Within the first two hours of The Stick of Truth, I’d helped City Wok’s hapless owner defeat the Monogolians, and I’d met Al Gore and started a quest to help him track ManBearPig. I’d walked into Jimbo’s gun shop where “I’m a little bit country” is playing, and it’s not referenced, nor does it need to be, but you stop and listen – entranced by the memories of yet another brilliant Randy moment, and the thoughts of what might be yet to come.
And those are the few things I’m comfortable spoiling for you. This is the South Park game we fans deserve, and the fan-service is constant and it tastes as sweet as Scott Tenorman’s tears. Every time a beloved but almost forgotten character appears for the first time, it’s a welcome moment.
The dialogue is pitch perfect, and it just can’t be over-stressed how important this is. Being a licensed game, you’d expect nothing less than the proper voice actors, but the fact Matt and Trey are heavily involved shines throughout every inch of The Stick of Truth. It’s consistently funny, which is no small feat. In fact, the audio is a high point throughout. A mix of songs and clips ripped from the show combine with the soundtrack, which itself is rather well performed. The Stick of Truth feels high budget in both audio and visual departments.
Walking around South Park itself never stops feeling like some wonderful flight of fancy. As if it weren’t enough to create your avatar, before having Cartman then offer up the nickname “Douchebag” regardless of whether you pick the Jew-class, you get to see the mountain town with your own eyes, and it looks exactly as it should. The attention to detail is astonishing. Better yet, you’re rewarded for exploring every nook and cranny of South Park. Locked garages, attics, and all manner of hidden crevices will give you junk that you can sell, and even this junk has humorous descriptions. It’s a small reward, but the exploration gives gratification as it reveals yet more fan-service. Whether you’re fighting aliens aboard a UFO, or beating up rats in a sewer, The Stick of Truth takes you everywhere you could ever hope – and I am being super serial there.
But none of this would be worth a damn if the RPG elements weren’t up to scratch, which they are. It’s mostly standard fare, in the form of buffs and debuffs, but there’s a deeper system underpinning it all. Weapons and clothing all have their own perks, but they can also have additional buffs attached to them, meaning different tools for different battles, adding an element of strategy you perhaps wouldn’t expect. Of course there are plenty of non-affecting customisation items, too, meaning you can have your mute-avatar (the new kid never speaks, and it’s referenced often) looking as silly or as normal as you please.
Combat is turn-based, and the old fashioned version of it, too. Different characters represent different classes, and you can switch-out buddies during battles to change the flow of battle. Items, magic, you name it, The Stick of Truth has got it, and it throws enough new things into the mix at regular intervals that even the core mechanics don’t tire. The fact most of your tools revolve around the comedy of the show is a major plus point, and the repeating jokes about never farting on another man’s balls never fail to tickle the funny bone. Rounding out the combat are summons, and if I tell you that you can summon Mr Slave to “remove” an enemy from battle, there’s a good chance that, if you’re a fan, you’ll know what happens there.
The closest comparison to make would be the Mario RPG series, most recently Dream Team Bros. During the turns themselves, you can raise the individual attack power by hitting specific buttons, or executing actions at the right moment. Likewise, blocking attacks with a timely press of a button can reduce damage taken, but if you block a longer, repeated attack, you can counter for a small retaliation. The humour pervades every ounce of the combat, whether it’s the reaction from enemies, your buddies, or just the attacks themselves – you can throw a turd, get Butters to transform into Professor Chaos, get Jimmy to perform the brown note, or even get Stan’s dog to lower the enemy’s defences. Again, these are just the moments I’m comfortable spoiling.
Honestly, it’s as though Obsidian set out to create the ultimate South Park game while retaining their fundamental excellence in RPG-making, because everything just works so well. That’s not to say that non-fans of the series won’t find something to enjoy here, but the crudeness that puts people off the show itself is evident here in spades. It’s more a case of creating a game for the fans, that has a solid, enjoyable RPG inside of it. There will be people that beat the drum that South Park is nasty, sexist, homophobic (and so on), but the point is that Trey and Matt ridicule everyone, all the time.
The Stick of Truth is a very polished affair, though not without fault. There are occasional issues when transitioning from area to area that manifest in slow-down then speed-up (as though the frames are catching up). These are minor and should be patchable. Occasionally dialogue gets a little bit confused, and when you’re really motoring, quests can appear a little slowly – but that’s mostly down to the fact you’ll have advanced knowledge of how an RPG works. The FaceBook style in-game social network provides plenty of laughs as you make friends throughout town, and the menus are slightly awkward at times. The map could also be more in depth, but that’s perhaps in keeping with the general low-fi look of South Park.
There are also moments where it’s not entirely clear what it wants from you, but you’ll always be in the right area and a bit of trial and error, or playing with the tools you’ve got, will usually fix things. Outside of combat, often the plentiful amount of side-quests will have you explore the detailed environment. As you progress through the main story you’ll end up gaining skills that can be be used to find even more areas. It has a slightly metroid-vania feel at times, as you may see an area that you know is accessible, but can’t move through until later. In that respect, The Stick of Truth helps you take your time with the game, and never rushes you. South Park isn’t a huge place, so the temptation to explore everywhere right away is huge, but even if you do so, you’ll still gain access to new areas later.
What isn’t quite as easily forgiven is the fact that Ubisoft have deemed some topics off-limit. Censorship rears its head in some sections in the European version, and one area in particular is riddled with censored scenes. These play out as still images with text descriptions of what you would be seeing. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I felt robbed of seeing these moments, which is an odd thing to say when you consider one was a repeated anal probing of Randy Marsh. What makes this so weird is that there are so many jokes that could have been censored. The fact that Cartman’s gang is abbreviated to “KKK” is absolutely fine, apparently, but anal probing is not. It’s just odd, I mean, why go to the trouble of getting Matt and Trey involved, only to say “that’s not okay” at the final hurdle.
What makes this so much harder to take is that after the second censored section, you fight a boss which is apparently deemed okay, yet would arguably be more upsetting to most people. It feels as though these censored editions have been included purely for marketing reasons, and to create word of mouth chatter. It’s also a short game, considering it’s an RPG. Without causing you much trouble on normal difficulty, expect to beat the game in around 12 hours (and that’s doing a lot of side-quests and exploring). Longevity is added via achievements for specific things, and obviously you can replay the game with the different classes on higher difficulty settings – but don’t go expecting a twenty hour RPG the first time around.
VERDICT: Die-hard fans of South Park have waited an eternity for a good game, let alone a great one. The Stick of Truth makes you laugh throughout, but never forgets that it is a game, and engages you on that level, too. I had high hopes for this one, and Obsidian have fully delivered. It’s hard to stay mad at Ubisoft for the censorship, because you get the feeling that their quality assurance really helped this become the wonderful experience that it is. Don’t be a conformist, grab this one and indulge in the stupid toilet humour and dick jokes that it possesses. One of the best games of 2014 so far.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review code provided by publisher.