After numerous delays and a convoluted development process, South Park: The Stick of Truth was certainly treading on egg shells. There were moments of promise evident in the reveals, but the reality of video game conversions up until The Stick of Truth’s release is that they often reek of putrefaction. Thankfully The Stick of Truth is the exception to the rule, marrying both brilliant gameplay and the hugely popular scatological humour of South Park into a single cohesive package that gets better the more you play.
The story makes the most of the enviable imagination of our predominantly juvenile cast. As the ‘new kid’ you become entangled between two factions in a fantasy war between Elves and Humans. The reason for this conflict: possession of the Stick of Truth that, purportedly, controls space and time. In keeping with the absurdity of the show, the plot becomes more crazy and unpredictable as you progress, leading to all sorts of conspiracies involving aliens and Taco Bell to name a couple. Yes, this is South Park through and through.
The writing is witty and sharp, never failing to amuse. It’s not just typical South Park humour however; Trey and Matt have went to great lengths to offer intelligent satire that equally acknowledges and mocks the mechanics that have existed throughout the lifespan of role-playing games, whether it be fantasy factions, audio codecs or overused enemy types. The Stick of Truth’s narrative doesn’t trap itself within the narrow confines of current social and political context either, so it’ll be pertinent long into the future, a clever move that extends The Stick of Truth’s appeal should you wish to revisit the game in the years to come.
South Park is renowned for aiming below the belt, but The Stick of Truth undoubtedly has some of the most ‘cringeworthy’ and ‘offensive’ humour the creators have conceived. The writing has always been shameless, but some of the ‘depths’ you explore are truly horrifying. Matt Stone and Trey Parker are not resting on their laurels with the writing, exploring new avenues that should really never be visited. In typical fashion however, even the most invasive and unpleasant attacks are never short of side-splitting. The writing only gets better – or more bizarre depending on your perspective – as the story unfolds, bringing with it more moments of embarrassing, riotous laughter and bewilderment. This is South Park at its most crude and sordid, and for that reason I love it. I’d even go as far as saying The Stick of Truth is the best piece of South Park media ever from a writing perspective.
The most surprising aspect of The Stick of Truth however is just how accomplished a game it is on its own merit. This is a genuine game that establishes and implements many of the industry’s modern tropes with confidence. You’d never expect South Park and a turn based RPG to ever work, but Obsidian have created a wonderful role playing experience that includes some unique titivations to separate itself.
Most apparent is the undivided attention required during combat. Unlike archetypal turn based RPGs where you simply wait your turn, The Stick of Truth employs clever opportunities to block incoming attacks from the enemy, resulting in a more involving experience than would typically be expected from the genre. In addition your attacks require controller input and a deft, if slightly too forgivable, sense of timing when executing the appropriate commands to maximise your damage output. You can’t switch off between turns; thus The Stick of Truth provides a welcome increase in interactivity during combat that ultimately brings a greater sense of reward with victory.
It’s an unexpectedly customisable experience as well, with the ability to modify your character how you see fit from his arsenal to his physical appearance. Not only are you able choose from one of four classes to suit your play style, you can also procure a plethora items, weapons and outfits, each with their own unique perks. Many articles can also be further augmented with, in typical South Park fashion, ‘strap-ons’.
You won’t be creating exotic alchemic concoctions or customising the rest of your party, somewhat diminishing the flexibility of the roleplaying aspect of The Stick of Truth, but you are able to switch between party members, a nice touch even if it is limited to one character fighting alongside you. The periphery of RPG malleability may be out of reach then, but the core of assuming the role of your character is there to be manipulated freely. If you’re new to RPGs and want to know what the fuss is all about, The Stick of Truth is an excellent introduction, trimming much of the fat whilst retaining the lean meat of a role playing experience.
The Stick of Truth is a hugely satisfying game that wouldn’t have the same impression were it not for South Park being crafted with such affection and attention to detail. This is the first time that South Park has been given geographic representation, and while it can’t compete with the hundreds of square miles that worlds such as Skyrim provide, doing so would detract from the intimacy that exists between the characters and the world they inhabit. Nonetheless, South Park encourages the player to visit every corner of the town in search of Easter eggs. My first few hours were spent travelling the length and breadth of South Park so I could discover the likes of South Park Elementary, Mr. Slave’s House and City Wok, just some of the many backdrops to seminal and outright hilarious moments from the TV show.
South Park is simply one of the best conceived worlds in video gaming, effortlessly adapted so that navigation isn’t too lengthy but diligent investigation is paramount to getting the most out of The Stick of Truth. Add to this a highly effective quick travel system that expands as you discover more checkpoints, South Park never feels jaded with lengthy fetch quests, nor too confined to fully appreciate. It’s a faultless example of a world that has been finely calibrated so that both immediacy and exploration can indeed coincide.
