South Park: The Stick of Truth had a tumultuous development cycle that saw its original publisher (THQ) go out of business and multiple delays to the point that many people assumed the game would eventually be canceled. Thankfully, the game wasn’t canceled and finally released earlier this month. Its release shows that Ubisoft was wise to acquire the title in the THQ auction, that a great South Park game could be made, and that Obsidian could nail their goal of making the game look like an episode of the popular show.
Make no mistake about it, if you are not a fan South Park the show then there is no real reason for you to pick up this game. After all, most of the game’s charm comes from the fact that it plays out like a large fantastic episode of the show complete with tons of fan service. If however you do enjoy South Park, then this is most certainly a game that you absolutely need to play and will ultimately really enjoy.
Like the show, The Stick of Truth isn’t for the easily offended or those who take things way too seriously. There’s a lot of over-the-top material in here that’s sure to gross out people and offend multiple groups. After all, one level is easily the most disgusting level ever in a video game (spoiler: you go up Mr. Slave’s ass and make your way through his intestines) and the game even includes aborted fetuses that become Nazi zombies. So to the say the game isn’t for everyone would be a bit of understatement. But if you enjoy South Park’s humor, you’ll find a lot of charm throughout the game.
The star of The Stick of Truth is easily its presentation. When the game was first announced and it was revealed that it would be a turn based RPG that would look like the TV show, I was highly skeptical. After all, South Park didn’t have a history of solid games (almost all of them have been trash barely resembling the source material) and frankly Obsidian is far from a developing studio whose games I anticipate being anything above decent to lightly good. But I give Obsidian their props; they absolutely nailed the presentation to the point where the game does look just like an episode of the show. It’s quite impressive. Of course looking like an episode of the show does mean that The Stick of Truth isn’t the best looking game graphically around.
One thing that I don’t like about the game though is that the frame rate can get pretty choppy when walking around certain parts of town (on the PS3 version at least, I can’t speak on the other versions). I also had issues with audio some times dropping out. There was one bug that annoyed me for a short amount of time where I finished a battle near the end of the game and the screen was pitch black except for the hud. I could move and do stuff like fart, but I couldn’t see anything. I could pause the game and play around in the menus as well. So I exited the game and reentered and of course it auto saved right after the battle and it was exactly the same. A Google search revealed that changing your party member would fix the issue, and thankfully that ended up doing the trick.
As an JRPG, The Stick of Truth hits most of the right notes. The turn based combat works very well and is easy to master and keeps you on your toes by requiring good timing like the Mario RPGs. The game has a ton of loot, although most of it is junk that you can’t do anything with but sell, and of course tons of customization items ranging from weapons, clothes/armor, hair styles, make up, and facial hair. As you progress through the game and level up, you’ll acquire better equipment that you can further increase by modifying it with one or two abilities or perks. Where the game didn’t really succeed is in differentiating the classes (mage, warrior, thief, and Jew). Outside of some starting cosmetic and weapon differences, there isn’t much that separates the classes (outside of an ability) and that really hinders the replay value.
RPG purists will probably look at the games 8 to 10 hour campaign as being a joke as well, but let’s be honest here: would anyone want to play this game for 20 hours, let alone 50+ for one play-through? I don’t think so; I think by that time the game would have long worn out its welcome and would’ve just been dragging. The length of the campaign here seems just about right for what it is, and I’m not one to usually say “less is better,” but in this instance I believe that is definitely the case.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is basically a love letter to the fans of the long running series. The game is absolutely littered with references and callbacks to episodes of the show. It’s these moments that really help add to the game and really put it even more in the South Park universe than just looking like an episode. Matt and Trey absolutely nailed the script for this game, and it almost feels like it could have been an entire season of good to great episodes itself. Exploring the town of South Park and finally seeing it fully mapped out was exciting as a South Park fan. Seeing the references to previous shows, whether it’s a picture, a prop, or something like Tom Cruise being in Stan’s closest always brought a smile and made you want to seek out even more.
One reference that I enjoyed probably more than most came in the playground. I had been through this area, where Ike is playing pirates, several times and never thought anything about it. Well when I went strolling through the area, just to get to another location so not for anything in particular, with Cartman as my buddy I had dialogue that I hadn’t heard before. It was Cartman stating that his pirating days were thankfully behind him, a call back to the episode where he and others (including Ike) went to Somali to become pirates. It’s something so simple than can easily be missed if you don’t have Cartman with you when you go through there; it made me want to think back to other classic episodes and try and find if something similar would happen if I had a certain buddy with me in a certain location.
In true South Park fashion, the game is a big spoof of something, and in this case it’s a spoof of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The music at times is similar, your character is the Dragonborn whose name ends up actually being Dovahkiin, and your magical abilities are called “dragon shouts” (farts). In this regard, it’s a little humorous that the show usually gets its references to other properties in in a relatively timely manner and the often delayed game’s big spoof is more than a bit dated considering Skyrim released in 2011.
I can honestly say that I wasn’t really anticipating The Stick of Truth despite being a fan of the show. I didn’t have faith that it would work out and figured it would end up being wasted potential like practically every other South Park game before it. I ended up buying it on release day though, digitally through the PlayStation Store and completed it the next day. I’ve since spent more time exploring the world, hunting the collectibles, doing the side missions, and beginning a new game.
I’ve enjoyed it so much that I’m in the process of working on acquiring the Platinum trophy (which, like the game itself, won’t be hard at all). It’s hard to guess what the rest of the year will hold, but I do feel confident in wagering a guess that come the end of the year The Stick of Truth still be high on my list for Game of the Year. It’s the kind of game I enjoy the most; the game that I’m not really super interested in or looking forward to that I ultimately end up absolutely loving. I love it when a game shatters my expectations and ends up better than I would have ever assumed it would be, and The Stick of Truth absolutely did that.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is thus far the early gem of 2014. If you’re remotely a fan of the show or think you could get into it, then you absolutely owe it to yourself to pick this game up ASAP if you have not already done so. It’s a solid RPG and possibly one of the funniest games ever made.
South Park: The Stick of Truth gets a four out of five: GREAT.