Video games can provide a range of different experiences. They can be fun, challenging, scary and even occasionally moving. But one thing games rarely are is funny as in, laugh-out-loud funny.
Thats all changed with South Park: The Stick of Truth (Rated M, $59.99), an entirely successful video game satire from the creators of Comedy Centrals surprisingly long-lived animated sitcom. Stick of Truth is no half-baked spin-off game. Its a fully realized creative project conceived and written by South Park gurus Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And its not just a satire, either. The game actually works on its own merits as high-end console experience. Neat trick, that.
Lots of RPG fun
South Park: The Stick of Truth will appeal chiefly to two groups, I suspect fans of the show itself and veteran players of gamings most lovably goofy genre, the swords-and-sorcery RPG. That stands for role-playing game, a format more-or-less invented by the nerd-culture institution known as Dungeons & Dragons. You know the drill dwarves, orcs, 20-sided dice, etc.
Stick is shot through with references to both old-school D&D and more modern video game RPG franchises like Elder Scrolls or Dragon Age. The designers eschew the usual cheap-shot pop culture gags and instead exhibit a deep understanding of what makes these games so much fun and so frequently ridiculous.
For instance, early in the game, youre asked to assemble your character and choose from the usual options of appearance, class, weapons, etc. This is a standard-issue element in all RPGs, and always wraps up with the opportunity to name your character. The tendency here is to overthink it I speak from experience. Stick plays the first of its many pranks by ignoring whatever name you input, and instead bequeathing a title we cant print in the newspaper.
Which brings us to the second group likely to appreciate The Stick of Truth. Fans of the TV show already know that South Park traffics in a brand of humor that tends toward the profane, the off-color and the shocking. These elements are crucial to the shows comedic attack pattern, and nobody does it better.
This tone is dutifully preserved in The Stick of Truth and the game is most definitely Not For Kids. But for grown-ups willing to endure the relentless profanities: Wow, this game is funny. Since Parker and Stone handle the joke writing and voice performances, youre getting the full-on South Park experience.
South Park touches
All the RPG nuts-and-bolts are here, too, but knowingly tweaked for maximum effect. Your character and his team look for regulars like Kenny, Butters and Cartman have the usual assortment of melee, ranged and magical attacks. But the usual weapons are switched out for neighborhood salvage like dodge balls and car batteries. Healing potions become high-sugar sodas. Gold pieces and jewels become comic books and random suburban detritus.
The simplified combat system uses a QTE, or quick-time event, model that rewards timing and rhythm. In a nod to the first generation of RPGs, combat sequences also feature a modified turn-based system. You alternate attacks with opponents and so the game requires at least some tactical thinking.
As you progress through the games main storyline and many, many side quests, youll accumulate experience, upgraded equipment and new skills. Again, all standard RPG fare, but twisted into new shapes. Youre also encouraged to use texting and social media to maintain neighborhood popularity with the cool kids.
You could probably sprint through the main storyline in 12 hours or so, but the real fun here is in exploring the town of South Park and uncovering the hundreds upon hundreds of jokes scattered about. Clever, irreverent and very funny, The Stick of Truth is one of the most purely enjoyable game experiences to come down the pike in a long while. Just keep the kids away from it.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is available now on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
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