Alex and I both listed South Park: The Stick of Truth on our Top 5 Games of E3 2013 lists back in June, and were naturally disappointed when the game was delayed into 2014. Alex had described it as “the most exciting RPG shown at E3,” and I placed it in the #1 spot on my list and exclaimed about how impressed I was that Obsidian Entertainment—with the help of South Park Digital Studios—had “created a video game that looks EXACTLY like the TV show.” But even then I could not help but to wonder whether or not that level of quality could be sustained throughout the entire game.
Well, here we are, all these months later; the game has finally arrived, and I can say without a doubt that yes, the entire game looks like the TV show from start to finish, without exception. Unfortunately, it’s a very easy game and it’s over far too soon, but that doesn’t stop it from being great, and easily the best South Park video game ever made.
The New Kid in Old South Park
In South Park: The Stick of Truth, you are the new kid in town. The game starts by forcing you through a very simple character creation system, and a short time later, your very own silent South Park character will be yours to control. Whether you spend only a few seconds or several minutes fiddling around with the character creator, the result will fit perfectly into the world of South Park, and you can continue to customize your character throughout the game with a staggering variety of items.
Shortly after the game begins, your parents will tell you to go out and make friends, and a few mandatory quests later, the majority of South Park is yours to explore. South Park: The Stick of Truth could easily be described as an open world RPG. Aside from a few occasional roadblocks, you really can explore the whole of South Park at your leisure.
To any fan of South Park, it should feel very familiar. There’s the school, and the bus stop! And there’s City Hall, and the church! It’s great to see the layout of the entire town and to visit so many of the memorable locations from the television series, and they are accurately represented down to the most excruciating details. The character’s homes are decorated with family pictures and their cupboards and cabinets are filled with an assortment of items that very clearly belong to their owners (enter Mr. Slave’s house with caution). Terrance and Phillip’s voices can be heard on televisions throughout town, and the radios play songs by Chef—and who could forget the Jennifer Lopez classic, Taco-Flavored Kisses? There are endless references to episodes from the series throughout the game, and any diehard fan will get a kick out of exploring every nook and cranny of the various buildings and locales.
And best of all, Matt Stone and Trey Parker lend their voices to cast. On top of the “true to the show” visuals, their voices complete South Park: The Stick of Truth, and turn it into much more than a regular South Park game. Instead, fans of the series should treat it much like the South Park movie, as an essential part of South Park as a whole.
Though South Park: The Stick of Truth does retread a lot of old ground from the series, it does so in a way that feels more nostalgic than redundant. Moreover, putting the player directly in control of a character in South Park adds an important layer of immersion. It makes experiencing the kinds of bizarre and obscene events that frequently occur throughout South Park shocking all over again, even if they adhere a bit too closely to what we’ve seen before on television. Then again, since this is South Park in its purest form (and I appreciate the irony of calling anything related to South Park “pure”), it is entirely uncensored, and Matt Stone and Trey Parker were sure to push the envelope (or “lower the bar” if you prefer) as much as possible. The result is a game filled with some of the most violent and perverse content in not only the history of video games, but the history of South Park itself—and that is definitely saying something.
The People of South Park
The little mountain town of South Park was supposed to be a place where the new kid could experience peace and quiet. Instead, he ends up in the center of a war between humans and elves, played out by the children of South Park. As expected, things get out of hand and escalate very quickly. Before long the new kid has far greater problems than children’s games, and has to deal with everything from aliens and ginger hall monitors to abortion clinics and Canadians.
Throughout his epic quest, the new kid meets well over a hundred South Park characters, many of whom—in typical JRPG fashion—have tasks for him to perform. These can be anything from killing rats in the basement to tracking the dreaded manbearpig. The game provides a useful quest log and map—complete with fast travel system—to help the player keep track of everything, but it also includes another useful tool: Facebook!
As the new kid meets the residents of South Park, if he plays his cards right (by completing quests or other objectives), they will make friends on Facebook. Every now and then, his Facebook friends will post, giving the player a little bit more information about an objective or just saying something funny. It’s a great feature and adds a lot of the fun to the game overall, and it just makes perfect sense in the context of the game and its setting.
The characters themselves are in top form. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny are their usual selves—or at least as normal as they can be while acting like elves and humans engaged in a fierce war—and the rest of the most popular characters get plenty of time in the spotlight as well. Jimmy and Butters play a major role, and Stan’s Dad, Randy, proves once again why he is secretly the main character. But even the most obscure characters, like the underpants gnomes, crab people and Mr. Hankey’s wife and kids make an appearance. Truly, South Park: The Stick of Truth is the game South Park fans have been waiting for since the late 90s.
South Park: The Game
The new kid makes lots of friends, but he makes enemies just as quickly, and it isn’t long before his strength is tested on the battlefield. South Park: The Stick of Truth has a battle engine similar to many turn based JRPGs, though it emulates the Mario RPGs the most. Each attack demands specific input and precise timing in order for it to be fully effective. Mistakes lower the amount of damage done, and can even harm the new kid or his allies in some cases.
For a game in which kids are supposed to be “playing” a war between elves and humans, there sure is a lot of blood! And not just blood; the characters catch fire, vomit and even crap themselves in battle—sometimes all at once! Status ailments such as “bleeding” are brutally effective, especially if stacked multiple times, and always work except against a few specific bosses.
