Having played the awful South Park: Scott Tenorman’s Revenge, I started playing South Park: The Stick of Truth with a certain sense of apprehension. Scott Tenorman’s Revenge wasn’t great, after all, and years of being subjected to awful film and TV tie-in games has left me somewhat fearful about playing anything that takes its inspiration from an outside source (though not all games that do this are terrible, admittedly).
Truth be told, I wasn”t expecting much from Stick of Truth. In a way, I’m glad that my expectations were so incredibly low, because The Stick of Truth is absolutely bloody brilliant – I went in expecting Mr Hankey, but instead I was given the proverbial golden butthole.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is Matt Stone, Trey Parker and Obsidian Entertainment’s gift to the RPG genre; not only is this an RPG game about kids playing a playground RPG, but everything you know and love from the animated series is here – the same characters, the awesome sense of humor, and even the same impeccable writing that you’ve come to expect.
You are The New Kid – or, as Cartman calls you, Douchebag: a silent protagonist with a God-like knack for gathering friends on Facebook. You arrive at your new house in the town of South Park, Colorado, and after a quick jibe from your dad about how you apparently remember nothing about your previous life, and how irritating it is that you don’t speak, you’re kicked out of the house after being told you not to come back until you’ve made some new friends.
Of course, these days you can only really measure the number of friends you have by the number your Facebook page shows you, and a quick tap of the pause button will show you just that. South Park has Facebook, even if it is a cut-down, super-retro version of Facebook, circa 2007. As you gather friends you get upgrade points to spend on your skills, but more importantly you can watch your new-found freinds hurl abuse at each other. It’s a stroke of genius, with the result being that The Stick of Truth has the best pause screen in any game I have ever played.
After being unceremoniously ejected from the family home, you soon meet your first new friend – Butters. Butters realizes your potential straight away, and you are taken to The Grand Wizard’s fortress (Cartman’s back yard) to be recruited to the armies of mankind.
Here, you’re told of the Elven evil which is plaguing the land, and are asked to pick a class to role-play as. Different classes give you different attacks, and give slight differences to your mana and strength stats; but to be honest, other than picking Jew as a class for the obvious jokes that will inevitably come out of it, there isn’t that much of a difference between classes.
Gameplay sees you running around town, making friends, collecting collectables – in this case the Chinpokomon – and playing war with the kids of South Park. There are side missions for you to complete along the way, but most of the first half of the game involves beating up the kids dressed as elves with your wooden sword/rusty pipe; occasionally you will even “move on” a hobo or two with your wooden sword. While this in-game war of elves and men is make-believe, the kids (and certainly the hobos) don’t pull their punches; you are basically a warrior of The Grand Wizard, and it’s your job to smite Cartman’s very real enemies.
After proving yourself to The Grand Wizard, you are taught your first magical fart-spell: the Dragonshout. One you have proven your mastery of this arcane art, you are forced to defend The Stick of Truth from the attacking army – for he who controls The Stick, controls the universe. The game obviously spirals out of control in the usual South Park way; after a long hard day of fighting off elves you’re abducted for a long hard night of alien probing. There are other enemies that weasel their way into this game, such as the US Government, hobos, Nazi Zombies and even the underpants gnomes – doing battle with the last of which involves an epic battle, where you’re shrunk to the size of a gnome and are forced into a fight on your parents’ bed, while they make sweet sweet lurve above you (expertly represented by the usual wildly flailing limbs that sweet sweet lurve-making on South Park always looks like).
Unfortunately for European players, Ubisoft has for for some reason decided to censor console versions of the game (though not the PC version on Steam, oddly). The Stick of Truth has had some of the best scenes censored. During your first night in South Park you receive the aformentioned alien probing, along with several other citizens of the town; our hero Douchebag manages to break the first probe, and then the second bigger blacker probe, and finally a giant probe with a satellite dish attached to it. Douchebag even manages to take this satellite dish inside his ass, allowing him to teleport around the screen at critical locations. Unfortunately, this part was censored in Europe. The same can be said for the eventual abortion scene where you have to maintain a cover identity as a doctor and perform an abortion on Randy Marsh, who is dressed up as a lady. You attempt to abort Randy Marsh’s baby with a vacuum pump, and basically just vacuum his testicles, causing him a fair amount of discomfort, and much amusement for the player.
In Europe, players just get an apologetic facepalm.
Thankfully these scenes are relatively brief and their absence doesn’t do much to harm the overall experience; though if you do live in the EU, you may want to consider getting the uncensored PC version of the game.
The Stick of Truth, while being the most faithful South Park game to date, isn’t perfect. The game, as you would expect, requires little to no thought – but sadly this applies to the combat too. It’s not challenging in any way, shape or form; you fight as a pair alongside your friends, and several of them are hideously overpowered. For example, Butters can become Professor Chaos and devastate enemies with his evil attacks; Kenny, as Princess Kenny (“I don’t know, that’s just the way he’s rolling right now,” says Cartman by way of explanation), can summon a magical unicorn attack – which, when you complete the quick time event on screen, skewers the enemies causing massive damage. If you fail Kenny’s unicorn attack QTE, Kenny is skewered in the side of the head. All together now: Oh my God, you killed Kenny! You bastard!
Even without the help of your friends, Douchebag can just wail on most enemies with ease and simply kill them outright once you get to a high enough character level. If an enemy looks particularly daunting (and isn’t a boss), you can use one of your once-daily summons. As kids, calling an adult was often our most powerful form of attack, and the same is true in South Park. Call Jesus, and the Messiah will descend from the heavens on high to smite your enemies with a machine gun; Mr Kim will show up in his ancestral clothing to perform his war dance, killing enemies with a sword; Mr Slave will stick an enemy straight up his ass, scaring off the rest of the enemy party.
The only challenging part of The Stick of Truth is the controls. The fart spells, while amusing, are more of an effort to pull off than anything else, and aren’t worth trying in battle, when you can just kill an enemy with one hit from your sword. The tutorials for the spells are also pretty useless, and for more than one of the four spells we had to resort to Google to check how exactly the move is pulled off. It’s a real shame, considering how good the writing is; one would have hoped that the quality would have extended to more clearly-understand tutorials. Alas, no.
All in all though, South Park: The Stick of Truth is pretty damn impressive. There are very few games which I start playing and lose 8 hours to at a time, but The Stick of Truth was definitely one of those games. It’s hilarious, the writing is fantastic, and even after finishing it, you’ll find yourself grinning after remembering different moments – such as fighing the underpants gnomes on your parents bed and having to pass a quick-time event to dodge your dad’s scrotum hitting you in the face; I’m hardly shy about discussing how much I hate QTEs, but fair play, Obsidian. Fair play.
After so many terrible South Park games and following a very troubled development, The Stick of Truth has somehow managed to succeed where so many others have failed. If you love South Park, you’ll almost certainly have a blast playing it.