South Park: The Stick of TruthWritten by: / / No Comments
In the seventeen years since the start of the immensely popular South Park TV series, there have been under a half dozen games based on the show, all catering directly to the fans with a multitude of references and in-jokes, but all ultimately rather underwhelming games if stood on their own.
As a lapsed fan myself, I remember the days of devouring episode after episode of every season, even rewatching my favourite episodes multiple times over, but never did I think a game was really necessary – I enjoyed the shows, but that was it.
After a number of delays and a publisher switch, has South Park: The Stick of Truth – against all odds – changed my mind and proven me wrong?
What You Need to Know
What’s important to know for any fan of the show is that creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker not only provided voices for the game’s cast of characters like Cartman, Kyle, Stan, Kenny and the rest of the series regulars, they were also directly involved in the game’s creation contributing story and dialogue writing.
As a result, The Stick of Truth is imbued with the same gross-out dark humour present in the TV series, put into context and made insignificant by ridiculous situations like alien abductions, an outbreak of Nazi zombies, Al Gore’s attempts to locate ManBearPig, a battle with the Underpants Gnomes, and many more weird and wonderful adventures, all seen through the (ultimately) innocent lens of the world of children and the rules that govern their lives, both real and made up.
What’s also important to know (and is evident from the start) is that The Stick of Truth is like an episode of the show brought to digital life, replete with the signature refined roughness in appearance and animation – it’s astounding that Obsidian was able to perfectly emulate the look and motion of the show in videogame form.
As a pretty light yet surprisingly deep and traditional turn-based RPG, the story of The Stick of Truth is framed by a continuing fantasy battle between two factions controlled by Cartman, Kenny and Butters (the Humans), and Kyle, Stan and Jimmy (the Elves), whose most prized possession is ‘The Stick of Truth,’ a regular stick that changes hands regularly based on the outcome of surprise skirmishes.
As the ‘New Kid’ in South Park (with a mysterious past), it’s up to you to travel around the town (now logically laid out for the game) and improve your battle skills to balance the scales of war while making friends and recruiting new factions (like the Goths and the Girls) to help in the fight.
While I was a little worried that a game as long in development as The Stick of Truth wouldn’t have the chance to offer the sort of current and cutting social or political commentary that the weekly show is able muster, there is indeed an overarching message to the story… but you’ll have to wait until the end of the game to find out what that is.
The things that I deem to be fresh and ‘new’ in South Park have been seen in other games, but tropes of the RPG genre have at least been made easier to digest with a bit of streamlining, like automatically regenerating health and Power Points (points used to perform special attacks) between fights without the need to use an item to top them up again.
While the battles are turn-based, the actions you choose are active meaning that you’ll need to press specific buttons at the right time to make your actions more effective as they’re acted out, so once you’ve selected an attack from the radial menu (like swiping an enemy with a sword that does flame or shock damage, or shooting foes with an arrow or lawn dart that induces bleeding or vomiting) or you’ve chosen an ability (like calling down lightning bolts, running headlong into a target with a football helmet or leaping into the air and hitting the ground to inflict area of effect damage), a hint will appear to let you know when to hit a specific button.
Blocking incoming attacks is also active, requiring you to stay on your toes and hit the button in time with each assault, while certain abilities go into full ‘Quick Time Event’ mode. When not duelling enemies, your abilities are also able to be used out in the world to solve puzzles and discover secrets, with the chance to teleport to out-of-reach places, shoot down collectible items, shrink down to size to fit in small spaces and use your powers of flatulence to ignite open flames and distract enemies.
An interesting way of encouraging exploration is the use of the Perks system, tied to how many friends you’ve collected on the in-game social media tool (outright called Facebook in the game). The more friends you collect, the more perks you can unlock which means access to attack and resistance bonuses for battle.
What’s the Same?
