Like The Simpsons, Futurama, and a lot of American cartoons that are made for adults, South Park hasn’t always had the best luck being translated into a video game. But with South Park: The Stick Of Truth — a turn-based role-playing game made by Obsidian (Fallout: New Vegas) and published by Ubisoft on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC — we finally have a South Park game that’s as fun as it is funny.
A new kid has come to South Park, only to find that all the other fourth graders are all still pretending to be warriors and wizards like they were in the recent episodes “Black Friday,” “A Song Of Ass And Fire,” and “Titties And Dragons” when they were fighting over whether everyone should get an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4 (which makes it rather ironic that this game is on neither system). Except now, instead of next-gen consoles, they’re fighting over a stick. And not a pointy one, either.
Not surprisingly, The Stick Of Truth plays like a really long episode of South Park. Well, a really long episode of South Park if they spent a lot of time wandering around, smashing stuff. Much of this is due to the fact that it looks exactly like the show, right down to the crappy animation. That it also sounds like South Park isn’t surprising, since the game was written and voiced by the show’s writers and voice actors, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, but the fact that it looks exactly like one, too, is rather remarkable.
While it may look and sound like an episode, in many ways, South Park: The Stick Of Truth feels kind of like a sort of “Best Of South Park” clip show, since it has numerous references and callbacks to such classic episodes as “Gnomes,” “Good Times With Weapons,” and “Professor Chaos.” Besides bring some old friends back for a visit, you’ll also collect Chinpokomon, “enjoy” some Mongolian Beef at City Wok, and find Jesus (he’s always in the last place you look). In addition, when you start playing the game after taking some time to, say, watch the new South Park: The Complete Sixteenth Season Blu-ray — you often hear the incidental guitar tone and see the town sign like when the show comes back from a commercial break.
It’s also, not surprisingly, as funny and as fucked up as the show. Granted, it isn’t as hilarious as the episodes “Cartman Gets An Anal Probe” or “Mecha-Streisand,” or the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut, but it certainly ranks alongside such recent installments as the “Imaginationland” trilogy, last season’s “Raising The Bar,” and the aforementioned Xbox One Vs. PlayStation 4 episodes.The thing is, while The Stick Of Truth looks and sounds like the South Park game fans have been hoping for since the show started seventeen years ago, it doesn’t play like it. Which isn’t to say it isn’t fun — we’ll get into that in a moment — but this isn’t an action game, something a fan of the show could just pick up and play.
Instead, it’s actually a semi-deep, semi-complex role-playing game with mechanics that might annoy someone looking for fast action. Which is not to say this is a hardcore RPG — fans of those will probably find this isn’t deep, complex, or serious enough for them — but it decidedly more for fans of RPGs and South Park than for South Park fans who like games.
What typifies this is the combat, which is turn-based. Which, as Cartman admits, “I know it’s lame, Clyde, but that’s how we’re doing it.”
Except it not entirely as turn-based. While you do have to wait for your turn to attack, when it comes, you don’t just sit there and watch your character do all the work. Instead, you have to hit a button to actually swing your sword or fire your arrow. And how much damage you do is contingent on when you hit the right button.
You also get to block enemy attacks in real time by hitting the block button at the right moment. Though you need to stay vigilant, since your enemies don’t take a lot of time to ponder before they attack.
It also helps that, along with regular ranged and melee attacks, you also have some special ones that are very much in the spirit of the show. Not only can you roshambo someone, or sack them while wearing your South Park Cows football helmet, but you can also hurt people by farting in their general direction. You also spend much of the time adventuring with one of the other residents, so you have their unique attacks — such as Princess Kenny’s special kissing attack — at your disposal as well. You can even, once a day, call in a super special attack from such pals as Mr. Slave and Jesus.
You can even, at times, launch preemptive strikes when you see someone in the world, but you or they haven’t initiated combat. For instance, you can use an arrow to knock something off a ledge onto someone’s head. And if this takes them out, you can avoid the turn-based fight altogether or, at the very least, reduce the number of enemies you’ll have to fight politely.
As a result of this, combat in South Park: The Stick Of Truth is actually a lot of fun, once you get the hang of it. And I say this as someone who has never enjoyed turn-based combat. You have a wide variety of weapons and attacks, a medicine cabinet full of potions and other elixirs to help you out, and while doing the combat is easy once you know how, the actual fights aren’t easy. Yeah, I’d rather be button mashing my way to victory, but as these things go, it’s not nearly as lame as Cartman thinks.
Along with turn-based combat, South Park: The Stick Of Truth also has you going on tons of side quests and sub-quests like you do in such serious (relatively speaking) RPGs as Fallout 3, Borderlands, or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. And those games are rather apt comparisons since, like them, Stick is so addicting that it becomes one of those games where you’ll decide to just do one more quest…only to realize it’s four hours later and where the hell are my pants?
As fun as South Park: The Stick Of Truth is, though, it does have some issues, though they’re pretty minor. For instance, it doesn’t always do a good job of explaining things like what the “Jew” class does (it’s kind of like a monk, and does more damage when he gets hurts).
It’s also not hard to think that, given this game’s genre, and the fact that you’re almost always questing with another character, that this should’ve had a co-op option, especially a local one so you and a pal could play this together, side by side. Or so at least Matt and Trey could.
And for all its fan service, for all the references to old episodes, for everything it gets so South Park-ian, it’s inexcusable that when Stan uses his “Marked For Death” attack — which commands his dog Sparky to come forth and join the fight — against other dogs, that Sparky doesn’t try to fuck the other dogs. Seriously? How did you guys miss this?
South Park: The Stick Of Truth also has a problem so common in games these days that I now just cut and paste this paragraph into almost every game review I do: the type is too small. Unless you sit really, really close to your TV — y’know, like your mama told you not to — you’ll have a hard time reading any of the menus or the object identifiers or the messages or the subtitles…. So much so that, whenever I have to look up my next objective, or go through my items, or look at the map, I had to stand up and get close to the TV.
In the end, South Park: The Stick Of Truth should’ve been way less complicated, could’ve been action-oriented, and thus would’ve been more of what their fans would want to play. But it isn’t. Instead, it’s deeper, more complicated, and takes a lot more time to get a handle on. And that’s okay because, once you figure it out, you’ll realize that this is not just the best South Park game ever made, and not just the best game Obsidian have ever made, and not just one of the best games based on an American cartoon for adults, but one of the best games of 2014 so far. Which, as Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and even Kenny might say, is pretty freakin’ sweet.