Quick Look: South Park: The Stick of Truth

Brad goes in search of The Stick of Truth, but what he finds may challenge everything he knows about licensed games and fascist bovines.

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South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

5
  • PC

The Stick of Truth is one of the rare instances of a licensed game done exactly right.

You'd think that over the course of its 17-year history, at least one of the several video games based on South Park would have been good. You'd be wrong. Okay, sure, that tower defense game for Xbox Live Arcade wasn't bad, but the view beyond that is nothing short of grim. Since the days of the N64, developers have been trying to translate the hit TV series into a worthwhile video game, and for some reason it's just never quite clicked. So it's understandable if you're approaching Obsidian's South Park: The Stick of Truth with some trepidation. This game has seen its share of worrisome delays over the course of its development, and Obsidian has a problematic history when it comes to the functionality of some of its releases. And yet, somehow, some way, The Stick of Truth defies the odds and breaks the streak. Straight-up, The Stick of Truth is the South Park game just about any fan would want to play. It's an exceptionally funny, surprisingly deep well of fan service that also happens to be a very good game, striking a terrific balance between memorable moments of frequently grotesque humor, and genuinely enjoyable exploration and combat. If you still hold any reverence at all for this show, you'll love this game.

Welcome to South Park, New Kid.

The Stick of Truth places you in the role of The New Kid, a nameless, voiceless protagonist who moves to the sleepy mountain town of South Park from parts unknown. All you do know about yourself is that your lack of dialogue pertains to some terrible, forgotten secret your parents keep whispering about. But before you can spend much time worrying about that, you're sent out into the town to make some friends. This introduces you to Butters, who in turn introduces you to the main characters from the show. They're engaged in another of their violent fantasy battles. One faction is led by KKK (Kingdom of Kupa Keep) Grand Wizard Eric Cartman and Princess Kenny, while the other, elvish faction is made up of Kyle and Stan. Their conflict? Control over the titular Stick of Truth, an item that, under the constantly changing rules of their game, grants its wielder control over the entire universe.

This premise essentially allows show writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone to play around with a lot of old RPG and high fantasy tropes within the context of these kids' increasingly violent imaginations. Weapons are all cobbled from everyday junk, yet still wield deadly, often magical powers during turn-based battles. Small cardboard forts and junky weapons quickly give way to full-scale wars that take place across multiple key locations from the show. Sewers become dungeons, the school becomes a warzone, and the entire nation of Canada morphs into a 16-bit RPG overworld, complete with its own random creature encounters and convoluted quests.

This game of high fantasy war between foul-mouthed fourth graders might be enough to sustain a game on its own, but that's really only a portion of the story. Alien abductions, government cover-ups, and a mysterious goo that turns everyone into Nazi zombies all show up not even a few hours into the plot. Surprisingly, this doesn't result in a game that feels scattered or unfocused. If anything, The Stick of Truth is remarkably consistent, and well-edited. Few moments ever drag on longer than they should, with jokes and battles often lasting just long enough to leave an impression before the game moves on to the next bit. If you take the time to explore and do its many side quests, the game probably runs between 12-13 hours. That might sound short for an RPG, but it packs a great deal of material into those hours, and almost all of it is very funny.

If it isn't, then there's a good chance that it's at least super gross and potentially offensive to somebody. You've probably already heard about some of the more intense bits of The Stick of Truth, such as the abortion clinic section and the anal probing sequence that have both been edited in certain regions. It's probably enough to say that, yeah, some of that stuff is more outlandish than it is actually funny, and will probably be a little much for some people's tastes. But I'd hazard to guess that few of those people would call themselves big fans of South Park's general sense of humor, and that's really who The Stick of Truth is aimed toward, anyway.

If that's you, then you're going to find a lot to like about The Stick of Truth. The game is packed with major and minor characters from the TV series, loads of hidden references, and just an insane number of collectible objects, most of which just exist to remind you of an episode of the show. The town features dozens of businesses, homes, and other hidden areas to explore, and seemingly every room has at least one hidden joke or reference to find. The map itself isn't huge, but it's easily navigable, is quick to load, and has a fast-travel system that takes any needless traversal out of the equation. I was surprised how much time I dropped just wandering around the town, looking for whatever secret things I could find. It didn't matter if all that exploring led to a side quest featuring sentient poo creature Mr. Hanky, or just one of 30 collectible "Chinpokomon" toys. It all felt worth finding.

The Stick of Truth's battle system is surprisingly deep, yet easy to learn. I just wish the fart mechanics were a bit better. No, I never thought I'd ever have to write that sentence either.

