I'm somewhere in the middle of the ninth hour of Ubisoft’s masterpiece, South Park: The Stick of Truth.
And it’s great.
They didn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to the standard role-playing game (RPG) mechanics, but what they have done is present a flawless transition of the “South Park experience” to another medium. Both visually and tonally the game captures that secret ingredient that made the show such an infectious pop-culture phenomenon.
It’s got all the characters we know and love; relentless and ever-escalating jokes that build upon, instead of steal, from the show; and so many varied and oft disgusting battles that the game never feels repetitive.
The game is both revolutionary and familiar and it’s kinda perfect.
Stick of Truth is a perfect film/television to video game adaptation.
The beach has been stormed, but as much as Stick of Truth represents a giant leap in the evolution of crossover media, its been a long time coming. We’ve been spoon-fed garbage film and television tie-ins for over 30 years. And up until very recently, every step forward was met with two steps back.
In 1982, Atari released E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, a transmedia venture that was doomed from inception. The Atari title went on to not only to be regarded as the world’s worst video game, but also the largest financial failure of the gaming industry in the 1980s. Many cite the game as one of the biggest causes of the gaming industry’s near-cribdeath in 1983.
We’re going to need more than a glowing finger to make this right.
The lesson from E.T.’s fallout was only half-learned.
The movie industry was has been responsible for some of the most embarrassing, half-assed titles loosely tied to their intellectual properties. Half-baked cash grabs that presented a bare minimum of effort have long been associated with officially licensed tie-ins.
The result was several generations of blatant miscarriages and running jokes. The Sopranos, Iron Man, Thor, Resovoir Dogs have all been the subject of execrable video game adaptations. The exceptions to this rule are a small, but vocal, minority Goldeneye and (most) Ninja Turtle games come to mind.
It’s hard to pinpoint where this transition occurred but we’ll argue the first game to start pushing the trend in the right direction was 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher’s Bay. The title may have served as a prequel to a pretty average movie, but it was a satisfying mix of stealth gameplay, above average graphics, and a legitimately interesting storyline.
It was like putting on your mom’s acid washed, denim jacket only to find out that not only can you pull it off, but there's a coke dusted fifty dollar bill in the breast pocket.
Can you dig it?
Rockstar’s take on The Warriors knocked it completely out of the park. Not only did they get the majority of the original actors from the 1979 low-budget film to reprise their roles, but they added immense value to the cult classic. It was a gaming experience that was objectively better than the source material.
A generation later, we get Arkham Asylum. I have never read a comic or watched a movie about the Dark Knight that gave me as much joy as The Arkham series did. Those three games actually improved one of pop-culture’s major touchstones by leaps and bounds. We can’t illustrate the point enough. The Arkham Series is where video games drew a line in the sand and proved they could be better than movies (and proved also that Mark Hamill is the best Joker hands down).
To that end, now we have South Park: The Stick of Truth, a game that’s creatively quarterbacked by Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker, with the time and scope to tell every joke and deliver every fan service possible with exactly the same charmingly low-rent visual dynamism as the show.
We can’t wait to see what happens next now that film/television to video game adaptations are finally being treated with the respect and care they warrant.