Are we entering an era of good licensed games? After Rocksteady’s triumphant (so far) Arkham series, publishers are (hopefully) waking up to the fact that if you give good developers enough time with a license they genuinely have affection for, they’ll come up with a game worth your money. South Park: The Stick Of Truth is proof of that, it says here…
There have been some truly atrocious South Park games in the past. Don’t just take my word for it – Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of the animated TV show, have gone on record with their previous dismay at efforts of turning TVs sweariest 8 year olds into gamings sweariest 8 year olds. Being blessed with a touch of genius, the mavericks in question decided enough was enough – there wouldn’t be another proper South Park game until they were happy that the technology available could deliver their vision, and a development studio could be found to help them achieve it. If you’re a fan of South Park, you’ll be happy to know that the stars have aligned and, yes, it’s finally happened. If you’re a fan of excellent RPG’s, with a twistedly delightful sense of humour, surprisingly strong stories and excellent systems then guess what? You’ll be even happier.
Obsidian, the studio behind The Stick Of Truth, have always been talented developers. In fact, their body of would make many a studio look upon it with envy. Unfortunately, they’ve never been a studio that has been blessed with time – the time to polish, the time to push their vision that little bit further, that time to deliver their potential. They have now. South Park: TSOT is Obsidian’s best game to date. Take away the license and you’d find a highly accomplished turn-based RPG. That the South Park branding gives the title its magic touch, there can be no doubt, but don’t be under the impression that it’s the titles saving grace – it’s a genuinely good game.
The story is very strong and, as you’d expect from Parker and Stone, expertly written. As with all things South Park, the humour plays to those in the cheap seats and those at the back, too. Yes, there are (plenty of) fart jokes. Yes there are Nazi Zombies. But there’s a delightfully affectionate poke at all things gaming, too. In a genre that can sometimes take itself too seriously, it’s a refreshing change to see Obsidian and the South Park boys question why people are taking turns at hitting each other, why certain classes bestow certain abilities and why, when a person is in life-threatening danger, they have time to record an audio-log which they then leave scattered throughout a location.
In terms of the RPG mechanics, fans of the genre will find plenty to like. Characters can level up 15 times over a 4 different classes, with special abilities, parties and summons all available. Fans of the show will enjoy this in particular, with each characters abilities being a specific reference to a certain show or characteristic – even from back in the day. You’ll want to experiment with different party members – some enemies are defeated easier by certain classes and, at times, the game will force you to switch up outside of the turn-based fighting. You see, Parker and Stone are gamers too and South Park: TSOT shows huge nods to SNES classic RPGs Earthbound and Chrono Trigger. A lot of the time, turn-based fighting is entirely optional – you can manipulate the scenery to defeat enemies before they’ve seen you; either by utilising a follower “command” or by, yes, farting on a gas leak and causing a massive fiery explosion. Brilliantly, this will still give you the full XP and loot drops you would have received by entering battle – it also lends a sneaky edge to the game, allowing you to level the playing field and weaken enemies or apply negative states on them before battle.
There’s a lot to love in South Park: TSOS and much of it is best left to be discovered yourself. At one point, I felt the game had peaked with its sheer audacity and creativity – only to be topped in the very next location. There are gripes though – for an RPG, the game IS short; if you do everything there is to offer, the game will last you around 15 hours, and there’s little chance for substantial DLC. The side-quests, while extremely funny and enjoyable are a little rinse-and-repeat too. I would have liked to have seen a higher level cap too, 15 is reached with around 1/4 of the game left to play, meaning the by the time the final battles come along, you’ve already beaten the games biggest challenges.
None of these are game-breaking though. In fact, the games 15-hour length helps the runtime feel witty, tightly paced and well-structured. South Park: The Stick of Truth comes highly recommended, regardless of if you’re a fan of the show or not – pick it up and you won’t look at fantasy RPG’s in the same way again.
Dave Green @davidpgreen83