If history taught us one thing, it’s that The Stick of Truth had no right being this good. A horrendous development history that saw a publisher change and multiple delays; a game created by a developer that, let’s be brutally honest, have a history of putting out games that are often remembered fondly, but rarely critically well received, and often have a large volume of bugs (Fallout: New Vegas, I’m looking at you).
But Ubisoft clearly wanted this game to shine. The delays certainly helped, and South Park was (to my experience) a bug-free game that is easily one of the funniest games I’ve ever played.
More than that, it took a route that so very few RPGs do, and realised that less is more. The nature of the genre means that proceedings are story-driven, and Obsidian realised that outstaying your welcome is the quickest way to ruin something magical. Coming in at under fifteen hours (comfortably), it’s one of the shortest RPGs I’ve ever played, but also one of my favourites.
I could wax lyrical about the homage made to the show, with some audio ripped directly from South Park, but it’d be the very least you’d expect from a game that involved the creators. Instead, I’m going to remind you that it’s one of the funniest games ever. Not just replete with brief moments that shine, but consistently funny. When you think “how will they top this?”, a Nazi-foetus appears for you to fight. Then Al Gore might pop up, and then… well, then there’s Canada.
Whether it was Matt and Trey, or whether it was Obsidian’s idea, Canada was the moment that you realised they knew exactly what they were doing with The Stick of Truth.
But what about the fact the collectibles were Chinpokomon? What about the Crab people appearing? What about Morgan Freeman? If you were to sit down and think of the games that succeeded in giving the most fan service, this has to be up there. Too many moments to recount, really, aren’t there? But just in case it has slipped your mind, I just want to say five words: Underpants Gnomes, the bed scene. I know, I’m sounding like a Peter Kay tribute act here, just reminding you of things you’ve seen – but Stick of Truth is that full of memorable moments.
Underneath the humour, though, there’s a solid RPG that gets its hooks deep into you. The main draw will always be wanting to see the next story beat (and so it should, it’s a bloody story-driven game – RPG devs take note!), but levelling up your character so you can defeat Al Gore (and stop him sending you Facebook messages), equipping new, ludicrous weapons to kill some bizarre enemy that only South Park would get away with, let alone attempt – that’s the moment to moment gameplay that makes it all so damn good.
The censorship will always feel like something that was made by marketing men, but otherwise, The Stick of Truth is a flawless love letter to fans of South Park. Having endured years of terrible, terrible games based on the property, Obsidian delivered on a decade-old promise and gave us fans the game we deserved. Whether or not we’ll ever see South Park revisited in such style, I don’t know, but I do know that The Stick of Truth made me laugh more than any game I can recall to memory. And not “LOL” laughs, but actual, real, guttural dirty laughs that made my wife ask me what the hell I was doing in the other room. Little did she know I was inside someone’s ass, trying to disarm a snuke.
How are we deciding our game of the year? Come back on Christmas Eve for our four hour podcast-extravaganza where we decide this, and every other category.