South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

Dan Webb

Way back in 2002, a small group of boys set out on a quest in the idyllic mountain town of South Park to return a copy of Back Door Sluts 9 to their local video shop, avoiding a group of pissed off sixth graders along the way. That early episode of South Park – inspired by the release of Lord of the Rings –combined with the subsequent release of Game of Thrones almost 10 years later, effectively spawned a universe within a universe in the world of South Park. Following on from the console war triple-threat episodes in season 17 at the back end of 2013, Trey Parker and Matt Stone had laid the foundations for their next venture: a video game, written by them and developed by industry vets, Obsidian. With a vested interest in the game and a great development studio at their disposal, Matt, Trey and Obsidian have defied all logic and actually created a piece of fan service that they should be proud of. A video game tie-in that’s actually very bloody good.

"It’s all about the stick… The Stick of Truth!"

The Stick of Truth sees you take up the reigns of the new kid on the block, one with a mysterious past and some rather bizarre parents who send you out into South Park to make some new friends. It literally takes a matter of minutes before you’re sucked into a town-wide, live-action, role-playing game that pits Cartman and the humans against Kyle and the elves. In typical South Park fashion, that’s just the start and it’s not long before things escalate to a ridiculous and preposterous level where you’ll be fighting Nazi cows, facing off against aborted babies and so much more. It’s batshit crazy. It’s straight out of the TV show. It’s classic South Park.

Opting to deliver the experience via a turn-based RPG is a wise move from Obsidian and is perfectly justified by Matt and Trey within the game’s excellent writing. It’s easy to assume that being a Western developed turn-based RPG and probably more importantly the fact that it’s a tie-in, that The Stick of Truth could have been dumbed down for the masses. That’s not the case at all, with all your traditional turn-based game pillars covered, from SP management and party buffing, to tactical strategies and status ailments – with a South Park-related vibe (rage is known as Pissed Off, for instance). The only thing that’s really missing is different types of elemental damage, but that’s hardly missed.

Sure, The Stick of Truth may be a turn-based RPG, but it’s a turn-based RPG with a Western edge. Traditionally a Japanese genre, Obsidian have taken it upon themselves to inject something a little new into the arguably stale genre. That ranges from the quicktime events and button presses injected into the actual turn-based proceedings – allowing you to time perfect blocks and hits – and environmental takedowns, all the way through to some of the more interesting mechanics like the Facebook driven inventory screen. Here you can customise your character, use the town map, look at your message wall, unlock perks and so on. Rather brilliantly, the game doesn’t just rely on XP to manage your RPG experience, but you’ll also have to accrue friends, either by searching for them throughout the environment or completing missions, which gives players access to certain battle-changing perks. Combined, it amounts to some multi-faceted game design that just goes to show that there’s still room for innovation in the turn-based genre.

"Ro. Sham. Bo!"

Admittedly, The Stick of Truth doesn’t quite have the same depth that you’d get with a Japanese developed turn-based RPG. Not in terms of mechanics per se, but more in terms of lasting effect. With only 15 levels to rise through, a handful of skills per class to utilise, it has the potential to be over before a traditional JRPG has even started. It took us a mere 15-hours to pretty much do every side quest, main quest and collect every collectible that existed in the world – I say pretty much, we missed a costume, a Chinpokomon and a weapon, and that’s about it. To say it’s not good value for money based on that though would be a little insulting, mainly because the production values from start to finish are amped to the max. It’s genuinely a mouthwatering offering and I can’t stress enough how it’s effectively like guiding your own lengthy episode of the show. It’s a shame there’s a few too many load screens for our liking though. Maybe we’re spoiled by next-gen already.

Let’s talk censorship for a minute, because it needs to be addressed. It’s impossible to sit here and just ignore the censored scenes, being a European and having played through the censored version of the game. In fact, I spent days trying to forget them and to judge the game on the rest of its merits, but I couldn’t. I genuinely felt betrayed, betrayed that as an adult I wasn’t allowed to make up my own mind of what was acceptable content. I watch South Park, I know what to expect. I don’t need some suit making a decision for me, a suit who’s probably never seen an episode of South Park in his life. Not only are they depriving me of content and thus shortening my experience from what the developers and Matt and Trey intended, but it comes at inconvenient times and almost breaks up the flow of the game. It doesn’t happen once, it happens as many as 7 times and although they might only be 20-second scenes, that’s not the point: South Park built its fanbase on edgy, controversial and graphic content, not by being censored. Even Matt and Trey seem pissed off as they try and describe the scenes in the latter of the “Be right back” style placeholders. It’s a travesty.

