I went down to South Park and there I had myself a time. Humble folks were found everywhere, most of which you could instantly recognise if you are a fan of the show, in which case South Park: The Stick Of Truth is a game you will want to get your hands on. If you aren’t a massive fan of the show, the gameplay is done well enough to be enjoyable to even the most hardcore of RPG fans.
The overall design of Stick Of Truth is pretty incredible, with every second of game time feeling, and most importantly, looking like an episode of South Park. This was no botched up ‘sell it to the fans’ game, it’s a great title that plays to the strengths of the show. Unlike previous South Park games, The Stick Of Truth allowed Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the original creators, to push the South Park universe to its limits. Before Stick Of Truth, the town of South Park had never been mapped out. The style of animation used meant that all they ever had to do was set up the location, then act out the characters scenarios. With Stick Of Truth, they needed an open world environment, and this required them to finally, after almost 20 years of airing the show, work out where all of their iconic locations were situated in relation to each other.
The Stick Of Truth almost felt like two games in one at times, especially for anyone who has watched a lot of the show. Most of the time you are playing spot the reference, and there are plenty of them. Whether you find yourself screaming “Eek! A penis” or stopping by the protagonist’s houses to snoop through their memento-filled cupboards, there are huge amounts of details that are transferred straight from the TV program. Even the junk loot that is just there to be sold is laden with items directly from the show, including one I couldn’t bring myself to sell, “the sword of a thousand truths”.
It’s not only visual references either, as there is plenty of audio homages to be heard too, including a one-off rendition of what is possibly the TV shows most famous line, referring to the death of a certain orange coated character. The music also follows the déjà vu feeling you get throughout, as upon stepping into the town’s stores, you will hear Eric Cartman singing his impression of Jennifer Lopez, or even the mighty “Lets Fighting Love”.
Whilst all of these things are really great and engaging, the question is whether there is a decent enough game behind it all. With the aid of Obsidian Entertainment, South Park Digital Studios have managed to make a game that plays as good as it looks and sounds. The core of the game could be compared to JRPGs such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. The main game features a world, or rather a town, for you to explore, and encounters with enemies are done in instances. However you actually get a chance to kill or otherwise hinder your enemies before initialising combat. For example, a shot from your bow will stun an enemy and if you can start combat before they snap back to their senses, then you instantly get a small advantage. This allows for tactical engagements with your foes, and you know that if you do fail in your fight, that the second time you try, you could do more to prevent them getting the upper hand. Once in combat, there is a timing element to it too. Little flashes, or shields pop up, that indicate when to tap certain buttons. These in turn increase your defense or attack power, and adds an element of skill to the game.
As any good adventurer knows, it’s good to have friends with you, and The Stick Of Truths buddy system allows you to choose one of your favourite characters to tag along with you on your quest. Each character comes with their own set of skills, some based on their chosen class, and other based on their characteristics from within the TV show. For example, Butters plays as a Paladin, and engages in combat using a hammer, and has the ability to heal you. Alongside those talents, he can also transform himself in to his alter ego, Dr. Chaos, for an attack that targets all enemies. In terms of what your personal character can do, you have the choice of four classes which are, Warrior, Mage, Thief and Jew. Yep… You heard right… Jew. Playing as a thief I found that the skill set was ideal for that class. Using daggers and agility for my specials made his attacks fit in with the stereotypical thief class style, and the default clothing made my character look the part too.
Another key component was the puzzles and abilities you had to use to solve them. Sometimes you would need to get a particular buddy to help you with certain things too. For example, Butters, as a paladin, could be used to heal injured people around the town, and Stan could be used to make his dog pee on things such as fires, to extinguish them. There was also the addition of collectibles such as Chinpokomon, yet another reference to an episode from the series, or even just finding citizens of South Park to add to your friends list. These scavenger hunts often required you to back track, and use skills that you had gained later in the game.
Different weapons have their own stats and perks, and each bit of equipment comes with slots to add extra passive abilities. For example, I often equipped my main melee weapon with an attachment that caused fire damage, then used my magic attacks, which in true South Park style, are farts, to explode the affected enemy. It’s these kinds of attacks, which work cooperatively with each other that makes the turn based combat so interesting. Choosing the right attack for the right enemy is vital and keeping an eye on the status effects of both yourself and your foe is essential to keeping your head above the water.
Along with combat, a must have in any RPG is quests, and Stick Of Truth loads your log with plenty of quirky side missions that have you travelling all over the remote mountain town. Maybe you have been told to wipe out all the homeless encampments dotted around, or maybe you have to delve deep into the sewers to engage in battle with a huge fruit bat? In any case you can rely on the humour of the show finding a way into the path of your protagonist. The main storyline focuses on the war between Elves and Humans, which has divided the boys of South Park. As the new kid, you are forced into the middle of the war and pretty much used to solve all of the problems, much like many other video game protagonists. However, the missions you are assigned are never as simple as they first sound, this is South Park after all. A seemingly simple quest can quickly take a turn for the strange, but that’s exactly what we want and expect.
In keeping with its reputation, South Park once again pushed for controversy with the content of the Stick Of Truth game, and obviously it worked. Playing a European copy on PS3 meant I was subjected to the censored version of the game, and I felt a little annoyed that I was missing out on content that was originally there. After looking up the scenes that were deleted, I found that they were no more outrageous than some of the other scenes in the game, but due to sensitivities in certain European and Australasian countries, it probably made more sense to remove them to avoid any further conflict. Without spoiling too much, they were based around anal probing and abortion, the latter being a subject that certainly could be deemed offensive. However the scene that was censored, was a lot less offensive than the section that followed. The choice was not made by the creators, and the way they covered up the deleted scenes was done in a funny way, that almost taunted the player for not being able to see it.
The main issues I had with Stick Of Truth, other than the censorship, was that I often found the game stuttering when moving from one screen to another. Whether this is due to my PS3, or just that it’s an issue that needs to be patched out, is unclear to me, but either way, I felt a game with limited graphic requirements shouldn’t have these issues. Another thing that I would have liked to see is the ability to customise your buddy. Whilst each buddy has an individual set of skills and attacks that don’t necessarily need to be changed, it would have been nice to at least customise their clothing.The combat at first glance seemed a little two dimensional (pun intended), and originally I was a little disappointed with it, but as with any good game, the progression allows for more interesting dynamics to be implemented. By the end of The Stick Of Truth, I had so many weapons, attachments, and pieces of armour, that it allowed me to change up my style whenever I wanted.
The Stick Of Truth offered a lot more than I had expected, especially after I had played previous South park titles. The world was fun to explore, and it was interesting to finally see the town in an all-encompassing manner. The combat evolved with your character, and the events, puzzles and quests were the driving force behind the fun. The humour was exactly what you would expect from a South Park game, only it was frsh due to being an entirely new story line. Not knowing what to expect next made each corner an exciting one to turn. As for design, it couldn’t have been done better, the animation followed the style from the series perfectly, as well as the characters personalities. After sitting through the whole game, I felt like I had just watched my new favourite episode, and I felt a pang of disappointment that it was over, even if it was satisfying to no end.