After customising your appearance and picking a class (namely a Fighter, Mage, Thief or… Jew), the New Kid is immediately set on a path of earning experience points to level up, finding better weapons and equipment with which to deal damage, improving those weapons and that equipment with slotted items to add damage effects, rooting through homes and the town for items in drawers, cupboards, chests and bags, and using fast travel to more quickly move from one block to another – all standard RPG stuff.
There are also a half-dozen ‘Summon’ characters to find and use in combat to devastate regular enemies (but not bosses) once per day, including Mr. Hankey, Mr. Slave, the manager of City Wok and Jesus, and there’s a wealth of collectible items to find around town including thirty Chinpokomon.
You’ll Enjoy South Park: The Stick of Truth If You Liked…
… the active battle system of Paper Mario.
… the town exploration and manifestation of children’s imaginations in Costume Quest.
… Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness.
What I Liked
- 5.) There are tons of things to find and collect, most (and I’d like to assume all) of which feeds directly back into the progression of the game.
- 4.) The humour may on occasion shift more towards the gross and the ghastly than I’d like, but I was often surprised by the sharp writing and dumb (but clever) jokes – I LOL’d.
- 3.) I’m usually averse to standard RPGs, but the light trappings tricked me into getting invested in a surprisingly deep set of systems, while agonising over stats and damage effects.
- 2.) The game is absolutely packed with in-jokes and fan service – checking out what was in the closets (and what wouldn’t come out of one) of the residents of South Park reveals a treasure trove of memorabilia from past episodes, while references to events and characters from the show can be seen almost literally everywhere.
- 1.) Obsidian’s ability to perfectly imitate the look, feel and animation of the South Park TV series is incredible to see, and combined with the writing and voice talents of the creators, makes this a perfect game for fans.
I would rather not spoil how it’s presented, but the all-too-brief visit to Canada was superb – I just wish Terrance and Phillip and Canada as a whole was used more extensively in the game.
What I Didn’t Like
- 5.) There were times when graphical glitches prevented button prompts from showing up, and in a few instances graphics elements remained on the screen during a cut-scene when they shouldn’t have, blocking my view.
- 4.) There’s a lack of information for certain things I found to be important, like the class selection at the beginning of the game, as well as no way to preview and test out special moves that require specific, split-second button presses – learning these things during a fight isn’t a good time.
- 3.) Timing can be tricky during certain special moves and when trying to block rapid incoming attacks.
- 2.) The menu is very sluggish to get into and navigate, and with multiple sections per menu item to search through, it feels bloated and difficult to use.
- 1.) The game’s map of the town of South Park may be detailed with photos of different areas, as well as quest markers and secrets hinted at, but it’s frustrating to use with only a single level of zoom, no way to see the map overall, and no way to set a waypoint so I could navigate to the right place without jumping back into the menu. The town isn’t immense, but it’s intricate enough to need a greater level of information and control.
Least Favourite Moment
There were a number of uncomfortable moments in The Stick of Truth for me, but none as disturbing and upsetting as fighting an aborted human baby foetus, brought to life as a Nazi zombie (styled after Star Wars’ Jabba the Hutt). I appreciate that South Park pushes boundaries, but that’s an example of something I would have preferred to be able to skip entirely.
South Park: The Stick of Truth – Launch Trailer
While it’s possible to mainline the story and get to the end pretty easily without grinding and levelling up, you’ll be missing a lot of the hidden extras and references that South Park fans will enjoy, with tons of collectibles and in-jokes to see. Fortunately enough, once you’ve finished the game you’ll be able to continue to roam the town while cleaning up any side quests you might have missed, and find any collectibles that evaded your grasp.
You could also choose to replay the game with a different ability class (although that doesn’t really make much of a difference) and make a couple different decisions along the way (which, again, ultimately don’t affect the game except for a few new lines of dialogue).
The Bottom Line
The Stick of Truth is the definitive South Park game that long-time fans of the show have been waiting seventeen years to play – it’s an absolute must-have for anyone who has ever enjoyed their time with the series’ cast of characters and their over-the-top antics.
South Park: The Stick of Truth was reviewed on Xbox 360