Along with our group-selected 2014 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as one of the year's best.
The film critic Mark Kermode argues that for a comedy to be considered a success, it needs to make you laugh out loud at least five times. It’s amazing how many movies can’t manage to clear such a low bar over the course of 90 minutes. Now consider the daunting prospect of trying to fill a 12-hour game with gags, without always being able to control the timing, and then be further amazed by the fact South Park: The Stick of Truth machine guns its players with big belly laughs from start to finish.
It barely requires noting that if you never found the show funny, then the game was never going to be for you. But I do enjoy South Park, and so between the Nazi zombies, Kyle’s Jew-jitsu, Cartman’s Nagasaki farts, the giant pink ‘Vibroblade’ dildo weapon and Jesus spraying an M-16 as an ult attack, I barely stopped laughing.
Sure, it was gross and off-key and puerile and maybe offensive if you tend to relish getting offended by these sorts of things, but that’s also equivalent to saying this: Stick of Truth was an almost entirely perfect adaptation. In fact, it’s arguably an even better example of licensing done right than the Rocksteady Batman games, which benefit from drawing on far more obviously gamey source material.
The thing that companies making these sorts of games tend to say is: 'it’s like the lost episode’ or, in the case of terminally unfunny Ghostbusters game, ‘the final part of the trilogy’. Ugh. But the funny stuff in Stick of Truth absolutely bears comparison with the best of the show. My favourite thing in the game was probably Jimmy the stuttering bard. His powers were predictably rubbish, but I couldn’t get those songs out of my head: “There once was a lady of Stonebury Hollow! She didn't talk much but boy did she swal…” You get the idea.
In every scene of Stick of Truth you can feel the guiding presence of the show’s creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who were clearly committed to this being a game worthy of their name. “We did do some cheap licensed games when the show first came out 15 years ago. I think they were on the N64 and they stank,” Stone told the Guardian. “It was the disappointment with the older ones that made us think, OK, if we ever do it again, we have to do it right.”
It’s testament to the confidence of the game’s comedy that it was even able to absorb having some sequences censored in Australia and parts of Europe. If anything, the omitted scenes—which instead had still images with text dryly explaining what you were missing out on—were actually even funnier, and only served as another reminder of the series’ make-it-up-as-you-go ethic.
All of which alone probably wouldn’t have made this a game worth playing, but for the fact Stick Of Truth is underpinned throughout by Obsidian’s rock solid RPG combat and levelling systems. As a game it’s better than serviceable. It’s a compelling, entry-level RPG. It seems wonderfully ridiculous now that I took my gear loadouts so seriously, when what I was debating was whether to wear the ‘condom hat’ or not.
As well as the usual swipes at pop culture and establishment hypocrisy, the choice of genre also made for some brilliant meta riffs on high fantasy RPGs and videogames in general. And let’s face it: we all needed to laugh a little more about videogames this year. Ultimately, Stick of Truth is a game about games that truly gets gamers. It’s brilliant.