The world isn’t just window dressing however. The Stick of Truth also utilises South Park to great effect, providing opportunities to stun or even dispose of your enemies outside of the battle system using environmental hazards. Being mindful of the subtle shimmering of objects also allows for secret areas to be explored and otherwise unreachable treasure to be attained. All of the mechanics which you develop throughout the game are utilised in the world over the course of your playthrough, so you’ll find yourself exploring regularly to utilise a new method of traversal or combat mechanic, allowing you to interact with a once inaccessible area or item.
For all that The Stick of Truth is, it isn’t perfect. Some of the ‘abilities’ involve lengthy animations that, at first humorous and warming, become tedious and irritating after several hours of gameplay. Given that many of these abilities only require a button mash or a simple button press, there are possibilities to truncate the sequence to maintain a more consistent flow to the combat. As the sequence never changes for an assumed ability, the challenge of pressing the appropriate command at the right moment becomes non-existent; having to sit through the 10th canned animation in a row can be grating. It’s by no means a deal breaker, with most of the abilities in fact appropriately short in duration, but there are notable exceptions that outstay their welcome.
Speaking of challenge, The Stick of Truth offers little in the way of it after the first hour or two. Once you’ve got to grips with the combat you will find yourself breezing through the game with perhaps one or two exceptions. It’s understandable why the difficulty was tamed given the accessible nature of the gameplay and mechanics, but it also feels lacking in those moments that while often look epic provide anything but an epic confrontation. Where you’d expect to utilise all your knowledge and skills to outsmart your enemy in some form of uncivilized chess battle, 99 percent of the time that face-off never manifests.
It’s also too easy to and max out your items and abilities long before the end portions of the game. If you’re a completionist and embark on the numerous side quests you could conceivably reach the level 15 cap with a third or so of the game still to be played. Again, this makes sense in terms of reaching to a wider audience who simply want to enjoy The Stick of Truth without facing seemingly impossible hurdles, but it also detracts from its fundamental stance as a turn based RPG, a genre that is often lauded for its difficulty and depth. Of course the complexity of an RPG is only really applicable to those looking for the ultimate RPG test, nevertheless such questions need to be raised for those sitting on the fence as to whether The Stick of Truth is worth their time and money.
What can’t be denied however is that both Matt and Trey know gaming inside out and love the medium; they are gamers just as we are and endeavour to bring the most genuine South Park experience to our industry. Thankfully The Stick of Truth is no objectionable, quick cash-in where the license is handed to maladroit individuals who know nothing about the source material. Instead it’s a symbiotic relationship between content creator and game developer that sets new standards for successful video game conversions from other popular media.
There are some articles that have expressed significant glitches and bugs with The Stick of Truth, in particular characters disappearing from cutscenes and game crashes. I’m not sure as to whether such issues pervade all platforms, but my experience on the PC was nothing short flawless, having absolutely no instances of any of the aforementioned issues. I may have gotten lucky but be aware you may not have such an unblemished experience, though my understanding is that the PC appears to be the most stable platform at present.
Performance wise a toaster can practically run the game. The only option available that is configurable is the resolution itself, otherwise the game is locked in when it comes to the graphical variables at your disposable. This make sense given the rudimentary nature of the 2d characters and environments being rendered. Any GPU/CPU from the last 5 years will run the game without issue.
The Stick of Truth is not about brining South Park into 3D realms of tessellation, parallax occlusion mapping and other modern graphics technologies. Rather, it mimics the TV show with uncanny authenticity. The most striking aspect of the presentation is just how well cutscenes and gameplay transition with zero difference in visual quality. Often you’ll anticipate a cutscene only for the game to roll its eyes at you, often comically reminding you that there is a game to be played. Conversely, when you expect gameplay to come your way control will be wrestled from you by an invariably hysterical in-game cinematic. Clearly it’s much easier to achieve this with such simple visuals; nevertheless the consistency is second to none and testament to the legitimacy of The Stick of Truth as both a game and an extended South Park episode.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is an unbridled success. Though RPG aficionados may feel the game lacks the complexity and density of more ‘hardcore’ RPG titles, The Stick of Truth generally strikes a great balance between depth and accessibility, providing an enticing first taste for many who have been intrigued by RPGs but are intimidated by their inherent intricacies. Aside from being a highly enjoyable and competent RPG however The Stick of Truth looks and feels just like the animated series, testimony to both Matt and Trey’s grand vision, and Obsidian’s exceptional delivery of that vision. If you’re a fan South Park, The Stick of Truth truly is a love letter to you, playing out as a 12-15 hour ‘montage’ that spans the timeline of South Park’s content. Make no mistake, this is unequivocally South Park: equal parts grotesque, affecting and uproarious. If you don’t fall in love with The Stick of Truth maybe, just like Cartman, you feel there are too many minorities at your Water Park.
That was a joke!