Come on down to South Park
The road to South Park: The Stick of Truth’s release has been a long and rocky one. For years, fans have pined after Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s attempt to fully realize the wacky world of South Park in video game form. Despite The Stick of Truth’s oft-delayed development cycle, now that the game is finally here, it is safe to say that the efforts of Obsidian Entertainment, South Park Digital Studios and Ubisoft have not been in vain. South Park: The Stick of Truth is in every way exactly what fans of the long-running show have been hoping for – an irreverent, yet thoroughly enjoyable role-playing game that continually impresses throughout.
From the game’s outset, it is abundantly clear that South Park: The Stick of Truth was treated as a passion project by both the developers and South Park’s creators. Every aspect of the game meshes perfectly with the show’s established brand of satire. Within the first ten minutes of The Stick of Truth, the player feels as if they really are a resident of South Park, thanks to the impeccable attention to detail that has gone into recreating the locations and characters of the show.
The Stick of Truth manages to make the player tap into a multitude of emotions while playing the game. Throughout a single playthrough, the player is sure to experience everything from shock, childlike wonder, repulsion and sheer enjoyment. As perfectly as South Park has continually kept viewers on their toes for nearly twenty years, so too does The Stick of Truth.
Players control South Park’s newest fourth grader in The Stick of Truth, known initially as New Kid. New Kid’s (later lovingly named Douchebag by Eric Cartman) appearance is entirely customizable by the player during the game’s opening moments, instantly adding the notion that in The Stick of Truth, the player is the star.
Upon customizing New Kid, The Stick of Truth starts in earnest. Ushered outside by his parents in order to meet new friends, New Kid is almost instantly assimilated into his fellow classmate’s game. Two factions – the human army led by Eric Cartman, and the Drow Elves headed by Kyle Broflovski – are locked into an intense, if not childish, battle for the universe-controlling Stick of Truth. As soon as New Kid steps foot off of his property, he is swept up into the battle.
After meeting Butters Scotch and Eric Cartman, The Stick of Truth’s brilliant fantasy satire takes center stage. By poking fun of genre staples including Game of Thrones and Skyrim, The Stick of Truth immediately roots itself as a game that, much like the show, is not afraid of being self-aware. Inside of Eric Cartman’s Kupa Keep Kastle, New Kid quickly proves himself adept at combat and is subsequently conscripted to fight alongside the rest of Cartman’s forces.
As New Kid meets his newly acquired comrades, the player is allowed to choose his starting class. The fighter, mage and thief all are accurate representations of their counterparts in virtually every other RPG, but The Stick of Truth’s fourth playable class, the Jew, goes a long way towards showing that Trey Parker and Matt Stone refuse to compromise their vision in order to pander towards those who need a certain level of PC in their video games.
Once New Kid picks a class, The Stick of Truth opens up by introducing the player to the basics of combat. In the game’s combat system, developer Obsidian Entertainment shows off their pedigree in the genre. Opting out of could have been simple turn based RPG fare, The Stick of Truth instead features a battle system that touts surprising depth. Each class has its own unique set of skills that can be used to turn the tide of combat and their are numerous ‘classes’ of enemies that require different strategies to defeat.
If the player had any reservations about The Stick of Truth merely being a quick cash-in, then it is in the first few battles that this notion is thrown by the wayside. Combat plays out in an oddly similar manner to the classic Super Mario RPG. New Kid and his other party member (South Park cast members referred to as Battle Buddies) can select between attacking, using items, or various abilities. After selecting an action, the player can time button presses in order to boost attacks and abilities. This approach to battle instantly makes The Stick of Truth feel as though it truly wants the player to feel as though they are an active part of the game as it moves forward.
In the same spirit of the game’s engaging combat system, The Stick of Truth’s story does an excellent job of keeping the player engaged. Despite the initial premise that has two groups of children decking themselves out in fantasy costumes in order to fight over a supposedly magical stick, The Stick of Truth encapsulates the sense of urgency to this play-battle in a way that feels natural.
