On the face of it, a game like South Park: The Stick of Truth seems like it couldn’t live up to its promise. One would have to wonder just how well a 2D RPG with some 3D backgrounds set in the confines of the popular adult animated series would fare. Helping it is the involvement of the show’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who approached developer Obsidian Entertainment (Fallout: New Vegas) with the idea, who then had the backing of now defunct publisher THQ. When THQ went bankrupt, the game seemed to be in jeopardy, but publisher Ubisoft stepped in, ensuring the game to see a release. The game ended up being delayed for a year (it was originally set for release in March 2013 and finally hit store shelves on March 4, 2014). Fans eagerly awaited to see how the game would turn out, since Parker and Stone wrote the script, consulted on the game’s design, and voiced many of the characters. It held all the promise of playing an actual South Park episode. But did it succeed? As far as feeling and looking like an episode from the series, it succeeded quite well. And in the process it also proved to be a solid RPG.
The plot is standard for a South Park episode, skirting the boundaries of taste and often proving to be quite funny. You play as the New Kid who joins the locals in playing out a massive fantasy game involving the titular Stick of Truth, held at first by the “humans” (led by Cartman) and then stolen by the “elves” (led by Kyle). Cartman dubs your character Douchebag, and as the game goes along titles precede this moniker as you accomplish various tasks in pursuit of the main quest. You meet plenty of South Park regulars along the way: Butters proves to be your first companion in your travels, Timmy provides a fast travel service, Kenny appears in drag as Princess Kenny, and Stan serves as Kyle’s right hand. In addition, you’ll meet Randy Marsh (Stan’s father), Jimbo, Mr. Mackey, and even Jesus, among plenty of others familiar to fans of the series. The story touches on alien abduction, anal probes, Nazi zombies, abortions, and Taco Bell, and plays to plenty of video-gaming conventions by being both an homage to them as well as turning them on their head. The story prompted censorship in various regions, as the game, like the show, skirts the boundaries of taste. But what else can you expect from a game where your magical powers lie in the strength of your farts (modeled on the shouts from Skyrim)?
Yes, farts are the magic of choice in the game, and in the end you’ll have four types to choose from. In addition to these, you have various melee weapons (some standard RPG fare, like a sword or staff, and others more ridiculous), ranged weapons (including bows and a super ball), various costumes that provide perks and buffs, and the ability to modify your character’s appearance with wigs, make-up, facial hair, and glasses. There are four classes to choose from: Fighter, Thief, Mage, and Jew. Regardless of which one you pick, the game plays out more or less the same, so there isn’t much difference between the classes. Finishing quests and battles gives you points to level up your abilities, and perks are gained by making Facebook friends (the more friends you make, the more perks you can end up with). The battle system is turn based, with all of the abilities found in classic RPGs, like buffs that raise defense, reflect enemy attacks, and, in typical South Park fashion, gross out your foes. Each character has their own unique abilities, with a few having a summon ability (completion of one side quest even allows you to summon a gun-toting Jesus to smite your enemies). You’ll only have one character to accompany you at a time in your travels and in battle, though later on you can swap out these characters for the right party member for certain situations. The battle system is both simple to understand, yet does provide some tactical depth, and timed button presses do you keep you on your toes during a fight. It’s engaging and fun, and definitely one of the game’s strengths.
In addition to combat, there are plenty of places to explore, with locales faithfully reproduced from the show. You’ll visit the school, Stark Pond, various character’s homes, and even Canada (which has a unique visual presentation). Collectibles to find include thirty different Chinpokomon, and side quests include getting or giving a specific item, creature hunts for Jimbo, finding Jesus, helping the Underwear Gnomes, and aiding former Vice-President Al Gore in tracking the ManBearPig. You’ll get abilities to instruct a buddy to help you out and teleport in certain instances. And all of this is done to the backdrop of faithfully recreated visuals from the show, making it an interactive episode. It’s so good a recreation that those coming into a room and seeing the game in spots would easily mistake it for being the show and not a game. Only occasional frame rate issues make the distinction, but these are rare and don’t hinder the progress through the game. The only other technical issue I hit was a cut scene that refused to start, locking me in a loading screen. I could only proceed by loading an earlier save, and replaying up to that point. Others have reported a problem late in the game where a scene cut out, disrupting gameplay, but I didn’t encounter this issue. Overall, the game ran pretty smooth for me. Controls worked well for the most part, but there were instances they could be a bit twitchy. Bringing up the wheel for combat could prove a chore to land on what you wanted (often causing other characters on the screen to ask if they were still playing or not), and pulling off certain attacks could be finicky as well, rendering them just about useless. It could also sometimes be difficult to find which way to go, and the map could only be accessed by pausing the game.
This being a South Park game, humor naturally plays a large part in the proceedings. Your enjoyment of the game will depend on whether or not you’re a fan of the show and it’s type of satire. Those easily offended or who despise the show would do well to steer clear of this, as it’s humor will be a big turn-off. Fans of the show will most likely love this, and the game offers plenty in the way of fan service, from the locales to even pics from classic episodes posted on the wall of the Photo Dojo. The game skews plenty of topics, including well worn gaming tropes. For the most part, the jokes land, and frequently provide laugh out loud moments. Not everything works, which is similar to the show. When the jokes fail, they truly fall flat. But thankfully, there are more hits than misses, providing the game to be one of the funniest in recent years. Those gaming tropes also falter in spots during my time with the game. Latter sections seem padded with repetition just to drag things out, and certain music based timed button presses don’t work well at all. The game also at times fails to tell you how to accomplish certain things. This was particularly aggravating during an event late in the game where following the onscreen prompts continually led to failure. Only by going online did I find what I needed to do. It could’ve been found though trial and error, but forced replaying of sections in a game is never a good thing. While these parts weren’t frequent, they were enough to dampen my overall experience. I still had a lot of fun, but these sections took the game down a peg or two for me.
In the end, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a good example of a license done right. The game looks and feels like a South Park episode, with the series trademark humor and its ability to both use RPG conventions and turn them on their head. The main quest took me around 12 1/2 hours to complete, doing all of the side-quests and finding all of the collectibles will add a few more hours. Sadly, lack of choices make this mostly a once and done game, with little incentive to replay the main campaign other than if you enjoyed the story. Die-hard fans will want to purchase this. Others may want to wait for a price drop or simply rent the title. It’s worth playing, and in the end, proves to be a very solid RPG. You can feel good visiting South Park, as it proves to be an enjoyable time.
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