That’s not to say that South Park: The Stick of Truth doesn’t deliver the usual kind of over-the-top madness that’s on display in the shows. It features numerous controversies, plenty of shocking scenes, loads of close to the bone content and satirical stereotype after satirical stereotype, it has all that and more, but seeing censored sections removed from the game is the biggest kick in the face the franchise has gotten in quite sometime. It’s a sentiment that is in direct conflict with what the franchise stands for. Otherwise, the writing is typically brilliant as always and the humour is classic South Park. It’s like getting a series of hilarious South Park content in one go, which is utterly delightful.

"The once idyllic South Park is idyllic no more!"

The whole game itself is effectively just a love letter to its fans and is one of the biggest pieces of fan service I’ve known in the world of video games. It’s a game where every South Park fan will go, “Oh! Remember that episode?” while everyone else will go, “Who’s that Mexican looking chap on the wanted poster that looks an awful lot like Butters?” There are more nods to specific episodes and buckets of fan service in an hour of The Stick of Truth than in all the game tie-ins that have ever existed. Hyperbole, maybe, but it’s to demonstrate a point: the thought and care that has gone into the world is incredible.

The depth of the fan service extends to the characters too, and probably 95% of all the South Park major characters that have ever existed make an appearance in some form or another, whether you’re talking about Lemmiwinks and Catatafish, or Mr Kim and Mr Hankey. There’s even a lot of the classic songs from episodes gone by too, from “Let’s Fighting Love” and “Sexual Harassment Panda” all the way through to the brilliant “Montage Song.” It’s a nostalgic overload if ever there was one and you just can’t help but love it.

That fan service and humour is brilliantly delivered in the achievements as well. You’ll probably either have to save smart or play through multiple times, but considering the quality of the experience on offer that really is no big deal. Sure, there might be a lot of collectibles, or as we like to call them, by-the-numbers achievements, but for the rest of it you’ll be doing random stuff like looking for Jesus as a Jew, flinging poop at enemies, farting on people and animals and befriending classic South Park characters. A great little list and an amusing one, which is always welcomed with open arms.

When it ultimately comes down to The Stick of Truth, it essentially boils down to this: if you’re in anywhere else that isn’t Europe or Australia, enjoy what is undoubtedly an unmitigated triumph. If you’re European or Australian though, import the heck out of South Park: The Stick of Truth if you can, as otherwise you’ll be getting an incomplete version of the game because of a “market decision” that really wasn’t made with you in mind. That being said, that “incomplete” version is still a damn impressive game and one that should be celebrated for what it is: a brilliant turn-based RPG that is every South Park fan’s wet dream. It’s just a shame that censorship is even an issue and sullies what is otherwise a brilliant experience.

Brilliant performance from the cast, an interesting and amusing array of sound effects, and all in all, a brilliant score.

It looks like South Park and is faithful recreation of the show’s visual style. What more could you ask for?

It’s a turn-based RPG so in terms of complexity, it’s rather simple, but it works and is always a joy to control, never a chore.

An incredibly detailed-world with plenty of content to keep you occupied. Not quite a 60-hour sprawling JRPG, but 15-hours of brilliant content if you seek it all out. But, and there’s always a but, the censored scenes really do break up the flow of the game and effectively sticks two-fingers up at Matt and Trey, and what South Park is about.

A very interesting list and an amusing one at that. Multiple playthroughs are required, or just some smart saving, but you won’t grumble at that after you’ve farted on a dog and a cow.

Despite everything seemingly working against all involved, what with the whole THQ debacle and what not, Obsidian with Matt and Trey have created a little bit of magic here. Shame about the censorship issues in Europe and Australia, so if it’s possible, you’d be advised to import it. Otherwise, it’s an excellent South Park extravaganza.

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