South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Bedlam Maybe… but far from Broke.

South Park has been around for awhile, yet the entire time it has been around, no good gaming titles using the source material come to my mind. I’m thinking that is because all of the titles associated with the series have sucked- until now. Thankfully, The Stick of Truth manages to deliver where others could never do so: an excellently crafted, genuinely fun experience packaged with the hilarity and maturity (or immaturity) of South Park. Now, I’ve been watching South Park for a long while- after all, it’s pretty much half as old as I am at this point, and it’s a fun show to get into. But i have never encountered an equally fun game to dive into, relating to the series, until now. Everything from the major (and even some non-major) characters to the trademark humor and shock value has been included in this particular game, and for that reason I cannot get enough of it. Coupled with the fact that the game plays out as a semi-traditional role-playing game, you’ve got yourself a real winning package.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone obviously had a huge level of involvement in this process, or the designers over at Obsidian are really good at emulating their work (which could be true with Obsidian, who often crafts sequels from other developers’ series) because the fine level of attention to detail and references from the series to the game really just blew me away at most points. There’s no doubt about it that this game is entirely unique and interesting in many ways. You’re able to start the game off in classic role-playing fashion: with character customization, specifically for a ‘new kid” in the sleepy mountain town we all love (or hate). It won’t be too long before you find yourself intermingling with the likes of Kenny, Butters, and Kyle- among other traditional characters, and it feels genuinely like something that could’ve come from the show. By the end of the game, you’ll have come across pretty much every major character you can count from the start of the series to its current point- which is pretty phenomenal considering that’s easily over four hundred characters or so.

As great as all of this background quality information is, I’m sure you’re wondering what the real meat of the experience is, if there is any at all. Well, as my score may tell you, there most certainly is. The gameplay is more than up to snuff and even shines brilliantly in most segments, maintaining a precarious balance between hilarity and enjoyability with ease. The Stick of Truth takes some of the better mechanics from modern RPGs and puts them to good use. Players and party members attack with a variety of ranged, melee, and magic attacks, each enhanced by quick button presses a la Final Fantasy of Lost Odyssey. The fights themselves are often pretty funny as well as serious, and even though you can “die” sometimes it’s just interesting to see what humor they add into the whole experience. Whereas there are poisons and draining attacks or moves in traditional games, South Park features attacks with similar outcomes, but entirely different methods of application- namely the farting, belching, and vomiting you’ll see.

There are four major classes (played best to figure out which suits you best) and each has their own QTE activation-based special perks or skills and attacks. These function mostly as they do in normal RPGs, but of course with a little bit of a South Park twist to everything as well. A warrior might initiate a baseball bat beatdown or an archer might shoot enemies full of suction cup arrows, it all just depends. As lighthearted as The Stick of Truth is however, and however childish it seems, make no mistake- it is about as kid-friendly as the show and series counterpart seems. Meaning of course that it also involves hefty amounts of sexual innuendo, profanity, and blood, blood, blood. Still, it is pretty light at times…before being usually more graphic and shocking afterwards. If there’s one thing to be said about the game in this regard, it is that it always has some unexpected turn of events or a surprise around the corner.

The leveling and experience systems go hand in hand and are pretty much the standard that has been established over the years, which isn’t nearly as bad as you’d think- after all, if it isn’t broken, why fix it in the first place? You can enhance and upgrade particular portions of abilities, such as damage done, enemies affected, and bonus abilities coupled together essentially. Interestingly enough, you also have a sideline system for permanent statistical changes and advantages which focuses upon how many Facebook friends you accumulate in your town. AS interesting as this is and a neat tie-in, it didn’t really strike me as too interesting and it is far from essential. Another somewhat unheard of thing that goes into the game with much more success is the humor itself, mainly because most of it is directed at the video game industry and includes some funny and enjoyable shoutouts- much in the same fashion as the show does to people in real life such as celebrities.

Maybe you’ll be going along when suddenly you encounter some audio logs and must collect them, or perhaps you’ll notice that there is some particularly familiar turn based strategy going on and the very structure of the game itself seems to be one large shoutout to a favorite medium of Parker/Stone. As lazy as certain design choices may seem, it’s pretty interesting that at least seemingly the main reason certain design elements were chosen is because they could be used to simultaneously mock and revere the industry and conventional gaming. Sort of breaks the fourth wall and seems like a paradox too doesn’t it? How unsurprisingly canny of them. There are of course plenty of jokes, references, and over the top moments that fill the game as well from moment to moment, so don’t expect too much downtime.

Expect ManBearPig and other excellent references to turn out to be more than just references, and for many a cameo and encounter as well. The game doesn’t wear out its welcome in both time to completion or in its humor, as it has a relatively short (by RPG standards only) run-time of fifteen hours, and always has new jokes hidden up the sleeve somewhere. The thematic situations, new areas, and entertaining vibes are never going to get old (at least anytime soon) for me, so I know the playtime won’t be stopping me from diving back in for more, or for another run through anyway. It’s definitely the first really enjoyable, replayable game for the series, which seems like a serious crime to me. However, if you do start to tire of particular elements, chances are they’ll shortly change things up on you anyway. Every time I got a little bored, the scenarios abruptly shifted and I was in the thick of it once more. So the pacing is pretty good, to say the least.

Honestly, there really aren’t too many issues to be found with this game, aside from maybe if you don’t enjoy the sense of humor it employs, or haven’t really paid too much attention to the show- which could mean you miss quite a few references. There are a few technical hiccups on consoles, but curiously many of them are absent on computers- so that would be the route I’d go, given the opportunity and for want of a better game experience. Skins may sometimes glitch out of existence, entire inventory objects may sometimes disappear, and entering areas could cause framerate drops- but never anything truly permanent came to pass. This was, note, all on the Xbox systems that I noticed issues, not the play Station ones or PC. All in all, the experience is grand, enjoyable, and the objectives are faithful and unique to say the least.

Concept: Make a good South Park game, and succeed, for the first time in nearly twenty years it seems. This is truly a milestone.

Graphics: Well, it really looks like a South Park episode, so that’s quite an accomplishment as well (as emulating style and design goes).

Sound: I’m glad they were able to get the voice work of series pros (Stone/Parker), as anything other that that would be noticeably fake I would think. As far as music itself goes, as with the show there isn’t much, but it does work well in the particular moments of drama and need.

Playability: It’s a really unique and well pieced together game full of traditional and not so conventional RPG elements that mesh together pretty well for the most part. All in all, a fun adventure and entirely playable experience.

Entertainment: Very funny, and therefore very entertaining- from both a game and humor perspective.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 9.0

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