In addition to jokes and random junk, you'll also collect a ton of different gear, weaponry, and costuming as you play. So much, in fact, that you may never even get around to using it all. Again, The Stick of Truth tries to pack a whole lot into a relatively short game. This isn't the sort of game where you'll want to get too attached to any one item, because odds are something better is almost always hiding right around the corner. If anything, it's just impressive how many different things the game offers you for character customization. The initial character creator has a decent amount of variety on its own, and as you progress through the game, you'll find tons of different armor sets, weapons, wigs, glasses, and facial features to play around with. Incidentally, it's worth noting that The Stick of Truth only lets you create a male character. I'd guess that has to do with the fact that on the show, the boys usually only play together, and the girls are treated more or less as their own, entirely separate faction within the context of the game. Maybe that narrative justification makes the exclusion of a creatable girl character less of an issue for you, or maybe it doesn't. I just thought it was worth pointing out.

The most impressive thing about all the character customization stuff is how crazy deep it goes. Some changes are just cosmetic, but every piece of armor and weaponry comes with its own set of ability bonuses and level restrictions. Every piece of equipment can be patched with additional abilities, which you'll acquire throughout the world or earn during battle. Plus, you have upgradable traits that are inherent to your character class. The available classes include a fighter, a mage, a thief, and a Jew. The Jew is essentially a traditional cleric class, but with far more references to Judaism attached to every attack. To preemptively answer your question, no, there's nothing particularly offensive about the Jew class. It doesn't go for cheap racial stereotypes, and mostly keeps its related gags lighthearted and fun.

Each class comes with its own set of attacks and abilities, but regardless as to which you choose, battles tend to play out with similar strategies. Though the battle system is essentially a traditional turn-based one, it's been streamlined to make it immediately accessible regardless as to your experience level with this genre. Experienced RPG players can experiment with several different attack buffs (which include fire, ice, electricity, and "gross out"), party members (which include the main four boys, as well as Butters and Jimmy), class abilities, and earnable perks throughout the game. Granted, it's debatable as to whether you really need all those systems, since battles are rarely drawn-out affairs, and the game's difficulty level is best described as "extremely manageable." Even if you've never played a game like this before, the basic attack mechanics are dirt-simple to learn, and usually only require a decent sense of timing to be successful. Still, even if it's not necessary to have all this stuff in battle, that doesn't make playing around with it any less fun.

The only part of The Stick of Truth I had any trouble getting the hang of was the game's assorted fart magics. Yes, your character is something of a savant when it comes to manipulating the gasses that emanate from your ass. Each spell has its own particular use: the "dragon shout" fart is a good all-purpose fart blast, while the "Nagasaki" fart comes in handy for demolishing highlighted pieces of the scenery. You perform spells by holding down on the right stick of your controller and using the left stick to find the right "frequency" for the spell. It works, but it's a bit unwieldy at first, especially for a mechanic that essentially boils down to an elaborate fart joke. Ultimately, unless a puzzle specifically called for it, I mostly just avoided using the fart spells altogether. Depending on how you feel about the inherent hilariousness of farting, you may have more fun with them than I did.

The difficulty might skew toward newer players, but battles remain engaging regardless of the challenge level. It helps that there's a ton of variety when it comes to enemy encounters. Some generic bad guys appear in the main world, but nearly every mission battle comes with its own array of enemies, each with their own unique attacks and related gags. Some of the best jokes in the game come during battle sequences, especially when you start trying out the unique summons you can earn through various side quests. These are battle-ending attacks featuring key side characters from the show, which include Jesus and Mr. Slave, among others. Essentially, whatever The Stick of Truth might lack in straight-up difficulty, it more than makes up for with variety and humor.

It probably didn't need to take 17 years, but at least now we have an actually great South Park game.

If you still need more convincing that The Stick of Truth does the South Park license proud, maybe consider that it looks and sounds exactly like the show. And not just during cutscenes, either. Whether you're in battle or just wandering around the town, everything looks like it came straight from the TV series. The purposely crappy animation style of the show is perfectly captured in every sequence, and every significant character is fully voiced by Parker, Stone, and the other actors from the series. It feels like you're interacting with the world as you've seen it on TV, versus the kinds of tech-limited representations we've grown accustomed to enduring in most licensed games. And it runs great too, or at least does so on the PC. It's worth noting that I never got to try the console versions of The Stick of Truth, but the PC version ran nearly issue free during my time with it. One random crash bug and a single instance of the game's soundtrack cutting out during a battle were all I ever noticed. Beyond that, load times were quick, checkpoints were aplenty, and I managed to get through the campaign free of types of issues we (perhaps rightfully) tend to associate with Obsidian's games.

