South Park: The Stick of Truth

To echo an oft repeated sentiment, I am surprised that it has taken so long to create a video game worthy of the South Park name. The overnight popularity of the show spawned a number of video games that were mediocre at best. I vividly recall Nintendo 64’s South Park, a poor first person shooter comprised of gags pulled from its debut season. Seventeen years after the world was introduced to four foul mouthed children, South Park: The Stick of Truth is an adventure South Park Studios can be proud of as it successfully captures the essence of the South Park brand.

The Stick of Truth begins with the arrival of New Kid, a mysteriously silent protagonist who has moved to the quiet mountain town from parts unknown. Encouraged to make friends, New Kid stumbles upon children playing an elaborate make-believe fantasy game loosely based on their interpretation of Game of Thrones from the recent “Black Friday” episode trilogy. By rescuing Butters from a child dressed as an Elf, he earns an audience with Eric Cartman, the “Grand Wizard” of Kupa Keep and overseer of the fabled Stick of Truth. When it is stolen after a raid by Elves, Cartman puts New Kid in charge with bringing allies together to retrieve it. In typical South Park fashion, what begins as a simple, fairly innocent game among children eventually spirals out of control when their play blends with the wild goings on in town brought on by South Park’s wildly inept adults.

As the New Kid, you’ll travel around the town of South Park completing story objectives secondary fetch and bounty quests. The Stick of Truth offers a compelling role playing game experience; however, those looking for something as deep or intricate as Dragon Age will be disappointed. Most of the game is spent fighting through a compendium of South Park character templates spread out across the map or triggered by certain events. After Cartman has inducted New Kid to Kupa Keep, you are prompted to choose a character class, Fighter, Mage, Their or Jew, each with their own unique attacks and skills. On the insistence of my fiancee, I went with the Jew class, one that gets more powerful as its health diminishes. As expected, Cartman disapproved of my choice.

Obsidian has done a great job making the game’s active combat system accessible without being too easy or dumbed down. The effectiveness of defense and offense moves are governed by the player’s successful timing with on-screen prompts, be they flashes of light or specific button commands. A myriad of status ailments that can be inflicted upon enemies and your own party. Familiar Damage Over Time status attacks such as Burning, Bleeding and Grossed Out (South Park’s version of poison) are useful in chipping away a target’s health. Not all afflictions are bad as some can boost attack power, increase turn speed and cast a protective shield around a character. Weapons can utilize upgrades called Strap-Ons, unique items that will imbue your equipment with harmful effects, while Patches can be equipped to armor and boos resistances against ailments.

While both the New Kid and his accountabilibuddy can use special attacks, the ability to use magic (aka, farts) is limited to the main character. Farts boost the effect of a melee and ranged attacks or can be used to launch a powerful gaseous attack. Successfully launching a fart is a bit more involved as it requires manipulation of the analog sticks. Pulling off these attacks can be a little clunky at first but becomes second nature after use. Rounding out the combat options are character summons. Extremely useful in a fight, their inclusion feels like a last minute addition given their interesting caveats. Summons cannot be used for boss fights and can only be called up once per day. This can be problematic, since the game dictates the length of a day, making it is easy to burn through a summon early and not have it for the rest of that day. Furthermore, in order to use them again on the next day, you must talk to these characters before they are made available once again. With so many combat options available, summons are ultimately non-essential.

In typical RPG fashion, experience points are awarded after each battle and feed into an all-too familiar character progression system involving skill trees and character upgrades. By connecting with friends via Facebook, points are awarded towards a perk system comprised of useful passive abilities. There is also a great deal of loot to be collected, equipped and sold. Recovery items, weapons, gear, vendor trash, Strap-Ons, Patches and even cosmetic goodies drop often, make it almost pointless to spend money for weapons and armor. Best to save your cash to purchase recovery goods, as they are the most useful objects to have on hand during combat.

Compared to Obsidian’s previous role playing games, The Stick of Truth offers comfortable and accessible gameplay that isn’t particularly taxing. This works in its favor and allows the quality of the game’s writing and direction of cutscene to outshine everything else. All of the elements that make the show unique - the foul humor, crappy animation and wit - has survived the transition unscathed, making it indiscernible from the television show. Of course, the level of quality and reverence could only come from Trey Parker and Matt Stone playing a major role in the game’s development. Obsidian, Parker and Stone have crammed South Park with enough references, winks and nods from the show’s entire seventeen year run. Some of these references have even become gameplay mechanics and feature. For example, if Kenny dies in battle he cannot be resurrected by normal means like the other kids. Instead, he inexplicably returns to resume the battle after two turns.

The game is also mercilessly funny, even--no, especially when the jokes are cheap and offensive. Much like the show, the game’s humor calls upon television, movies, popular culture, video games (including the absurdity of audio logs) and South Park itself to tell its jokes. And it should come as no surprise that the gameis just as filthy as the television show. The humor will most certainly not be to everyone’s tastes as sex, dick and fart jokes of all types are frequent. In a medium where comedy is hard to maintain, South Park makes it look easy. It isn’t perfect, repetition of one lines among NPCs and enemies kills the joke over time. Cutscenes, on the other hand, are rich in comedy gold given that Parker and Stone are in control of timing and direction.

From a technical standpoint, South Park appears to lack the major and sadly typical bugs that tend to accompany most Obsidian releases. There was only one significant issue that came up near the end of the game. Reloading a checkpoint before that fight and switching to a different party character for the battle solved the issue. Outside of that bug, the most glaring niggling concern I had were the dearth of loading screens that accompany numerous actions like the transition from indoor and out environments, cutscenes, location changes and even moving from one screen to another. Given the game’s purposefully low quality design, the frequent load screens were a surprise but then again, I am not a developer.

South Park: The Stick of Truth captures the heart and soul of its source material better than any other licensed game on the market. Though not a particularly long game, the experiences and situations you’ll encounter stand out for their sheer audacity and hilariously poor taste. The RPG mechanics of the adventure may not be deep but they do a great job of not overwhelming the game’s story and jokes. South Park: The Stick of Truth is designed with the South Park fan in mind - the one who doesn’t mind gags and gameplay sequences featuring abortion, homosexuality, farts and alien anal probes.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.