I cringed the first time I heard that South Park was being turned into yet another videogame. It's the usual, knee-jerk reaction from anyone who has had the displeasure of seeing a quality franchise completely ripped apart before their very eyes all in the name of jumping from one medium to another. It's tough to try and stay positive when you've been let down so many times before. These kinds of adaptations usually get something right but manage to get something else terribly wrong at the same time. Sometimes a game's content is spot on, but the gameplay just doesn't come together. Other times the content just seems forced or misplaced.
But in the case of South Park: The Stick of Truth, all the stars and planets have aligned. And if you find yourself in the cross-section of gamer who not only loves South Park but can also appreciate an old-school RPG, then this is the lightning-in-a-bottle moment you've been waiting for. The Stick of Truth absolutely kicks butt.
The Stick of Truth succeeds because it doesn't hide what kind of game it truly is. And because of that honesty, it finds a perfect balance between hilarious South Park premium content and RPG nerdom. It's a triumph that could only be achieved with series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone at the helm, and their influence and vision is felt through every line of dialogue and every mission objective.
Originally, Stone and Parker had decided to make an RPG that they could be very "hands-on" with its development, and then sought out a worthy developer. That studio wound up being Obsidian Entertainment -- and they nailed it.
If you've been watching the series on Comedy Central, you're likely familiar with the universe The Stick of Truth takes place in. It's still the same South Park setting, but the game borrows a lot of its lore from last season's Black Friday trilogy story arc, where ironically enough, the boys had split up and chosen loyalty to either Xbox One or PlayStation 4. The fantasy within is heavily influenced by "The Lord of the Rings" and "Game of Thrones."
Read sister site GameSpot's full coverage of South Park: The Stick of Truth
In The Stick of Truth you play the new kid who must make friends with the other children in town as dictated by your parents. It's here you meet Cartman, who introduces you to his clan's sacred stick of truth, only to have it stolen moments later. From then on out, it's a series of over-the-top antics and encounters with what feels like the majority of South Park's epic lineage of characters and storylines.
With 17 seasons of South Park serving as its resource for missions and content, The Stick of Truth never runs dry on ideas or objectives. Your character earns new perks based on how many new friends he makes on Facebook (yes, it's referred to as Facebook in the game) which serves as a great incentive for exploring more of the town.
Visually speaking, The Stick of Truth is breathtaking in the sense that at times it feels as if you are playing an actual South Park episode. Developer Obsidian Entertainment has done an absolutely masterful job at recreating the cartoon's unique cut-out style and implementing it seamlessly into the game. It's nearly indistinguishable from an HD episode of the show.
If there's any reservation I have about the game, it's that some players might be getting the wrong idea about what kind of experience The Stick of Truth is, especially considering the way it's been marketed. Underneath the perfectly recreated South Park universe lies an ultra-traditional turn-based role-playing-game. It's about as old-school as old-school gets these days. Not only will you need to level-up your character, but you'll also need to perform maintenance mid-battle, including healing yourself and your teammates, and manage hit and magic points.
Players not familiar with turn-based RPG games will need to make it through a bit of a learning curve as they game takes a slight liberty in assuming you know how this type of genre is played.
Keeping a close watch on your character's inventory is paramount because you don't want to enter a battle underpowered and unprepared. You'll need to constantly change his clothes and appearance so that you are afforded the perks different items bring with them. And battle you will, as they pop up constantly throughout the campaign.
It's extraordinarily rare when a seasoned franchise like South Park makes the successful jump from one-way consumption to interactive entertainment. Give Parker and Stone, and Obsidian credit. The creators of the show are clearly gamers themselves and have found the winning formula for gamifying their sacred series.
So now with an iconic cartoon that's about to enter its 18th season, a Tony-award winning play on Broadway, cult-classic films and most recent addition to the list, a fantastic RPG -- one has to wonder: is there anything these guys can't do?
CNET verdict: Holy crap you guys!
South Park: The Stick of Truth absolutely nails it. It's the perfect combination of hilarious South Park content interwoven into an ultra-satisfying turn-based RPG. Obsidian Entertainment has done a remarkable job emulating the show's unique style and aesthetic.
Checkout GameSpot's coverage of South Park: The Stick of Truth