South Park: The Stick of Truth Review (PS3)

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Review Context: Shane Gordon has been a casual fan of South Park since he was far too young. He has seen hundreds of episodes across multiple seasons, though he would hardly call his knowledge encyclopaedic. As far as RPG’s go, he has played hundreds of RPG’s, and has played every game developed by Obsidian.
Date Playthrough Started: March 4, 2014

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment

Making video games off of franchises from other forms of entertainment has always been a difficult task. More often than not, games made to promote movies or tie in with televisions shows end up receiving a bad rap. This bad press can be blamed on many factors, be it the game is rushed, or lacking passion, or the material just doesn’t lend itself to the video game format. Whatever the reason may be, the end result is that many beloved franchises end up having a bad name within the game community, and the fans of said property end up disappointed, and left for wanting.

This is where South Park: The Stick of Truth comes in to play. Stick of Truth is a turn based RPG, developed by Obsidian Entertainment, the studio behind The Knights of the Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Fallout New Vegas. The Stick of Truth came in to being as Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the creators of South Park) directly approached the long standing RPG studio. The franchise had seen a few games before in which Parker and Stone had very little to do with, and all of them were scrutinized critically after release. The pair wanted to rectify this with The Stick of Truth and approached Obsidian, wanting to collaborate on the game.

Thus the South Park Digital and Obsidian studios set off on a quest to build the definitive South Park experience. This journey was not without its bumps since the game was initially announced back in 2011, as it was first delayed by then publisher THQ, and then delayed again after the publisher went bankrupt in 2012. This led to Ubisoft buying the rights to the game, pushing the release date back further and further. Now though, it is early 2014, and South Park: The Stick of Truth has finally arrived. The question is, have Obsidian and the South Park studios been able to replicate the feel of the long living television series?

South Park: The Stick of Truth

In South Park: The Stick of Truth you play as a new kid who has traveled to the quiet little mountain town, after a mysterious event drove you from your previous home. After creating your character, you will be dropped in as your family is moving in to a home just down the street from some of the other recognisable characters. From the get go, the jokes begin to fly at a rapid pace. In the opening moments alone, your characters parents will make references to their child’s lack of speech, before ordering him outside to make friends and play a little bit.

Once you have taken those few steps out your front door, you will be quickly introduced to the concept driving the entire game. The boys of South Park have driven themselves head long in a live action role playing game, in which an eternal war has been raging between the human and elven kingdoms. The source of this all-consuming war? The titular Stick of Truth.

You are brought in to this war thanks to the kind hearted Butter’s, who will introduce you to the wizard king of Kupa Keep. This Wizard king turns out to be Cartman, and within moments he ushers you in a member of his human army and has you create your character. The tons of the game is set more as Cartman asks your name, and you are promoted to do so. Before you can finish confirming this though, Cartman quickly insists that you are instead name Douchebag. This specific harassment of the player character continues through the entirety of the game, and fits the overall tone of the series to an absolute tee.

Creating you character is a simple manner in The Stick of Truth, in the opening moments you will create the look of your character, selecting things like hair, hair colour, eyes colour, and a set of clothes to start in. After you meat Cartman and the members of his amusingly dubbed Kupa Keep Kingdom (KKK for short), you will be prompted to select your character class.

When selecting your class, you are given the option of one of four classes: Warrior, mage, thief, and Jew (which is comparable to a monk or paladin). Your class will select your beginning gear as well as your selection of abilities to use during combat. Unfortunately, the classes all play in a highly similar manner, so going back to play as all four is not necessary.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Players will quickly find that comedy is front and center in The Stick of Truth, every moment of the game is there as a set up to some joke. And as the hours roll on, these jokes only become cruder. The main story is preposterous to say the least and as it should be, serves up the meat of the jokes, but some of the finest moments in the game come in the form of the varied side quests that will add to the adventure. One quest (that will last the whole game if you allow it) has you aiding Al Gore on his quest to track down and kill the Manbearpig. Another has you aid a Chinese restaurant owner with a Mongolian issue.

In fact, even just walking around the town can yield the player some entertainment. In fact, as I left my characters home at the beginning of the game, I lost an immense amount of time just wandering around the fictional town. In doing so, it becomes clear just how faithful to the show the game truly had been made to be. Even to a passing fan, the sheer amount of references located around the town will provide a bevy of things to explore. To a die hard fan, almost everything will jog a memory, and walk them down everything that has happened in South Park since the beginning. Just peeking in to Cartman’s closet alone will show you just how in depth the developers went to make this as deep a South Park experience as possible.

As you are venturing about the town, exploring every nook and cranny, picking up item after item, the art in the game will help hold everything together. It doesn’t do this thanks to any fancy effects or lighting. Instead, it manages this because every fibre of the art is unmistakably South Park. The familiar paper cut out visuals appear to be ripped right from an episode of the show. Even the distinct wobble the characters have as they move is retained.

