Nazi foetuses, alien anal probing and sex toys in abundance. Can you really say that you expected anything more?
South Park: The Stick of Truth is as much an entire series of South Park episodes as it is a video game. Like all episodes, a relatively simplistic beginning snowballs into something that’ll leave you rubbing your eyes in disbelief.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s own brand of satirist surrealism has, finally, transferred perfectly into a video game. After blockbusters such as Chef’s Luv Shack and South Park Rally, it was fair to say that excitement for this title wasn’t too high in its early days. Add to that numerous delays in release and original publisher THQ going bankrupt, South Park: The Stick of Truth was one title that never looked like it’d be arriving.
Being developed by Obsidian Entertainment, it was expected this game would be a solid RPG experience. If Obsidian’s previous titles like Knights of the Old Republic II and Fallout: New Vegas were any benchmark for quality, it was predicted The Stick of Truth would be a solid RPG, albeit quite buggy.
That original guess wasn’t far off. Bugs are few and far between, having clocked over 14 hours, I’ve only ever experienced a couple. The delays were obviously well spent, and as that famous Miyamoto quote goes, “a delayed game is eventually good, a rushed game is forever bad.” On the RPG front, the game does well, but more of that later.
On the subject of expectations, it’s often said Ubisoft develop and publish poor PC ports. This, unfortunately, is true again. In 2014 and console port or not, it’s unacceptable for a PC game to not supply an option to rebind keys.
The game also comes with absolutely no graphical options. South Park’s visuals are something Obsidian likely wanted to keep consistent to the TV show, which is understandable. It’s an undemanding game, so graphical options are more of something that would have been nice to see, rather than a necessity.
In addition to that, the game is locked at 30FPS. It’s obvious in some places, but if you’re a long-time South Park viewer you’ll probably be able to see past it. Obsidian said earlier in development that any FPS above 30 would ruin the animations they’re using in the game, making the lock necessary.
At its core The Stick of Truth is a turn-based RPG, most relatable to Paper Mario RPG. Unlike turn-based titles like Final Fantasy X, The Stick of Truth gives you an active role in combat outside of picking attacks and watching them go. Timing your attacks and blocks will have a direct impact on how well you perform in battle.
The premise is nice as it gets you more involved, however, it soon begins to grate as you’ll spend battles mostly looking for attack and block indicators. The prompts could have been implemented much better, you’ll miss most of what’s happening during a battle by just keeping eagle eyed for block and attack flashes.
Outside of combat the game works pretty well as an RPG. By adventuring around South Park it’s your task to find friends to add on Facebook. Friends unlock powerful in-combat perks, but some characters will only add you after you complete a quest for them. Quests are delightfully self-referential, as the adults of South Park aren’t ‘part of the game’. You’ll be picking up Mr Slave’s package, finding Jesus, locating a lost iPad or hunting for ManBearPig.
The numerous status effects available and the depth of the combat are one of the main problems with The Stick of Truth, or more specifically, the fact that they’re often completely unexplained. As more and more facets of the combat are introduced, the more you’re assumed to already understand. The introduction of ‘mana’ is a good example, as it took me a good few hours to figure out how to gain it. You’re given a quick tutorial on how to use it once you have it, but not how to earn it.
Status effects are also pushed to the side-lines, either telling you what they mean in the in-game manual or the ‘examine’ option in combat. The problem with keeping this information in a manual or an ‘examine’ feature is that it completely drags you out of the game, ruining what immersion you might have had.
As expected with everything Trey Parker and Matt Stone create, the social commentary is witty and clever. This time, the majority is aimed at social media. Your entire inventory, quest and collectables screen is referred to constantly as ‘Facebook’, and carrier ravens, or Twitter, helps the kids keep up to date on the progress of their game.
You’ll often see NPCs on their mobile phones, more often than not, in fact. There’s a stark juxtaposition between the medieval setting of the kids’ game and the reality of the information age they’re playing it in. The kids themselves seem oblivious to the contrast, making Facebook and Twitter an integral piece of their game, much as Parker and Stone have done with The Stick of Truth.
It might be a warning that social media is invading more and more aspects of modern life unseen. It could also be a jab at social media integration in modern games, with many game companies throwing arbitrary and often pointless opportunities to ‘share’ your score or achievements with a friends list who, most likely, don’t care.
Attempting to look at this game with my South-Park-loving, rose-tinted glasses cast aside was difficult. The references to previous episodes were hilarious, the characters were perfect in their interactions with each other and it was South Park down to its very pores.But the game, where it is a game, falls down plenty of times. It’s fun, but often frustrating.
If you’re a fan of South Park in any way, get this game. It’s hilarious, witty and one of the best pieces of South Park you’ll have experienced for a while. As South Park, it’s excellent, but as a game, it’s just okay. Luckily, if you’re enough of a fan, that won’t even matter. The hours of entertainment this game provides will be more than enough to keep you playing.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is available now on their website, Steam and many other retailers.
Hang on, Niall, where’s the score? Find out what’s missing and why here.