South Park started as an animated short about Jesus fighting Santa Claus (Frosty the Snowman for those of you who want to get technical) made with some construction paper and glue… and turned into a satiric phenomenon. If you don’t watch it, you’ve most likely heard about it. If you watch it, you definitely enjoy it, despite (or, more likely, because of) the offensive jokes about everything happening with our world.
Games based on TV shows, however, are usually bad news so there were a lot of concerns when Trey Parker and Matt Stone announced they were heading development of The Stick of Truth with Obsidian doing gameplay and Ubisoft as the publisher. Fear not, though, for this game is a great one. And I’ll tell you why.
South Park: The Stick of Truth seemingly takes place between 9th and 10th episodes of the 17th season of the show with a few changes. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny fight not for PS4 and XBOX, but for the titular Stick of Truth, an artifact that allows its user to control the Universe. That is, of course, in the minds of the main characters and the rest of the kids in South Park.
As the war for the Stick comes to a stalemate, the silent protagonist known as New Kid moves into the town and quickly gets dragged into the middle of the battle between Cartman’s Humans and Kyle’s Drow Elves, with other kids following either faction. Both sides want you for themselves, so that you can get the all-powerful artifact for them. And that’s just the buildup. Expect aliens, Nazi zombies, Mr. Slave, the US Government and a few other factions adding themselves to the mix before you reach the mid-point of the main quest.
The plot itself is just like any episode of South Park: chock-full of mocking satire directed at films, games, fantasy, conspiracy theories, etc. Twists are expected half the time, but it doesn’t make them any less funny. The writing sounds, reads and smells of Parker’s and Stone’s work and at times even surpasses the show. Just don’t take it too seriously. And don’t play it all in one sitting, because the sheer amount of references and cameos can get nauseatingly overwhelming at times.
Don’t expect multiple endings or dialog options though. The story is linear like a railroad. It doesn’t make the game worse and as with the show itself, one time will probably be enough for you. Especially if that one time consists of 8 hours for the main quest and another 7-8 for side missions. These quests allow you to meet many of the show’s recurring characters, both real and fictional, like Jimbo and Ned, Al Gore, South Park’s Mayor, Manbearpig etc. Side missions also net you more XP and items and some provide useful summons, like Jesus with an M-16 or Mr. Hankey. A few side quests and collectibles are easily and permanently missable, though, so take it slow.
This is not easy with The Stick of Truth being an almost facile game. There are sudden difficulty spikes during boss battles and drops during normal ones, but this can be compensated by adjusting the level at any time in the pause menu. Gameplay itself is that of a standard turn-based RPG (this reviewer got a strong Heroes 3 déjà vu a few times) – you and one of your buddies fight against several enemies. Styles and sets of powers are unique for every character, and every enemy has their own recipe, so expect frequently swapping your party mid-fight. Especially since some enemies require combining attacks and powers for maximum effect.
To get that effect, you have plenty of options. Weapons include all kinds of melee (and I mean ALL kinds, from swords and axes to police batons and vibrators) and ranged (from suction bows and alien rifles to bouncy balls) types, all with their own characteristics and effects. Then there are upgradeable special attacks, which deal tons of damage; magic, all of which is based around farting; and summons, which wipe the floor with any enemy except for bosses. They are also only available once per day of game time, so use them wisely. The real trick to the combat, though, is that any attack has to be timed correctly (watch for prompts) to deal maximum damage and once you do attack you have to wait for the next turn, so if you want to use a potion, do that first.
The one thing that TSoT does poorly is character customization. No, I’m not talking about appearance; the options there are limitless from clothes to facial features, even after you create your New Kid. The drawback is in the leveling. Main questing is usually enough to get to the end of the 15-level ladder, and after that there’s not much to do except hoard Friends on the game’s social network, collect Chinpokomon and look for armor sets. The classes, despite there being 4 of them (Fighter, Mage, Thief and Jew) play largely the same way. This is OK for casual gamers but hardcore RPG players should take note.
Another problem is navigation, which can be cumbersome at times due to odd map indicators (Timmy’s Fast Travel can help you with that). At the same time, once you learn the town’s 3 streets you’ll easily find your way around. And considering you also get to explore South Park’s forest and most known cities of Canada, the little hiccups can be forgiven.
As for presentation, this phrase sums it up best – The Stick of Truth looks, sound and feels like a huge South Park episode. The show’s visual style is everywhere, from facial expressions and movement to the city’s landscape. Nearly all characters are voiced by Parker and Stone themselves and sound great; be they the ever-annoyed Cartman, stuttering Jimmy, serious Randy or the ever-happy Mr. Hankey. The Foley is also great, just be prepared for a lot of weird noises. And, of course, the game doesn’t demand a power house of a computer to run smoothly, with Windows XP listed as a supported OS.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is the definitive South Park experience. Even if you’ve never seen the show, you’ll feel right at home with its plethora of characters and great plot. If you’re a fan of the show, you’re in for tons of funny references. If you’re not into RPGs, you’ll still be entertained with the low difficulty and accessible combat. If you’re a master of those, you’ll love the hard boss battles. It’s an easy, accessible, immensely funny and entertaining 15-hour interactive episode of South Park, which contains all you need to know about the show and can be freely played in tiny snippets due to its light-hearted nature. Come, New Kid. The Stick is waiting.
PS: This one is best played with a gamepad due to the analog-based magic. It can be very tricky with mouse and keyboard.
Reviewed on: AMD FX 6300 3.5 GHz, 8 GB Kingston HyperX Blue DDR3, Palit GeForce GTX 660 2GB, Acer S235HLbii 1080p Monitor, Windows 8.1, Xbox 360 Controller