I have been a huge fan of South Park since it first aired. The comedy in the show has always been borderline and constantly pushing the boundaries of the topics and themes often used to make satire of just about everything you could think of. There has been 17 Seasons of the TV show since it first went on air in 1997, one success music album in Chef Aid and a big screen success with South Park: The Movie all show just how big this franchise is to fans. The Stick of Truth is written and voiced by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the show. They wrote the script and completely oversaw its development and production so much so that that actually cut a season short just to work on the story for the game. This is a completely original South Park experience.
The Stick of Truth has had problems during its development. Originally was due to be released back in 2013, but at the time it was a license under the ultimately doomed Publisher THQ. Following their demise, the license was picked up by Ubisoft and scheduled for released in early March 2014. So the question is, has Parker and Stone been able to transfer what is so loved about the TV show into a video game that fans will enjoy just as much?
The Stick of Truth, developed by Obsidian Entertainment, is the South Park version of an RPG game. The story will see you the player, enter the world of South Park as “The New Kid”, just having moving into town and encouraged by your parents to go and make new friends. You get to create your own “kid” but you can only choose to be a boy, no gender choice here but it all makes sense with the main story of the game. Once you leave your house you will soon come across Great King Wizard Cartman, who will tell you all about the war between the Humans and the Elves over The Stick of Truth, whomever controls The Stick of Truth controls the universe.
The first choice you will have as a player is what “class” you will be through the game; Fighter, Mage, Thief or Jew. Depending on which class you take on will determine what special abilities you will have for the game in combat, your first “costume” and your first weapon. As you complete the main quests of the game, your class will be updated to the its next level and gifted with that Class’s equipment and weapon. You can equip any clothing item or weapon you find or purchase throughout the game as well and they can be customised for colour using Dyes you all obtain. I chose Fighter for my review playthough.
Once you have chosen your class, you are then sent on your first quest by Great King Wizard Cartman, who sends you off to find and deliver a message of summons calling on his great warriors to aid in the fight against the Elves, Token, Tweet and Craig. This is a very nice introduction to the game as you will begin to explore the town of South Park which has been faithfully recreated inside the game with all the known locations and character homes all included. You will also get partnered with Butters as a companion both exploring the town and in combat. As the game progresses you will unlock other main characters who you can elect to be your buddy. As a fan it is great to explore the town and the style of using the same visuals as the TV series really helps create an immersive world for you as the player. As you walk through the town you will come across other characters who you can “friend on Facebook”. Some will simply add you just for saying hello whilst some will require you to either complete a side quest for them first or to have a certain level of popularity on Facebook before they will friend you.
Quests can be tracked using your “Facebook” accessed by using the Back button. From here you can manage your inventory of items, collectibles, equipment and weapons and choose Ability upgrades when you have earned enough XP. Friending enough characters will also unlock perks. Both Abilities and Perks are used in combat, and you will soon find yourself mixing it up with the Elvish enemy as you explore the town. They will be scattered around the town and should you get too close will attack. If you initiate the fight by hitting them first you will then have the advantage of going first in the fight, if they strike then the opening attack is theirs. A tip is to shoot them first with your range weapon to stun them before starting the fight, as it will have them stunned as the combat begins allowing you to get extra damage on them.
As you can see from the gameplay video above, combat is the same as well known RPG’s such as Final Fantasy and uses a turned based system. Each character has a turn, and for each turn you can both apply a consumable or perk before you pick your attacking option. Attacking uses a Quick Time Event method where hitting A or X at the right time via an on screen prompt will add further damage to the attack. Failing to hit the prompt could mean the attack fails if its an ability attack or a standard amount of damage if its weapon based. The same system is used to counter enemy attacks. When they attack, just at the moment the attack will hit, you will be given the chance to counter it and reducing the damage it does. Compared with other RPG combat systems it does sound a bit simplified by it plays really well and the prompts for attack and counter have to be timed right or you will miss them even after a few hours into the game. Another tip is during combat sometimes when you down an enemy and have them lying on the floor, their comrades could revive them in a number of turns. If you have an enemy on the ground, use a turn to hit them again, this will cause them to run away from combat and out of the fight for good.
Victory will bring you XP which will level you up and once back to the main game you can scavenge items from their bodies. Mostly the items will be what the game calls “Junk”. Exploring homes, bags and treasure chests will give you such items of Junk along with equipment and consumables. The Junk is mostly comedy items, you cannot use them for any real purpose other then to look at them or to sell them at the shops in order to purchase items you do and will be able to use. Other collectibles include Chinopokomon, 30 of which to collect and are often hidden in plain sight and will need a combination of exploring and use of a ranged weapon like a bow to shoot them down so you can collect them. The game offers you so much to do outside of the main story quests. Most are story locked and will require you to have completed a certain part of the story in order to have the ability required to either access a location or complete another side quest.
