick Of Truth

360, PC, PS3

EDGE - - PLAY - Pub­lisher Ubisoft De­vel­oper Ob­sid­ian En­ter­tain­ment For­mat 360 (ver­sion tested), PC, PS3 Re­lease Out now

Who’d have guessed that 2014 would be the year of the videogame com­edy? Mere weeks af­ter Jaz­zpunk’s im­pres­sion of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, South Park: The Stick Of Truth al­most fault­lessly mim­ics Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s an­i­mated se­ries, re­tain­ing its brand of scat­ter­gun satire and sca­to­log­i­cal hu­mour. Never know­ingly un­der­stated, The Stick Of Truth is bois­ter­ous, provoca­tive, puerile and fear­less in its de­sire to shock and of­fend. More im­por­tantly, it’s of­ten funny, thanks to the com­mit­ment of Parker and Stone, who have been more heav­ily in­volved than would or­di­nar­ily be ex­pected of a tie-in. De­lays to the re­lease prompted the pair to ad­mit, “Get­ting the game up to the crappy stan­dards of the show has been a real chal­lenge.” Hap­pily, the re­sult lives down to that claim, and then some.

If any­thing, The Stick Of Truth sees the duo at­tempt­ing to push the bound­aries even fur­ther than usual. There’s an ex­tended se­quence in an abor­tion clinic that’s ev­ery bit as hor­ri­fy­ing as you might imag­ine. You’ll fight Nazi zom­bies that shriek “Sieg heil!” be­fore vom­it­ing be­cause you’ve thrown an air bis­cuit right in their faces. There’s an ex­tended sex scene that is at once hys­ter­i­cal and squirm­ingly un­com­fort­able. Ev­ery kind of bod­ily fluid fea­tures heav­ily, while a cli­mac­tic se­quence sets a new low as the most re­pul­sive videogame en­vi­ron­ment we’ve ever en­coun­tered. We’ve also learned a core tenet of the gen­tle­men’s code: it is, ap­par­ently, im­per­a­tive that one should never fart on a man’s balls. All no­tions of subtlety are aban­doned, in other words, and the re­sult is a laughs-per-minute ra­tio that com­pares favourably to just about any other com­edy, in­ter­ac­tive or other­wise.

At its heart, how­ever, this is a sweet-na­tured story of a new kid at­tempt­ing to fit in. Your early days in this sleepy moun­tain town are any­thing but quiet, and your mute pro­tag­o­nist quickly joins in with a live-ac­tion role­play­ing game or­gan­ised by Cart­man, who is on typ­i­cally pro­fane form here. It’s hu­mans vs drow elves, and you start on the for­mer side, al­though a later plot event de­mands you de­cide be­tween the two. But while your in­fre­quent choices help colour the story, your path is writ­ten from the out­set. This is a broadly lin­ear game, which may come as a sur­prise to those ex­pect­ing Ob­sid­ian to bring to bear its ex­per­tise with branch­ing nar­ra­tives.

In­deed, there’s lit­tle ev­i­dence of the stu­dio’s hall­marks at all, and the most ob­vi­ous in­flu­ence is the Paper Mario se­ries. The Stick Of Truth’s turn­based bat­tle sys­tem is sim­i­larly pred­i­cated on timed but­ton presses for more ef­fi­cient at­tacks and blocks, while en­e­mies can be by­passed or at­tacked be­fore they’ve spotted you, con­vey­ing a neg­a­tive sta­tus

You’ll fight Nazi zom­bies that cry “Sieg heil!” be­fore vom­it­ing be­cause you’ve thrown an air bis­cuit right in their faces

ef­fect or grant­ing you the first hit. You’re also joined by al­lies with a range of abil­i­ties that can be used in and out of bat­tle. Oc­ca­sion­ally, you’ll en­counter rudi­men­tary en­vi­ron­men­tal puz­zles, and while their so­lu­tions will rarely prompt much head scratch­ing, they com­monly trig­ger a slap­stick pay­off, or even let you kill op­po­nents from afar. You might shoot a spark­ing ca­ble to elec­trify a pud­dle of liq­uid, for in­stance, or col­lapse some loose scenery to thin out en­emy num­bers be­fore you ap­proach.

There’s va­ri­ety to com­bat, too, de­rived from your part­ners’ dis­tinc­tive pow­ers and a broad ar­ray of weapons, which spans from tra­di­tional swords and staves to lurid pur­ple sex toys. Mean­while, each item of gear you equip con­veys buffs, and that’s be­fore you ap­ply the patches that pro­vide fur­ther stat bonuses. And you can buy dyes to colour cos­tumes, which dou­ble as dis­guises in cer­tain ar­eas. Not that any of this re­quires a great deal of thought. While it’s en­ter­tain­ing to set up combo at­tacks – of­fer a ‘Cana­dian hand­shake’ to an im­mo­lated en­emy and the sub­se­quent re­ac­tion of meth­ane and fire is equal parts dev­as­tat­ing and amus­ing – your abil­i­ties of­ten feel over­pow­ered, not least when you call upon the spe­cial pow­ers of your part­ner char­ac­ters. The abil­ity to quaff po­tions be­fore any of­fen­sive ac­tion saps much of the ten­sion from en­coun­ters, and given the abun­dance of healthrestor­ing items, you’ll sail through boss bat­tles. Even those with limited ex­pe­ri­ence of RPGs would be ad­vised to start on Hard­core dif­fi­culty to make the most of the range of tac­ti­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties, though it’s still a plea­sure to ex­per­i­ment with­out the fear of fail­ure, not least be­cause al­most ev­ery move comes with its own punch­line.

There are a few rough edges as well. Though the so­cial-net­work-themed menus are a neat touch, they’re slug­gish. Load­ing times are ex­ces­sive, and each suc­cess­fully com­pleted ob­jec­tive prompts a bar­rage of mes­sages that cause the en­gine to stut­ter.

For all that, The Stick Of Truth is sur­pris­ingly game-lit­er­ate. There’s a suite of in-jokes, rang­ing from the col­lectable toys that ape Poké­mon to more overt nods to Skyrim and even 8bit RPGs. Else­where, con­ven­tions are sent up glo­ri­ously. Re­peat­ing sound­bites are ex­cused by NPCs in­sist­ing they’re be­ing forced to stick to the script, while an in­spired gag about au­dio logs only gets fun­nier the more you find. The jabs can be pre­dictable, but they’re de­liv­ered with an af­fec­tion­ate wink, and it’s ev­i­dent that Parker and Stone know and love videogames. So, yes, their ir­rev­er­ent take on the medium may have a few tech­ni­cal short­com­ings, but you’ll usu­ally be grin­ning far too much to care.

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