Of course, this is a South Park game, so there are certain ‘vulgar’ expectations that come with The Stick of Truth. As previously stated, there is never a moment in The Stick of Truth that doesn’t feel like it is a believable part of South Park. As New Kid quests throughout town with Cartman and company the swear words keep coming and coming. While it would be easy to write the game’s incessant vulgarities off as low-brow, each and every curse manages to feel at place within the world of South Park. While certainly not for the faint of heart, The Stick of Truth’s barrage of swears, offensive humor, and disgusting imagery keep the game feeling both fresh and funny at every step.
New Kid’s alliance with Cartman’s humans leads him on a sweeping journey across South Park. What initially is a simple game quickly – as only South Park can – turns into much more; as the very safety of the town is jeopardized thanks to the appearance of an otherworldly Taco Bell and mysterious goo.
It would not be fair to delve too far into The Stick of Truth’s plot. Much of the game’s enjoyment is derived from the player strapping them self in and allowing the absurdity to take place. Those who are familiar with the show will be pleased as piss to see plenty of familiar faces pop up throughout the game’s story.
T0 say that the writing in The Stick of Truth is great would be simply unfair. As a South Park entry, every single line of dialogue is pitch-perfect, and outside of that context, The Stick of Truth is entirely funny in its own right. By blending pure satire with bathroom humor and pure absurdism, The Stick of Truth contains enough funny moments to warrant a playthrough stickily on the merit of the game’s writing.
There are numerous moments in The Stick of Truth that will make the player question how a game could even contain some of the themes that they are presented with. In true South Park form, religion, drug use, anal probing and countless other topics are addressed in a devil may care manner that makes the hot button topics feel somehow more accessible. That, of course, is not to say that The Stick of Truth is a game that should be played around children.
The Stick of Truth’s brilliance is in the moments that walk the fine line between simple humor and relatively dark subject matter. As quickly as New Kid can defeat packs of gnomes with his impressive fart magic, so too can he find himself performing an impromptu abortion while passing himself off as a doctor. The juxtaposition of childlike bathroom humor with adult content has long been what makes South Park so great and The Stick of Truth follows suit in every possible way.
Just like The Stick of Truth’s combat is generally impressive, so too is navigating through the town of South Park. Faithful to the show’s signature animated style, The Stick of Truth allows the player to wander the streets of South Park to their hearts content. The various stores, houses and buildings are packed with items to loot and collectibles to uncover. Navigating through the game’s locations is made even more enjoyable thanks to the various abilities New Kid learns that allow him to interact with his environment.
South Park’s demented denizens populate the towns street, each with various information and topics of discussion for New Kid. As the game progresses, New Kid can make friends with virtually every member of South Park, adding them to his ever-growing friends list and gaining bonus perks every dozen friends or so. The conversations with South Park’s residents are rewarding in their own right, but by giving the player different perks, The Stick of Truth creates additional incentives to go out of your way to meet everyone in town.
For as great as exploring South Park is, The Stick of Truth does suffer from some framerate issues when walking about. Upon entering a new area of the map, New Kid tends to lag and stutter for a few seconds. While this does not happen every time, it can lead to some irritating moments of navigation. While this is not a terrible problem, it can get frustrating to continually find your character somewhere else than where you intended for him to be.
Outside of the framerate issue, The Stick of Truth’s other fault lies in learning each of New Kid’s magical flatulence skills. While presented in a tutorial format, learning each new skill proves slightly more difficult than it should be, as the on screen inputs tend to lag ever so slightly behind, causing the player to fail the section when it feels as though they should not have.
The Stick of Truth does a whole lot right. While the notion of turn based RPG set in South Park might seen like a genuinely baffling choice at first glance, mere minutes with the game prove just how great this concept works. South Park has long been the definitive modern satire, and The Stick of Truth is no exception. In an era where video games so desperatly want to be taken seriously, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have risen to the challenge of proving that games should be just what they are – games. Humorous and vulgar, yet equally charming and brilliant, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a RPG that is deserving of all the praise that it is sure to get.
*Reviewer’s Statement: The Author recieved a copy of South Park: The Stick of Truth from the publisher for the PlayStation 3 in order to review this product.
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