South Park: The Stick of Truth Review
A faithful adaptation of the popular TV show makes for a decent game
The South Park brand carries with it a legacy. The popular TV series began in 1997, and after 17 seasons has established itself as one of the most popular adult comedies in the world. With such popularity, the brand has expanded to other entertainment mediums, including films and video games. But much like movies, one would be hard pressed to name a great game based on a TV show. South Park itself has produced a number of interactive entertainment properties, none of which managed to reach excellence. South Park: The Stick of Truth aims to change that as the game arrives in stores this week.
From the outset, The Stick of Truth has more going for it than any other SP-based game. Creators of the show are directly involved, assisted by experienced developers at Obsidian Entertainment. Trey Parker and Matt Stone wrote the script for the game, overseeing the whole project, and providing the voices for the characters. So regardless of any criticisms that will follow in this review, fans can rest easy – this is the most authentic South Park game ever created. Further, it’s probably one of the most faithful and direct adaptation of any TV property into the interactive entertainment medium.
A big reason is of course the direct involvement of the show creators. The narrative themes and dialog in the game is exactly what fans would see in an episode - particularly this season's 3 episode arc about Black Friday. The slapstick, crude and uncensored humor is here in full force, from the dialogue to the visuals and scenes, as the game certainly earns its Mature rating. Vocal delivery of lines from many of the show’s popular characters is flawless.
Most of the town of South Park is reconstructed in the game, letting players roam around and enter numerous indoor locations. As mentioned, the visual style really makes you feel like you truly are in an episode of the show. The attention to detail certainly helps, with many of the characters’ homes fully recreated, along with tons of stores and other indoor environments throughout the town. Even the character animations, be they facial or movement, are an exact replica. Although it’s probably easier to adapt a cartoon than a live-action TV show, enough can’t be said about the high level of production quality. Sit a friend down and tell them it’s an episode of South Park while you play the game – they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
The plot focuses on a new kid, that being the player character, arriving in South Park. After creating your persona, who can be customized in a variety of looks (with more to be unlocked throughout the game), you quickly become involved in a war between two factions. One is led by Wizard Cartman and Princess Kenny while the other by Warrior Stan and King Kyle. The objective of both groups is to control the titular Stick of Truth; an item that holds great power for the kids, but in reality is of course a simple twig. As any wild episode of the TV show, the plot goes through twists and turns, with the Stick changing hands multiple times. There are many outlandish characters from the show that make an appearance, but to say more would be to spoil it – think Goths, political figures, and Jesus. The overall story goes through about three thematic cycles, perhaps comparable to episodes.
The Stick of Truth is an RPG experience overall. After selecting a class to play as, your character will level up over the course of the game by earning experience from battles and completing quests given by various members of the community. These quests range from fetch to battle encounters. Meeting characters (and in some cases completing their quests) allows them to become your friends on Facebook. The more friends you have, the quicker you will unlock various passive perks to help in combat. You'll also be able to perform various magic abilities, which are unlocked by leveling up. And of course, many attacks are as crude as the rest of the game.
All of these come into use during the game's combat stages, which play out in a turn-based fashion. You and one of the main characters will enter battle against various numbers of foes, with different abilities and attacks. Taking turns attacking, the goal is to defeat all enemies on screen. Helpfully, players can drink potions to boost their health or magic points at any time during battle, and you can still attack within the same turn. To make things more engaging, players can actually execute perfect strikes and defend by a way of QTE. Whenever your weapon shimmers, pressing the skill's corresponding button will deal more damage, while on defense it will deflect some of the damage. It's a fairly basic system but it works, and keeps the player involved rather than just selecting what ability to use.
The town of South Park is big enough to make good use of the free fast travel system, although when traversing the game or entering battles, there are small but frequent loading screens and some stuttering just after you enter a new area. As you wander around, interactive items in the environment glow yellow. You can loot pretty much anything - and it becomes almost an addiction to search every area and collect the goodies – including junk items, cash, and consumables. You can then shop at vendors to get better gear and weapons as new items become available at higher levels.
The gameplay economy in The Stick of Truth is rather easy. There's even an achievement for completing the game without selling anything - and it's very possible to do. Your inventory is seemingly bottomless (yet the game offers players a storage chest at home), and money comes fairly quickly for those who loot often. New weapons and gear also drop frequently enough so you rarely need to purchase them. So having the best gear is possible without selling or even buying much. Because you have the best gear battles can become rather brief as you obliterate anything in your path in just a few moves. At least it helps the game keep pace, as you’ll be fighting quite often.
While it may not be particularly difficult, the game still attempts to offer as much variety as it can. Your weapons and armor can be buffed with slottable boosts, enemies are immune or weak to various elements and can even sometimes revive each other. Many of the areas around the town are unreachable until you've got a certain skill or ability, thus offering players a reason to return to previously explored areas. A few environmental puzzles also exist.
For an RPG, The Stick of Truth attempts to be a deep experience but it is a fleeting one. Having completed the main story and more than half of the side quests, the save file was showing about an 11 hour mark. That may seem like almost a full season of the TV show, but given that most of the time will be spent in combat or exploring, the actual amount of writing can be condensed into a relatively short running time. Sidequest characters are also there purely as fan service and don’t offer anything but their unique personalities for a few minutes.
Chances are you will hit the level 15 limit and have the best gear in time for the final battles. After all is said and done, there's not much to do but complete the side quests or start a fresh new game with a different class. In doing so however, all you get are a few different skills - but not much else, given that gear and weapons are not restricted to any character class. Plus having already seen everything the first time around, it is not likely that fans will go into another playthough. And while this reviewer is usually very pro-single player, it would seem a good fit if the turn-based battles were playable with or against others. That would have offered the game some longevity and replay value - something it lacks, as the content here is funny for a time, but not worth going back to over and over as one would to a favorite episode of the TV show.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is fan service. It's a game with high production qualities that's nearly indistinguishable from the show, and any fan thereof will be in for a grand time here. Exploration and RPG elements create a worthwhile experience for viewers who have always wanted to enter this Colorado community for themselves. Those apathetic to the TV show may find their money is better spent elsewhere, given the basic design, unchallenging battles and economy, all contained within a brief running time. Still, South Park: The Stick of Truth is one of the best TV adaptations around, and nobody can take that away from its vulgar, fart-filled grasp.