South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

It doesn't take a South Park fan to notice The Stick of Truth was made with a lot of love.

RELEASE DATE: March 4, 2014PLATFORM: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PCDEVELOPER: ObsidianPUBLISHER: UbisoftCATEGORY: Action-RPG

Licensed games tend to, in a word, suck. They are handed off to inexperienced teams and developed under a time crunch. Thankfully, South Park: The Stick of Truth was not subjected to either of these injustices, and it shows. From the somehow-simultaneously-simple-yet-deep combat, to the razor-sharp humor, all the way down to the small details of the town of South Park, The Stick of Truth was clearly crafted with love, and I would suggest this game to not just fans of the show, but even those who have only a passive interest in the animated sitcom.

The Stick of Truth casts players as the new kid in town, who is ordered by his parents to go make some new friends. Shortly after being acquainted with Butters, who appears to be engaged in something of a role-playing game with another neighborhood kid, the new kid is swept up into a quest to reclaim “The Stick of Truth” and, no matter what name you choose, is dubbed “Douche Bag” by the always-friendly Cartman.

As you progress through the story, one which kept my attention throughout, you can expect a healthy dose of the potty humor that the show is known for, but also an equal amount of crude commentary on sex, abortion, religion, and a variety of other adult topics. Whereas many games tiptoe around these topics, it was refreshing to see one that tosses political correctness to the wind and lays them all to bear.

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When it also started to poke fun at video game tropes, such as pointless rooms in dungeons – “Why do dungeons even have these stupid rooms anyways where there’s nothing to do?” says Butters as you wander into the janitor’s closet at South Park Elementary – I came to appreciate the humor even more, and I’m sure gamers will, too. Be wary, though, the potty humor will wear thin after awhile, particularly those who, like me, aren’t frequent viewers of the show.

Not only does the tale and the world of The Stick of Truth follow the comedic aesthetics of the show, but it also makes very sure to view everything – from adult humor to RPG tropes – through the lens of a child; whatever a child may be in the world of South Park, anyhow.

All of the weapons and armor are crudely fashioned out of things found around the house. New armor pieces are made up of cardboard or hoodies. A ranged weapon may be something as simple as a red rubber playground ball. During combat, one of the kids might say “are we still playing? I’m hungry” if you take too long to decide your next move. Butters even considered South Park Elementary a “dungeon” when you attack it to save a character from detention. It lends a very specific South Park-ey feel to the game. You will really feel like you are playing an interactive episode of the show. Take that as you will.

As I hinted above, the combat is turn-based, but don’t let that turn you away if you prefer hacking and slashing. As someone who prefers Elder Scrolls or Diablo over turn-based combat, I found combat to be incredibly fun and just deep enough so that it is easy to grasp, yet never gets boring through The Stick of Truth’s 10-11 hour run time.

Though you specifically select attacks during combat, it is up to you to time your button presses with onscreen prompts to deliver the deadliest blows. The same goes for blocking. Even though I was watching my character follow my orders during combat, I still felt wholly involved.

Each character has magic, special moves, ranged attacks, close attacks, and strong and quick attacks. Finding the right combination to use against certain enemies was consistently satisfying. All of your weapons and armor can be modified to give them unique effects, as well. Add to that the wide array of potions to buff your party members, and it is clear that there is something for everyone here.

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Outside of the combat, I had plenty of fun just wandering around town, exploring its many nooks and crannies. Like the best “metroidvania” games out there, plenty of loot and certain areas are tantalizingly just out of reach until you get a particular power or reach a certain point in the story to access it. I found myself sprinting back to areas to get previously out-of-reach Chinpokomon. Using certain combat moves outside of battle to solve puzzles, such as Kenny’s seduction technique (he’s going through a “phase”) to lure a guard away from his post, tied the whole experience together even more.

However, though the simplicity did allow the game to breath and focus on pure fun, there were certain areas where it held it back. For one, loot collecting is a little stale because you don’t have to put much forethought into what you equip. Simply throw the highest level weapons and armor on your character and, wham-o, you will consistently win every battle, even when you crank up the difficulty. Not being able to skip a turn in combat was also irksome.

Leveling up, which is just as exciting as it is in any RPG, was also very linear. Though there was a clear difference in ability between each level I gained in a particular skill, there were only a paltry five skills to upgrade throughout the game. Like the loot, I never found myself thinking all that hard about where to spend my points. This may not be a minus for some, but it will assuredly be a problem for the stat-trackers out there. It may also diminish the likelihood of playing through the game more than once for some people.

Besides experiencing the different classes, you have kind of seen it all after the first go-around.

In addition, there were also a few bugs that reared their head during my time with The Stick of Truth, which, given Obsidian’s track record for buggy games, was sure to give those that considered buying this game pause. Thankfully, they were few and far between, and were very minor, such as the game stuttering if you backed out of a chest without taking all of the loot. Obsidian, along with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, were clearly dedicated to delivering fans and gamers a quality South Park game.

Outside of those that outright hate South Park, I would not hesitate to suggest The Stick of Truth to anyone. It brings some much-needed humor, both topical and irreverent, to games, which have been becoming more and more serious over the years. The accessibility, tied with just the right amount of depth, make this a short-but-sweet 10-or-so-hour ride on the humorous side.

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4 out of 5