You want me to say that South Park: The Stick of Truth is good, right? That's why you're here. You want me to tell you that despite the fact that it changed publisher mid-development and was subject to a number of lengthy delays, the game's funny, so it's probably worth playing as long as you're a huge South Park fan. But I'd be lying if I told you Stick of Truth is simply "good"--it's actually awesome. Seriously, you guys.
You play as the New Kid, tossed into the chaotic town of South Park in the middle of a massive live-action role-playing game fueled by the imaginations of kids who have watched way too much Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. It's basically an all-out war, with children fighting over the titular Stick of Truth (yes, the one from the end of the Black Friday trilogy), an artifact that allows the wielder to "control space and time."
Playing The Stick of Truth feels like mainlining two or three seasons of the show, both thanks to the fantastic animation--which looks exactly like the cut-paper style the show has used for nearly two decades--and the ridiculous script, which is written by series' creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The duo bring the same sense of humor to the story that they have for the past 200+ episodes, mixing together the inherent hilarity in kids being mean with social commentary and video game criticism. It feels incredibly authentic.
What's on offer here is an open-world South Park to explore, with a solid 12-14 hours of inside jokes, obscure references, and humor that pulls from 17 TV seasons' worth of social commentary and offensive humor. It's insane how much of the game seems to exist simply to elicit a laugh. Hell, you'll have trouble walking five feet without finding something that'll make you chuckle, be it the healing containers of crème fraîche in Randy Marsh's refrigerator or the many copies of The Poop that Took a Pee that all South Park Elementary's students seem to carry. Even if you haven't kept up with the show, the jokes are given enough context that you won't feel like you're missing out on the punchline.
Developer Obsidian has a history of developing strong games, but it also has a reputation for technical problems. For the most part, South Park: The Stick of Truth is relatively stable, with very few bugs to complain about. That said, two members of GamesRadar's staff hit different game-crashing areas in the PC version that required them to load up an earlier save of the game. Others said they made it through without any hiccups, though, but it's something to look out for.
The comedy doesn't stop when the cutscenes end, either; it permeates every element of the gameplay. Basic RPG tropes are given a South Park twist. You can choose from a variety of goofy classes to play as, including a football helmet-wearing warrior whose special ability stuns enemies via a series of kicks to the nuts, or the Jew, who gains a special scalpel for circumcisions (giving the enemy a few stacks of a bleeding debuff). Even combat has a silly element to it: yes, you're fighting to save South Park from a pretend Elven horde, but you're doing so in mock battles where a bunch of kids beat each other up with foam katanas and broken beer bottles. And flaming dildos. And bottle rockets. And real katanas. Alright, it gets kind of violent by the end, but it's also really funny.
There's a surprising amount of depth to the whole experience, too. There are tons of weapons and armor sets available to equip, which can be further enhanced via "stickers" that, say, add shock damage to your hammer, or increase the defensive capabilities of your glittery pink gloves (which you can change the color of, if you want). Sometimes it gets confusing exactly what impact the upgrades have--and in my game they'd randomly unequip themselves--but they add a nice layer of complexity to the otherwise basic system.
Battles themselves take the form of a turn-based RPG, with a few wrinkles that make it a little more action-oriented. During combat, quick-time event icons flash right as you go to attack or block; by hitting the correct button during these prompts, you'll do more damage or mitigate incoming attacks more effectively. It's a simple but engaging system, though you might find it annoying to continually have to time button presses once you reach Stick of Truth's final stretch.
You don't just fight alone, either. In typical RPG fashion, you choose between several different South Park characters to fight beside, each of whom have their own suite of special abilities. Some are more useful than others, but the ability to swap between them at any time makes it feel like you've a bigger party than you do. The different characters are important in the world, too--they follow you around, commenting on the different things you come across. Sometimes this leads to funny interactions (Butters has a story about being bullied at nearly every location, whereas the other characters have stories about bullying Butters at nearly every location), and other times it'll actually help you navigate the world faster. Honestly, I found it damn-near impossible to decide who to bring with me, just because I knew that if I had Jimmy with me it meant I was missing out on funny Cartman jokes, and visa versa.
Thankfully, you'll have plenty of reasons to explore areas again thanks to secrets and side-quests. Though you'll finish the main story in the span of 10 hours or so, there's plenty of extra stuff to find around South Park. Typically this is the point in a review where I'd list them, but part of the fun is in the surprise of "wow, they brought back that character?" so you'll just have to trust me on this one.
Though some elements of South Park: The Stick of Truth are poorly explained, and you might find yourself growing tired of the combat by the end of the 12-hour journey, Obsidian's RPG is an absolutely fantastic, surprising experience. It's great for those willing to favor story and comedy over innovative gameplay--and still a damn fun time for anyone interested in a light, open-world RPG. Instead of a game trying to be South Park, it actually feels like you're playing South Park, and playing South Park is… well, it's pretty fucking kick-ass.
Stick of Truth is South Park's Arkham Asylum--a triumph of a licensed game that manages to fit in line with the franchise while paving new ground in gaming. In this case, the new ground is dick jokes--still, innovation is innovation.
This game was reviewed on PC.
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