It turns out that Cartman was right when he said “…you know what you get for preordering a game? A big d**k in your mouth”. I’ll happily admit that I got swept up in the hype of Ubisoft’s E3 conference last year when they revealed that South Park: The Fractured but Whole would be released in December 2016; and upon hearing the news that its predecessor The Stick of Truth would be available for download when pre-ordering the game I instantly forked out the full RRP in order to re-experience one of my favourite games of the last console generation.
Little did I know that The Fractured but Whole would suffer two delays, followed by an announcement that the game would be released sometime in the 2017-2018 fiscal year (dude, weak!) Luckily, I received a full refund and as a form of apology I got to keep my digital copy of The Stick Of Truth. With Ubisoft’s recent announcement that The Fractured but Whole will finally be released on 17th October 2017, I thought it’d be good to review the previous game.
South Park: The Stick Of Truth is an RPG and an extension of the events of season seventeen’s Black Friday trilogy, with the main story involving the boys and their friends fantasy LARPing over the eponymous stick, which grants the owner great power (but in reality is nothing more than an ordinary twig) with the humans led by Cartman doing battle against the drow elves commanded by Kyle Broflovski Now, I’m not a fan of the genre, in fact prior to playing The Stick Of Truth, the last RPG I played to completion was FFVII way back on the PS1, but as a hardcore South Park fan I found that the chance to explore the quiet, redneck mountain town was too good to resist.
The main campaign is set over the course of three days and casts the player as the new kid in town nicknamed “Douchebag”, riffing on stories lifted from the show, such as alien abduction and probing, underpants gnomes, and a journey north to Canada (with all their beady little eyes and flappin’ heads so full of lies). Away from the main story, Douchebag is free to explore the town of South Park, interacting with characters from the show and completing optional side quests, which again draw on stories from the show’s then seventeen seasons including ManBearPig and Chinpokomon amongst others. There are also plenty of visual and audible Easter eggs that will leave ardent fans with a smirk of their face, as well as tongue-in-cheek nods to some of the most well-known RPG franchises such as Skyrim and The Legend Of Zelda.
At the outset of the game, Douchebag is asked to select one of four classes – Warrior, Mage, Thief or Jew. There are no real differences in the ability of each class, aside from a special attack, which requires a certain amount of PP to pull off. Douchebag is also provided with melee and long range weapons and armour. Higher grade weapons and armour can be obtained through searching the town or completing certain side quests, as long as the player is at the required experience level to equip them. Weapons can be patched to deal greater damage or debuff enemies. The highest grade armour is a revealing Valkyrie-style fur bra and panties outfit, an obvious dig at the RPG genre.
Of course, an RPG wouldn’t be complete without combat, which is where The Stick Of Truth walks a perilous path. As the game has a higher appeal to players (like me) who haven’t played many RPGs, the combat has been kept deliberately simple. Encounters are turn-based party affairs, with Douchebag and an ally pittied against multiple opponents. Each attack is accessed from a wheel, with a button press required at a precise moment in order to deal max damage. The wheel also allows the player to access a mini-inventory to replenish health or buff their characters. Allies can be swapped out in the midst of combat as part of a turn. After Douchebag and his buddy have taken their turn, they must defend against attacks from the opposing team. This back and forth battle continues until all members of one of the teams have been depleted.
South Park: The Stick Of Truth feels like playing an extended episode, from the herky-jerky stop-motion style animation to the excellent vocal performances; upon journeying north to Canada, the environment is rendered in blocky, 8-bit top-down graphics (think NES era Legend Of Zelda with fart jokes). The humour is absolutely spot on, jokes are still funny after repeated playthroughs. As with the South Park movie, The Stick Of Truth pushes the boundaries of decency further than the show can. Unfortunately, Ubisoft made the decision to remove some of the more controversial scenes from the game from the EU and AUS versions of the game. Instead, a place card describing the removed scene is displayed, although the descriptions are in themselves hilarious. If you’re desperate to see them, videos of the cut-scenes can be easily tracked down on YouTube.
Basically, everything about The Stick Of Truth smacks of quality; it’s obvious that developer Obsidian Entertainment knew their source material inside out. There have been several licensed South Park games over the years, all of which were pretty poor, and none of which had input from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The pair worked closely with the developer, making sure that the game was a faithful recreation of the series, with the jokes well thought out to avoid them becoming stale; it’s hard to tell that you’re playing a game that was released three years ago, as for the most part references to the célébrité du jour are avoided.
Aside from the simple combat mechanics, there’s very little to pick fault at with the game, as I’ve already mentioned it was a measured decision in order to make the game accessible to RPG noobs. Whether you’re a hardcore fan of the show and casual RPG fan or vice versa, The Stick Of Truth is a funny, engaging game, and well worth playing prior to diving into The Fractured but Whole (as the plot will follow the events of its predecessor). The Stick Of Truth should be bundled as a code within the physical version’s box, or immediately available for digital pre-orders. If you skipped the game upon release, give The Stick Of Truth your full, undivided attention before booting up The Fractured but Whole – you won’t be disappointed.