South Park: Stick of Truth
I didn’t get to grow up with South Park. Coming from a certain age when Bart Simpson was the most dangerous thing on television, the boys from Colorado might as well have been the Antichrist with how crude their humour was. Even if the reception on the one channel that showed it had been good enough, a cartoon about kicking babies and eating poop was never going to fly. As an adult, it turns out all that moral hysteria was so much hot air: South Park’s humour is sharp, their commentary cutting and ruthless, and their morals reasonable and level-headed in a world gone politically correct.
Distilling that into videogame form has not gone well in the past. If you’re too young to remember the first-person shooter South Park or the kart racer South Park Rally, count yourself lucky: even the creators are ashamed at how terrible they were and have committed themselves, delay after delay, to breaking that cycle with The Stick of Truth. What we have gotten for those efforts is exactly what it should be: an episode of South Park with you at the helm, the whole of the quiet little mountain town open for exploration.
Taking on the role of the new kid in town, you are drafted into Cartman’s army in the current Dungeons and Dragons-style game that they’re playing for your prowess in battle, ability to make friends on Facebook really quickly, and powerful farts. The game pokes fun at its cliches even as it embraces them – Cartman mentions that they know taking turns is lame, but that’s just what they’re going with – and being able to frame the limits of a game universe within a bunch of kids actually playing a game greatly helps with getting to grips with the sometimes obtuse system Obsidian has chosen. This is a game that demands your time, but doesn’t waste it. The level cap stops at 15, battles can be circumvented with clever use of the environment, and a skilful infliction of status effects is necessary for quick and brutal victory. For a game whose source material is most fervently devoured by young teenagers, the game really expects you to think about your build and make the New Kid you want instead of some all-powerful demigod of the frozen Colorado township.
It’s in chasing this goal where the meat of the game falls down a little. If you’re not thinking about it and completely to grips with the system, you can very easily mess things up and make the game much harder for yourself. Missable items and achievements abound and can be very well-hidden; if you happen to be charging through an area and saved over that file, well, too bad for you. Restart the game from the beginning if you want that achievement. Combine that with some occasional framerate issues, unwieldy keyboard controls, and progression-blocking bugs, and you have a product which, while solid overall, is peppered with issues that really should have been ironed out over such a long development time.
Then, of course, there are the stormy waters of censorship. In their usual form, Trey and Matt chose to mock the censors rather than haphazardly patch over missing content. Considering what wasn’t cut out, the choices of what was cut and what was not is confusing at best. From the koala-laden explanations we get in lieu of these scenes, though, it doesn’t sound like we’re missing anything vital, so it can be given a pass.
What it comes down to is that The Stick of Truth is a lot of fun. The game rolls around with the same rhythm as a normal South Park episode would, ramping up from innocent beginnings to the unbelievable ridiculousness that the series is known for. Small technical issues are really the only things to slow your momentum and enjoyment of the utter avalanche of references we get around every corner of the game. This is a game that goes for quality over quantity, running only 10 to 15 hours, never overstaying its welcome or inviting boredom.
This game is not Skyrim, but it is a game where you can command Cartman to swear a zombified underpants gnome to death and then fart on its corpse. Those who don’t ‘get’ the South Park brand of humour might find it crass, or offensive, or just too short. If you can cast that aside and just enjoy the ride, however, this game is a hell of a good time.
Seriously, you guys. Seriously.
- Packed with humour and references
- Tight, intelligent battle system
- No grinding or time-wasting
- Many small technical issues
- Lots of missable collectables and achievements
Written by Aaron Milligan