I don't know what else I can even say about The Stick of Truth without just spoiling the jokes for people, so let's just call it right here. The Stick of Truth is the best South Park game by a country mile, but even removed from the franchise's dismal history with video games, it's also just one of the funniest games I've ever played. It pays tribute to the series' long history of memorably offensive jokes while also delivering an original story hilarious enough to stand on its own. Even more importantly, its gameplay is in no way an encumbrance to your enjoyment. Obsidian has fashioned an honest-to-god RPG out of the South Park universe, one with enough depth and longevity to hold your interest even when the comedy takes a breather. If the fantastically foul world of Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny still holds any appeal to you, The Stick of Truth is a game well worth your time.

Alex Navarro on Google+
214 Comments
Posted by GhoulishShadow

So glad this turned out well.

Edited by Rasrimra

Yes!!! I wanted this to be good! Die wallet, DIE!

Not really. Don't. Don't die on me. I just want the game.

Posted by infantpipoc

12-13 hours sound like the right length if the duo want the game to be funny from start to finish.

Posted by Animasta

So what you're saying is fans of the genre will appreciate this?

Posted by balambfish

Glad to hear this has lived up to the hype!

Edited by elfinke

Great review, Brad Alex, Thanks. Even though this game has almost zero representation on my hype-radar, I'm super keen to get my mitts i/onto another Obsidian game.

Edited by TruthTellah

Never before have the cartoon staff members been more needed...

5 out of 5?!

Online
Posted by rmanthorp

Woooooo wooooooooo!!

Moderator
Posted by ArbitraryWater

Huh. Wasn't expecting a 5 star. I like South Park enough that I guess I'll have to pick it up somewhere down the line.

Online
Posted by MachoFantastico

Wow, definitely picking this one up now.

Posted by salmy
Posted by 2HeadedNinja

The talk about the game over the last few days ... yeah I kinda was expecting a 5/5 :)

Posted by Jensonb

I'm off work on Friday, so this has panned out pretty terrifically. Unless of course Amazon Logistics decides to wait until like 5PM to deliver.

Edited by ThatOneDudeNick

I'm not into South Park, so I've been iffy on this game. If it's a solid game on it's own without knowing/caring about the source material, I may pick it up sometime. Definitely not this month. There are a lot of games this month that look more interesting. Good review though :)

Edited by Chris2KLee

Was waiting for this review before I bought it, definitely in now.

Posted by Haruko

As someone who can say I love Obsidians work thank God it's not a glitch fest. Who knew all it took for them to make a relatively glitch free game was an extra 2 years.

Posted by machinerebel

Whelp, pretty much immediately headed off to buy this game. Thanks, Alex!

Posted by Teizen

Looks like the extra time was well spent.

Posted by JoeyRavn

Wait. Games are allowed to be good again? What a terrible way to kill all the fun! Now I'll have to enjoy a game, pffft.

Posted by rmanthorp

My one question for @alex that I hope he can address on BitAM is how different/powerful you feel towards the end game. One of my favorite things about RPGs and I can't find anyone talking about the progression in depth. So soooo pleased with these reviews. Wowowowowow.

Moderator
Posted by Mcfart

I like South Park, but this niche release (South Park isn't a big deal anymore) means that this el be budget price soon enough. Pass.

Posted by Hunter5024

Only being 12 to 13 hours suddenly made me super stoked for this game. I don't think I could take another long one after marathoning Dark Souls and Bravely Default with Lightning Returns up next.

Posted by BisonHero

I'm amused by the fact that Kotaku seemed to have encountered so many bugs that they decided to give it a "Not Yet" in their review, while Alex's review relegates bugs to a minor footnote because he only encountered like 2 bugs that only happened once each, from the sounds of it.

I'm choosing to believe that Alex's experience is more typical, because I desperately want to buy and like this game.

Posted by EuanDewar

Well slap my arse and call me victor, this is one hell of a welcome surprise

Posted by BaconGames

For as much as I can't stand South Park anymore, Obsidian stands to benefit none for making anything less than a quality product and I'm happy to see that they nailed it. I'm curious if anyone at Giant Bomb will have any strong feelings in the other direction concerning the source material or if they'll all eat it up.

Given both the divisiveness of the show and rarity of a South Park game, I bet there will be at least a few cases of reviewers giving it a moderate to low score purely based on inherent disinterest or distaste. This is definitely going to be a weird one to see unfold.

Online
Posted by jagehtso

Oh hey, that sounds really...

Oh wait, I live in Germany. Fuck videogames, I guess.

Posted by MaverickWookie

I liked it till the probing scene, and not because of the content, I literally can't hit the S key that fast, and can't progress, I'm really pissed that I dropped 60 bucks to be stuck.

Posted by ToTheNines

For as much as I can't stand South Park anymore, Obsidian stands to benefit none for making anything less than a quality product and I'm happy to see that they nailed it. I'm curious if anyone at Giant Bomb will have any strong feelings in the other direction concerning the source material or if they'll all eat it up.

