South Park: The Stick of Truth Review: Come on down and meet some friends of mine
It goes without saying that if you aren't a fan of crude humor and childish antics, South Park is a show you should avoid. The same can be said of its new video game spin-off, South Park: The Stick of Truth. Anal probing, Nazi zombies, abortions -- these are just a few of the wildly inappropriate topics you'll come across while playing. And as a long time fan of the show, I loved it.
The premise of The Stick of Truth is simple: you're a new kid who has just moved to the quiet little mountain town of South Park. You're told to go find some kids to play with, and you wind up in a live-action role-playing game (LARP) where all of the kids are engaged in a battle over the Stick of Truth, a plain, ordinary stick that wields extraordinary powers in these kids' imaginative minds. Their powers, their weapons, and outfits are all fueled by their imagination. Of course, this is South Park we're talking about, so it doesn't take long for things to get wildly out of control. While things are going to hell in this small town, it's all fun and games to these blissfully ignorant children. Despite all of the inappropriate things thrown at them, the children are totally unaware, simply enthralled in their role-playing.
The childrens' ignorance is part of what makes South Park such an entertaining show, and The Stick of Truth plays out just like one of the episodes; albeit much longer. The show's signature humor and over-the-top nature does translate nicely into the game; although, at times, it seemed to drag. Part of what makes the show’s crude humor tolerable is the small doses by which it is fed to us. By expanding the length to 10-15 hours of gameplay, some of the humor begins to wear dry.
From the characters you'll meet to the side quests you'll encounter, developer Obsidian -- with the help of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone -- have managed to pack tons of the show's elements and humor within the game. Be it through side quests, background music, quips from the characters, or just design aspects with the town (yes, for the first time in series' history, South Park has been mapped out), The Stick of Truth pays great homage to the show. Unfortunately, for those not familiar with show, some of the jokes may go over your head. I consider myself a decent fan of the show and even I missed out on some of the humor. With that being said, fans of South Park will appreciate all of the fine details tucked away in The Stick of Truth.
The gameplay is fairly simplistic, but in a good way. By sticking to the basic turn-based mechanics, Obsidian has allowed more of the focus to be on the story and characters. The gameplay is there to aid in the entertainment, and for the most part, it does.
Before engaging in any sort of LARPing, you’re first encouraged to pick one of four main classes: Fighter, Thief, Mage, and Jew. A few special abilities aside, there’s not much that makes each class unique. There are non class-specific weapons or items, so you're basically free to wield whatever you want without restrictions. Although I appreciate the freedom, as it keeps the focus on the narrative, I can’t help but feel Obsidian missed out on some replay potential.
Basic combat orders are done through a radial menu in which you can usually perform two actions: use an item, then perform an attack. Attacks come in standard, heavy and magical forms -- each typically requiring some button pressing at the right moment to maximize your damage. On defense, pressing a button at the right moment allows you to partially deflect an enemy attack. Failing to press the button at that precise moment can result in some devastating damage done to your character. Timing these attacks and defenses are difficult at first, but you should find yourself getting into a rhythm after a few battle sequences.
Remember, this is still a South Park game, so there are some flat-out silly attack moves as well. Each character comes with their own special abilities. As the New Kid, yours is the power to control farts (a crude parody of Skyrim’s Dragon Shouts). Your Buddy characters also have their own unique set of powers.
Additionally, completing side quests will reward you with summon abilities in which you can call a side character to your aid. These summons treat you to a humorous clip -- like Mr. Slave engulfing an entire enemy into his rectum -- and essentially a free win in any situation.
South Park: The Stick of Truth’s gameplay may be simplistic in nature, but there’s just enough depth to keep you from getting bored. It’s still an RPG at its core, and to that end, there’s still some amount of customization. Upon leveling, you can upgrade certain abilities to add additional effects. There’s also a perk system that allows you to assign your character certain traits that can improve your combat skill. These perks can be unlocked with points you are rewarded with from gaining friends. It’s not the most in-depth system, but it keeps things fresh.
For as simplistic in nature as The Stick of Truth’s gameplay may seem, there are still a few mechanics go unexplained, like being the first to strike your opponent outside of combat means you'll get the first lick at them when in combat. Or things involving your Buddies abilities and what they are good at are left for you to discover. The good news is that these are all things you’ll quickly pick up on.
My biggest gripe, however, is a mechanical issue I had with the fart system -- particularly the tutorial section. Upon learning a new fart ability you must first prove yourself with a tutorial. During this time you are given a brief explanation of the fart and shown a quick demonstration of how to perform that action. I honestly don’t know if it was my own incompetence, the game’s inability to clearly convey what action I needed to perform, or just strict rules, but I had the hardest time passing the tutorials. In the open game, I had no problem pulling off these farts, but the tutorials were extremely unforgiving.
Aesthetically, The Stick of Truth is dead on with the simplistic nature of the show’s visuals. For better or for worse, there’s not much difference between the two. While the repetitive look of each house is accurate to that depicted in the show, it doesn’t necessarily translate well into exploration. Each house in the game has roughly the same layout, so once you’ve been in one, you’ve essentially seen them all. The lack of variety may be inspired by the show, but it also comes off as lazy design, especially for a game.
South Park: The Stick of Truth may be the best video game spin-off in the show’s 17 year history. Although it clearly caters towards fans of the show, there’s enough depth and entertainment in the game to appeal to general gamers as well (just be prepared for lots of crude/borderline offensive jokes). The RPG and combat mechanics, while not terribly in-depth, keep things exciting in between the humor and though it’s not a difficult game per se, there are some challenging moments.
South Park: The Stick of Truth perfectly encompasses what the show is all about. My only wish is that more of my favorite characters could’ve been given the spotlight, but I guess when you’ve got 17 seasons worth of content, that’s easier said than done.