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Giant Bomb Review


South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

  • 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.
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.
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.
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+