Historically, the world of video games has not been kind to South Park. From the awful ‘Chef’s Luv Shack’ to the dire ‘South Park Rally’, the series has never received the video game spin-off it deserves.
For some reason, developers in the past have totally failed to capture what makes South Park so great as a TV show, with gameplay ranging from average to dire. However, with Stick of Truth, Obsidian have set out to finally give South Park its first truly great video game.
Ever since its reveal in 2012, fans have dared to hope that Stick of Truth would break the trend, and give South Park the great video game it’s always deserved.
Stick of Truth certainly looks the part. In fact, considering the source material, I can’t think of many ways in which it could be improved. It looks beautifully crappy, and may well be the first game in history in which a screenshot could easily be mistaken for one from the TV show.
Great lengths have been taken to ensure authenticity, and it’s obvious that not only Obsidian, but also Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have poured their hearts into keeping the game totally faithful to the series.
From the way the characters bob about, to the perfectly lip synced voice acting, Stick of Truth’s production value is equal to that of the television series. That’s probably not exactly high praise for a franchise that prides itself on looking cheaply made. It immerses you into the world of South Park to a surprising extent though, in a way that I’d not thought possible considering the tongue-in-cheek, self-referential nature of the series.
The sound is spot on, and all the proper voices for every character are accounted for. The in-game music is great too, with a lot of original compositions that perfectly mock those heard in more traditional fantasy RPG games. Another nice touch is the little jingle after you load into a game, matching the one heard in the series after an ad break has ended.
Of course, we all knew that the game was going to look and sound the part. The real question is whether or not Stick of Truth is actually funny.
Stick of Truth is an absolutely hilarious game, and unless you hate the television series, you’re gonna have a good time. It may not have the tight, satirical focus of a 25 minute episode, but the whole adventure features a constant barrage of hilarity, political incorrectness, and parody. And an excessive amount of farting.
My main concern when going into Stick of Truth was whether the game could hold up as an RPG in its own right. If the gameplay doesn’t work, then the comedy and authenticity becomes ultimately redundant.
I’d probably have been quite happy if Stick of Truth had gone for traditional turn-based battles, like those seen in the earlier Final Fantasy games. Surprisingly though, Obsidian’s choice of battle system is at once deep, twitchy and quite unique.
Stick of Truth’s battle system is like a more strategic, less frustrating version of that seen in Double Fine’s Costume Quest. Players take control of their own protagonist, along with one classic South Park character, each with their own specialisation.
The battles are turn-based in structure, allowing players to use one item and one attack each turn. Where the system differs from other RPGs is when the player actually makes an attack or defends.
Each attack has a specific button press associated with it. For example, when using a slingshot attack, the player has to spin their joystick, then press A at the appropriate time. As a side-note, I’d advise using a controller over mouse + keyboard, as it’s a bit less fiddly.
I thought I’d get annoyed at these button presses and reaction tests in combat, but it actually adds a lot to the whole experience. It’s extremely satisfying to block three consecutive attacks, then follow up with a bonus attack. It’s less satisfying, but equally hilarious, to fail at Kenny’s unicorn summon ability, causing him to get skewered himself, as it charges into the enemies. Ultimately, it’s strategy and preparation that wins battles in Stick of Truth, but there’s always room for a clutch block, or perfect strike.
One of my least favourite parts about most turn-based RPG systems, is that when battling a series of ‘normal’ enemies, it can quickly fall into button mashing drudgery, no brainpower required. Fortunately, Stick of Truth has successfully avoided this, partly through the use of the reactions tests, and partly through the use of stances, armour and shields.
Enemies can activate stances that make them immune from certain types of damage, from ripostes that counter melee attacks, to reflecting ranged weaponry. Shielded enemies are immune from a certain number of attacks, making quick, light attacks the way to go, while armoured enemies are almost totally immune from anything but slow, heavy blows.
All of this requires the player to constantly change up and rethink their tactics, and if there’s a single ‘best’ way to approach each battle, I haven’t found it yet.
Another feature worth mentioning, is that fights can be made easier by taking out enemies outside of the battles themselves. For example, it’s possible to shoot a lightshade so that it drops and knocks out an opponent, or cause one to run in fear setting them on fire with a lit fart.
They don’t make for the most heavyweight puzzles of all time, but they allow for nice environmental interaction, and the results are often amusingly unpredictable. The same interaction also allows players to find hidden collectibles, ranging from useful treasure to the various Chinpokomon figures scattered around.
Finding hidden items in Stick of Truth is actually a worthwhile part of the game, and it doesn’t feel like it exists just to artificially lengthen gameplay. Every object you find references something from the television series, from KFC chicken bones to Tweek Brothers Coffee. It helps to provide fan service for the South Park diehards, while offering a fun challenge for casual viewers.
While my views on Stick of Truth are largely positive, it’s not a game without problems. The opening hours, while funny, aren’t particularly interesting with regards to story or gameplay. It’s only after being abducted by aliens that the game really hits its stride.
Stick of Truth is also a little easy, especially if you’re competent at the reaction-based challenges in the combat. While it certainly requires brainpower, and you’ll run into some difficult boss battles, I rarely found myself getting ‘stuck’. Whether or not that’s a major problem is really up to you.
The PC release of the game ran very smoothly for me, and, due to it being uncut, is arguably the best version currently available. I was disappointed with the lack of the audio and video options though, that offer almost no customisation. As it’s a 2D title, it’s not a huge problem, but at the very least a Vsync option should have been included.
South Park: The Stick of Truth somehow manages to not only be a fantastic South Park game, but also a great, solid RPG. With a playing time of around 15 to 20 hours, it’s perhaps a little short compared to others in the genre, but I’d argue that when it comes to South Park’s style of comedy, less is more.
The deep, rewarding combat and huge amounts of customisation, combined the a faithful adaptation of South Park’s look, sound and comedy makes for one of the most entertaining RPGs I’ve played in a long time, and certainly the funniest. If you have even a passing interest in the TV show, or just want to play a solid, funny game, South Park: The Stick of Truth is well worth your time.