Not so long ago, Acclaim was infamous for licensing movies and comics and turning them into bad games. Comic book icons like Batman, Spiderman, and Judge Dredd all met similar fates under Acclaim's misdirection. But around a year ago, Acclaim turned over a new leaf with its one-two combo of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Forsaken, good games that succeeded if not on the PC, then on the Nintendo 64 console. Meanwhile, news that Acclaim acquired the license to the most popular prime-time cartoon since The Simpsons wasn't a surprise to anybody. But the fact that the game would be a first-person shooter, masterminded by the makers of Turok, raised hopes that South Park would be more than just another slipshod show-to-game port. Yet while the result is an outstanding interpretation of the show's distinctive look, South Park the game comes across as boring and ill conceived and reminiscent of Acclaim's historical track record of botching good licenses.
At least the artists got the job done. The flat paper cutouts of the television show seem so self-consciously two-dimensional that placing them within a 3D environment sounds like a recipe for disaster. Surprisingly, though, South Park looks great - or at least it looks just like the show, with its flat, bright colors and sparse detailing. All the major characters are here, as well as most of the minor ones, and you can spot them all a mile away. Strangely enough, the characters and the environments seem very much at home in 3D, no doubt in part because the simple shapes of the show lend themselves to low-polygon-count 3D models.
No surprise the game sounds pretty much the same as the show, with all your favorite threats from the big-boned Cartman and plenty of incomprehensible diatribes from the unfortunate Kenny. There's some new dialogue, mostly during the "mission briefings" where Chef explains to the children what they're up against. But mostly you'll only hear isolated bits of speech from the characters as they throw snowballs, dodgeballs, and more at their foes, and that gets really old really fast. The show is funny, if not for its audacity, then for its sense of timing; but when Cartman's all but guaranteed to cuss whenever he takes a hit, you might be so inclined to turn the volume down. And if the speech doesn't force you to do it, the music will. You'll start blaming the plucky, all-too-upbeat soundtrack for droning on and on, when in fact the real culprit is the level and enemy design.
Strip away that South Park sense and sensibility from this game, and you'll be left with one lousy shooter. Many shooters are criticized for their inane puzzles, where you end up spending more time looking for keys than pulling the trigger. The good news is, that's not the case here. In fact, you'll spend almost all your time shooting in this game. But the scary thing is, soon enough you'll wish you were looking for keys all over again. South Park is an incredibly simplistic shooter. Half the enemies run straight for you, and the other half throw something at you once in a while. You face these foes in enormous swarms, and they're all really tough to bring down, but they're also really stupid and practically harmless except in said swarms. Add all that up, and you have a game that doesn't merely get boring, but downright tiresome. Even with your wide variety of weapons (each with an alternate firing mode), from your trusty snowballs (regular or yellow) to the more illustrious toilet-plunger launcher, you'll quickly get sick of fighting off so many enemies. The occasional boss monster doesn't offer much in the way of variety, and these guys take so many hits and are so formulaic to fight that you'll be dreading the bosses for all the wrong reasons.
If the bad guys went down easier, if they were smarter, if you fought more than a couple of types of them per level, and if the levels themselves were more interesting, South Park would have been a better single-player game. And while the weapons look good and are fun to use for a little while, they all feel underpowered and slow to the point where it's all too easy just to run around and avoid getting hit in a multiplayer match. Still, if you're going to take any pleasure from this game, it'll be in killing Kenny firsthand and not from fighting through levels on end of nothing but kamikaze turkeys and the occasional cow. You'd think it would go without saying by now, but apparently it doesn't: A good license and good graphics aren't enough. If you're a fan of the show, you'll be doing yourself a favor just sticking to the show.