Before I go on with the review, there is an elephant in the room in the form of the reported Censorship that The Stick of Truth has been given for just the European console versions of the game. No such censorship was included for the European PC version. Now, anyone who knows South Park as a fan knows full well just how far its writers can push the envelope on what can be considered offensive. The TV show censors swearing, which is more of an ironic joke then actual censorship and has even had an episode dedicated to showing up how Censorhip is used in the US. Having played the game to completion at the time of writing this review, as a player and fan of the show, I am left more then just a little baffled at the decision to censor the game, what they chose to censor and above all, what they chose not to censor if they felt the need to do so in the first place.
Without wanting to spoil too much of the main story, the video above shows the censorship in the European version of the game. It is only the first two minutes of the story mission but you can already see how intrusive it is to the gameplay. The screen, showing the European Flag with a statue holding its face in shame, details out exactly what the player would have experienced if the censorship was not in place. After spending a good few hours immersed in world of South Park, to suddenly get ripped out of the moment with this message which happens at five points during the mission, and twice again at a point later in the game for the same reasons, with a screen that tells you what you would have done so you know exactly what the scene/Minigame would have been anyway.
I felt truly patronised, as an adult playing this game and knowing what else was left uncensored in the game, to be confronted by such censorship. It is baffling that they took the decision to do this. The seven scenes which are censored, about 20 seconds per scene, are all mini games requiring the player to “make it happen”. The official word is that the text you read on screen was approved by Trey and Matt themselves, but that comes as little help in what for me was nothing more then a game breaking moment that spoiled the enjoyment of the game at the point and from the first time the censorship message pops on screen you are left wondering why it had to be censored and at other times in the gameplay you find yourself asking “and that didn’t get censored?”
South Park: The Stick of Truth is without a doubt for me, the best South Park experience I have had as a fan since I first started watching the show. It benefits so much from being an original work from the creators of the show and they have gone to great lengths to include even the smallest detail from the show in every minute you play the game. From the references to old episodes and South Park The Movie by having songs played on the radio as you explore the locations in the town, to the way in which every character is used either in the main story or with their own side quests. I have not laughed so much enjoying a game in so long that I still have a smile and a giggle just remembering the various moments in the game as I write this review. If you are a fan that knows the show inside and out then you will get so much from The Stick of Truth but even if you only just familiar with the show and it’s comedy humour, the game draws you in and brings you into its world completely.
The themes and tone of that humour is very strong and there are plenty of true “did that really just happen” moments throughout the game, and the use of the comedy blending with the gameplay is as sublime as it is brutally honest. I did find at times that the game being limited mostly to the town of South Park did become restrictive when having to walk down the same streets seeing the same places you have already visited countless times whilst completing quests but the use of the “Timmy Fast Track” system, a series of flags at key locations in the town enabling you to fast travel to them did help speed things up somewhat. I said before that there is a lot to do in the game outside the main story and at the point at which I completed the game I still had three side quests outstanding. The good news is that after completing the game you will find yourself put back in the world so you can continue to gather all the collectibles and complete the side quests but you will no longer have access to the “buddy Party” system, so in combat you are on your own, but there is very little combat as all the random enemies are now gone.
The Stick of Truth is as complete and full on a South Park experience a fan could hope to have in a video game. It is a non stop in your face game that makes no apologies for it’s tone or content, which makes the censorship both annoying and frustrating. So much could have gone wrong with this game but the detailed attention given to its development by Trey Parker and Matt Stone has paid off and made this as much a part of the South Park experience as any TV Season or Movie. I am already itching to start a new game as a different class and experience it all over again, that after fifteen hours of game time says it all!
But it must be said, just like South Park The Movie, once you know the jokes and experienced the game to completion, a second or third playthrough and those jokes might lose their edge for anyone who is not a real super fan of South Park. Once you know how to complete a quest, where to find quest items and the best weapons and equipment then the game reduces in the experience it gives. But that can be said for any RPG game. The Stick of Truth is definitely going to to appeal to South Park fans more then the casual gamer and a single playthrough may be the only experience you want from the game. There are enough achievements that require a repeat playthrough if you missed it the first time as some can only be obtained at key points in the story and certain quests which can be easily missed. So take that into consideration when judging whether to pick this up on release or wait for the usual price drop in the weeks to come.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is out on March 4th in the US and March 7th in the UK and Europe for Xbox 360.
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