Obviously, the boys are playing a game in which war is the primary focus. The two opposing factions are locked in a struggle over the all-powerful stick, and this is where the game introduces its battle mechanics. Combat in The Stick of Truth takes place in a turn based fashion, and as Cartman explains it in the battle tutorial, it is done this way because that is how it was done in the Middle Ages. This means that you, and your opponents take turn whacking at each other with improvised LARPing weapons until one side is defeated.

People who have played turn based RPG’s before will instantly be familiar with how the system feels. It is given some small twists though by adding real time button inputs in the midst of combat. These inputs will control how much damage is output thanks to attacks, as well as protect you from incoming harm. In the case of defence, this simply requires that the player press on X as an attack is about to hit, and the damage received will be decreased. Furthermore, if a block is executed perfectly, the enemy will fall to the ground, giving the player the chance to initiate an attack of opportunity against them.

In the case of attacking these prompts are a little bit more varied. In the case of your vanilla weapon attacks, often the player will be given a flash. From that point, they will be given the option of either hitting the cross button for a light attack, and square for a heavy. If the player chooses to go the light attack route, often they will be able to chain together multiple hits, dealing more damage.

When the player wishes to spend some power points, or PP, they will be given a variety of prompts, depending on the skill used. If Butter’s (who is a paladin) uses his Hammer of Justice ability, the player will be told to rotate the left stick until a flash emits from Butter’s, then, just hit the square button and Butters will hurl his hammer at the enemies face. Other abilities required certain buttons to be mashed, and others ask for the precise input to pull the moves off correctly.

This active time battle style ensures that the player never feels to idle in combat, as well as providing another means for comedy during the games many battles. In many instances, failing to execute the button prompts will result in a comedic result for the offending character. Kenny, for example, stays true to tradition, and upon failing an input, will be killed in a way befitting the skill being used. I will avoid saying exactly what these are, for discovering them for the first time is a treat on itself.

Keeping the combat at least funny is a necessity for The Stick of truth, as the game isn’t designed with the hardcore RPG player in mind. You will find that the same tactics work on all of the available enemy types, and you will be able to win every encounter with very little issue, even on the highest difficulty setting. Even bosses are felled easy enough, and the player is required to do no more than aim attacks at them until they drop to the ground.

This is the sort of RPG design that lives in every aspect of The Stick of Truth’s mechanics. Everything is done as simply as possible, making staple of the RPG genre that may normally take time and thought, and reducing them to a simple glance. This is very apparent in the inventory management within the game. While you do collect a large amount of various makeshift weapons and armour sets, picking which ones to use is as easy as selecting the best one. Every class can use every weapon without limitation.

If you are the type who enjoys building different stat arrangements. Then you too may find a simple system that takes no amount of flare to understand. Each level, you will be able to select one of your abilities to upgrade, and along with the increase you will receive in hit points, that is as far as it goes. The only other progression you receive is done as you make friends with the residents of the town. Whenever you reach a specific milestone, you will be allowed to select from a pool of perks. These range from abilities that gain you PP for doing specific things during combat, to making you stronger when you are critically injured. Though to be fair, none of it is obvious during play.

While Obsidian has worked on some fairly in depth games in the past, it is clear that the focus within South Park is not to make a deep and engaging RPG, but instead a fun one. This may make some people retract from the idea of playing the game, but it really should not. While there will be no intensive inventory management, or stat building of any sort, The Stick of Truth is good despite that. The combat is a joy because of the characters taking part, and the events unfolding within it. Everything you can do, from your basic attacks, to the absolutely laugh out loud summon animations are worth watching a huge amount of times, and having something get old will seldom happen.

As a whole, the experience to be had within South Park: The Stick of Truth is a highly enjoyable one. The story faithfully replicates the feel and humour of the television show, and does so in a way that stretches it’s length without feeling stale for even a second. Which means that you get ten two twelve hours of brand new South Park content. That of course means that you get an adventure equal to two whole seasons of the television show. Though sadly, this length does nothing to touch other RPG’s, which can stretch for double, or even triple the length of The Stick of Truth.

Regardless of the lacking length (in some perspectives) and the shallow RPG mechanics, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a fantastic representation of the entire series. In fact, the game may very well be one of, if not the best licensed game ever made. The guiding hand of Trey Parker and Matt Stone is paired very well with the team at Obsidian Entertainment, and it comes together to create a gaming experience that fans of the show, as well of gaming in general should not pass up.

Similar Games Liked: 
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GCN)
Final Fantasy II (SNES)
Final Fantasy III (SNES)

Similar Games Disliked:
South Park: Let’s go Tower Defense (Xbox 360)
South Park: Tenorman’s Revenge (Xbox 360)

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