The new kid can equip himself with swords, hammers, hockey sticks, crutches, plungers, vibrators and plenty of other powerful weapons. Each weapon has up to three special features. The plunger, for example, grosses out enemies, causing them to vomit. There is also a variety of armor for the new kid to wear, and it comes in sets that represent many of the common classes and jobs from RPGs, as well as plenty of South Park appropriate costumes, like pajamas or a SWAT vest. Both weapons and armor can be modified with badges that add additional abilities to each piece. With careful planning, powerful combinations can be discovered and utilized in combat.
Though this depth of equipment customization is welcome, the sad reality is that South Park: The Stick of Truth is never challenging enough for any of this to be necessary. In fact, a strong combination of items will turn most fights into a joke. Once I had gathered a few pieces of gear and leveled up a bit, I was able to win the majority of my battles with a single action. The level cap is only level 15, and it doesn’t take long to reach it, and at that point, you have access to such powerful skills that you would have to intentionally equip weak gear in order to be faced with any sort of challenge, and even then it would be too easy.
Instead, it seems the main point of the equipment system is to simply give the new kid a lot of ways to dress up in costume. The new kid can equip a melee weapon, a ranged weapon, a piece of body armor, a headpiece, and gloves or other hand accessories, but there are also no less than 4 equipment slots for purely cosmetic items. With well over a hundred items to be collected for the eyewear, hair, makeup and facial hair slots, the visual combinations for character customization are nearly endless. It is indeed a powerful tool if you want to spend a lot of time creating South Park characters, and its worth mentioning that the cosmetic items can easily make the new kid look female, or gender neutral, which works out just fine for the most part since he is a silent protagonist.
Despite the ease of combat and the greater focus on character customization over challenging gameplay, the battle engine in South Park: The Stick of Truth still manages to be more fun than the average RPG. The simple reason for this is that it’s just a lot of fun to watch and listen to. It’s utterly ridiculous, and oftentimes grotesque and obscene, but it’s also so well done, so perfectly executed in the form of the television series, that it boils down to great entertainment. I suppose the novelty could wear off after a while, so perhaps the short length of the game works to its advantage in this regard. But as long as I played, I never got sick of watching how the characters were animated in battle or listening to their absurdly funny cries and screams as the most ridiculous maladies befell them.
Swiss Army Fart
Another reason I never tired of the battle engine is that many of the fights in the game can be avoided entirely. Throughout his journey, the new kid is equipped with an ever increasing arsenal of tools and abilities. His farts are particularly potent, and have plenty of uses both in and out of combat. While exploring South Park freely, most enemies can be avoided entirely by running past them. But during the many scenarios that unfold throughout the game’s story, the only way to avoid a fight is by incapacitating the enemies before the battles even begin. That’s when the farts—in combination with other tools—really come in handy.
See those enemy soldiers standing next to that lantern? Break the lantern’s glass with a ranged weapon and then aim a fart at it and voilà; you get a huge explosion! The battle is avoided, but experience is awarded like usual, and you can even gather the same loot that you would have collected from a normal fight.
Similar mechanics are employed for the game’s puzzles. You will frequently need to shoot a latch with a ranged weapon or cause a fart-fueled explosion in order to make progress or find hidden items. You may even need to employ your allies, who have useful skills of their own. Butters, for example, can heal injured characters, and Jimmy is the only one that is allowed to use the wheelchair ramps and lifts. I actually got stuck two or three times trying to figure out exactly what I needed to do in order to proceed, but for the most part, the system makes exploring every area a lot more fun.
Small Mountain Town
There are also secrets hidden all over South Park. There are 30 Chinpokomon figures scattered throughout the game, and collecting them will unlock a few of the game’s achievements. Many of these require a bit of backtracking in order to acquire, and others still can only be found during specific storyline sequences and can be completely missed by an unprepared player, which sucks hard for completionists. Playing a game twice for one missed item is no fun at all, and in this day and age, it’s weird to play a game with so many points of no return.
Avid collectors will also want to find every item in the game—which is also an achievement—and the menu’s map makes it easy to keep track of which items have been found and which haven’t. But once again, it’s quite possible to permanently miss a few items along the way, so attempting to collect everything can be frustrating.
Though the collectables are numerous and trying to find and make friends with all of South Park’s characters can be lots of fun (mainly because the characters themselves are fun to interact with), the game still seems to end before it begins. I’d say there are about 10 hours of main storyline content, and another 10 hours of optional content and collecting. After that, there’s really nothing else to do. The post-game content is minimal, and unfortunately does not give the player access to the many locations of the storyline that might house secrets that the player could have missed. For a full priced AAA RPG, it’s one of the shortest I’ve ever played.
Replay value is also minimal. The only reason to play the game again would be to try another of the new kid’s four potential classes—Warrior, Mage, Thief and Jew—each of which has unique skills in battle. But given the ease of combat, these classes won’t change the game that much. Really, the only reason to play the game again is the same reason you might watch a movie twice.
And yet it’s impossible not to recommend South Park: The Stick of Truth. It’s just so much fun to play—at least to a South Park fan. Though it is a videogame, it is also a bona fide episode of South Park. Certainly anyone who finds South Park objectionable should avoid the game completely. But to anyone else seeking a South Park experience or an enjoyable and humorous RPG, South Park: The Stick of Truth is quality over quantity.
Ari purchased his copy of South Park: The Stick of Truth at retail. He completed the game and the majority of its optional content in 20 hours.
+ Looks and sounds exactly like South Park should
+ One of the funniest (or most objectionable) games ever made
+ Entertaining from start to finish
+ Hilarious combat with creative ailments
-Little replay value
-Points of no return and missable items
Available on: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Version Reviewed: PC