Given both the divisiveness of the show and rarity of a South Park game, I bet there will be at least a few cases of reviewers giving it a moderate to low score purely based on inherent disinterest or distaste. This is definitely going to be a weird one to see unfold.

Probably, but I think if you actively dislike South Park maybe you shouldn't be reviewing the game.

Posted by WolfHazard

I was kind of sold when I saw the achievement for joining the KKK. I found that super funny and pictured people looking at my list and going "whaaa?"

Posted by BaconGames

@tothenines said:

@bacongames said:

For as much as I can't stand South Park anymore, Obsidian stands to benefit none for making anything less than a quality product and I'm happy to see that they nailed it. I'm curious if anyone at Giant Bomb will have any strong feelings in the other direction concerning the source material or if they'll all eat it up.

Given both the divisiveness of the show and rarity of a South Park game, I bet there will be at least a few cases of reviewers giving it a moderate to low score purely based on inherent disinterest or distaste. This is definitely going to be a weird one to see unfold.

Probably, but I think if you actively dislike South Park maybe you shouldn't be reviewing the game.

I think it will be a case where someone who has passed by the show before but is willing to "give it a shot" in this form would still report back on how they felt. That won't produce a negative review necessarily but knowing what the positive perspective looks like, i'm curious to see what a non-fan's perspective is.

Online
Posted by forkboy

I am hurting so much that I can't play this until Friday. FRIDAY DAMMIT

Posted by drumpsycho89

Not that it was going to be a hard decision to make, but after reading this, I shall defiantly be purchasing this wonderful game!

Posted by LeTHaLMiGRaiNe

This game is an absolute perfect storm of bad story, bad gameplay, terrible pacing, and everything being irrelevant to succeed. Whoever this Alex dude is that reviewed this game has terrible taste in games.

Posted by Viking_Funeral

Glad it turned out well. I pre-ordered it based on my love of Obsidian & South Park, and I'm not the type to pre-order games.

Posted by NoCookiesForYou

Oh wow, so glad this turned out right.

Posted by kishinfoulux

I'm amused by the fact that Kotaku seemed to have encountered so many bugs that they decided to give it a "Not Yet" in their review, while Alex's review relegates bugs to a minor footnote because he only encountered like 2 bugs that only happened once each, from the sounds of it.

I'm choosing to believe that Alex's experience is more typical, because I desperately want to buy and like this game.

It's an Obsidian game. If anything his experience is the exception, not the rule.

Edited by JamesJeux007

Huh... I wasn't interested in this in the slightest, given I'm not a huge fan of South Park. But if it's actually a good game, then I might check it out.

Posted by wumbo3000

Alex, would you recommend this game to someone who hasn't seen a single episode of the show? I love me a good RPG, but if the humor only relies on references to episodes of the show, then I'm not sure this'll be very funny for me.

Edited by Adrian79

Huh 5 stars, well i didnt see that coming. I asumed it was going to be a solid 3 maybe 4 especially considering Alex reviewed it. Im gona pick it up, if nothing else it will pass the time before Dark Souls 2 and Titanfall come out.

Edited by Scotto

This game is an absolute perfect storm of bad story, bad gameplay, terrible pacing, and everything being irrelevant to succeed. Whoever this Alex dude is that reviewed this game has terrible taste in games.

It's totally sick how you capitalize the consonants and lower-case the vowels in your username, bro.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Posted by fatalflame

Great review! I was going to get this game regardless - but to see a good job done by the South Park and Obsidian teams adds icing to the cake!

Posted by Xpgamer7

I saw all the steam reviews and started wondering. I saw the forum thread and was convinced how much people liked it. But I wanted to see an actual review to know the issues as well. Holy crap I can't believe they made a good South Park game they didn't compromise on.

Posted by RubberBabyBuggyBumpers

Totally deserves a 5 out of 5. It's a damn fine game!

Posted by hollitz

"It's probably enough to say that, yeah, some of that stuff is more outlandish than it is actually funny.."

That's South Park in a nutshell. Except there's usually some half-baked attempt at social commentary in there somewhere.

Posted by TheTerribleFamiliar

So glad this turned out well! It was in the cooker for a disturbing amount of time. One of the only games I'll pickup at release this year.

Posted by ZedsDeadBaby

Not that it matters but it still surprised me to see that the game was less than 4 GB on PS3. Looking forward to this.

Good job on the review, @alex!

Posted by AV_Gamer

I have to believe that your (meaning Alex) five star review is mostly based on you being a fan of the source material. In fact, I believe three out of the five stars is fan based.

My opinion, of course, and I'm giving it because I never saw, nor will I ever see the big deal about South Park, even though I did like the official movie.

Posted by Chaser324

Damn...I was hoping I'd be able to skip this.

Moderator Online