It kind of cheated in doing it, but Stick of Truth is quite possibly the funniest, most immersive game ever
Talking about South Park: Stick of Truth in a qualitative way isn’t easy. Instead of meriting the graphics, sound and presentation on their own terms, we simply have a checklist scrutinising how close these elements of the game are to their source material. In all instances, they are absolutely 100% spot on, so – in a way – they’re all indisputably 10-out-of-10s. The gameplay is somewhere around the 7 mark, with a simple-yet-enjoyable semi-turn-based combat system, and a free-roaming element that lets you wander the eponymous town, revelling in the references that have been built up over 17 years of one of the best comedy TV series of all time.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker know how to write comedy; they’re among the best at it. So along they come to utterly annihilate the competition in a medium that is still finding its feet when it comes to making us laugh (see our piece on Jazzpunk for a fine recent effort). Gaming’s not quite at the point where faces are realistic enough to capture those nuances of expression that make stand-up comedy what it is (just try and sit through a Ricky Gervais stand-up gig in GTA IV), so for the most part games have gone down the more surreal path to laughter, yielding some wonderfully original results; the aforementioned Jazzpunk and Grim Fandango to name a couple.
Stick of Truth is funny largely because it doesn’t remind us of a game, it reminds us of one giant episode of South Park, which is no doubt a nightmare prospect to some but a wet dream to the zealous cult following the series has gathered over the years. All it takes is to combine the focused, dedicated wits of Stone and Parker with some decent gameplay provided by Obsidian, and you have a game that’s incredibly addictive because the joy of laughter is addictive. You’re kind of playing to advance the story because that’s what you’re used to in games, but the novelty of actually featuring in one of the greatest TV comedies of all time isn’t quick to wear off; after all, it’s a formula that’s had seventeen years of longevity so far and counting. How can any game compete with that?
Immediately upon taking control of the New Kid a.k.a. Sir Douchebag (as Cartman knights you), I found that any semblance of critical objectivity got shattered by the monolithically fucking fantastic realisation that I’m in South Park; not just playing a game based on South Park, but I’m actually in South Park, in the actual real fictional cartoon cut-out town of South Park. ‘In the actual South Park?’ I hear you ask. ‘Yes, the actual South Park that you know and love, reacting to things that you – Sir Douchebag – do in it’. You can keep your Oculus Rifts and your 3D TVs. This is one of the most immersive games of all time for the millions who love the TV series, and Stone and Parker barely had to fart to achieve it.
It’s not an illusion either. Playing Skyrim, you can always muse over how realistic the trees are, but they’ll always be derivatives of the real thing. Last of Us can be oh-so heartrending, but have your real-life best friend’s face sprout into a giant fungal vagina and then see how sad you feel. South Park has never existed outside of my television screen, so there is nothing more it needs to do to make me believe I’m actually in there is accurately recreate the rich and hilarious South Park world and play fairly well.
Will games ever be this funny?
In finally creating a truly faithful South Park game in which none of the referencing and humour has been diluted, the bar has been set unfairly high for comedy games. From here on in, when talking about what the funniest games we ever played, Stick of Truth will most likely be mentioned first, towering over the valiant competition like some terrible Mecha-Streisand. It’s only after burning yourself out on the game-cum-TV-show’s hilarity that you’ll remember the original question and casually mention a few games that made you smile.
Not that we should complain. Stick of Truth is the perfect conversion of a popular TV show into a game; its critical and – hopefully – commercial success may encourage other iconic adult cartoon shows to go down a similar path of truly placing you in the show’s world, rather than awkwardly jamming the show into a game world. Stick of Truth has set a new precedent that many cartoon TV show creators should seriously think about following.
Image Credits: Ubisoft