I threw feces at a kid holding a lunch tray, followed swiftly with a fart and a baseball bat to his face that killed him. That, ladies and gentlemen, is South Park: The Stick of Truth. It isn’t for everybody, but for those who enjoy the show like I mostly have over the years, this is a great 16 hour episode. Even better still, it is a very good RPG and one of my favorite games this year so far.
Players are put into the shoes of the new kid, or “Douchebag” as Cartman fondly refers to him, while the town of South Park is involved in a massive live action role playing game (LARP). For those who have watched the show, especially the “Black Friday” trilogy, will fit right into the world that developer Obsidian, Trey Parker, and Matt Stone. Cartman leads the faction of Humans against Kyle’s Elves as they battle over the Stick of Truth. It’s a silly concept to fight over a stick, although one that not only fits in perfectly with South Park, but with most children growing up. It’s this innocence of a child mixed with extremely inappropriate behavior of South Park that sums up the storyline perfectly.
The mixture of a giant LARP event, Aliens, and government conspiracy makes up for much of the game’s plot which also contains a mixture of old jokes; both good and bad. The humor in The Stick of Truth is, much like the show, hit or miss. More times than not I caught myself laughing out loud. Sometimes so much so that my roommate felt the need to come see what was so funny. Unfortunately, he also was able to bear witness to the less funny and more inappropriate humor that accompany many South Park episodes over the past 17 seasons. The awkwardness of explaining to a grown man why I’m playing a game that has an intense anal probe scene is much more difficult than one might expect. If I were to suggest anything, I would say that if you play this around parents, roommates, or significant others without the same sense of humor as Parker and Stone, to play it at a lower volume. The game is incredibly graphic.
As I have already mentioned, The Stick of Truth is best comparable to the show. Not just because of the content, but because of the art style as well. The game looks and sounds identical to the show. The character and environment designs are lifted straight from the show and so much so that it’s easy to, in a glance, think somebody is watching an episode. It’s almost weird to say aloud or type, but Obsidian has made one of the most immersive experiences of many games I’ve played. Considering it’s done with paper cutouts, that’s an impressive feat.
As fantastic as the game looks, it is also a fantastically designed role playing game stock full of an upgrade system, loot, factions, and more one might expect from games like a Mass Effect or Final Fantasy. Classic callbacks take the form of loot that you find on your journey and new equipment are made of things like South Park Cows football gear and costumes. A lot of the junk items like hypodermic needles and pubic hair can be sold (yes, sold) to different shops populated by fan favorite characters. Some items you find may seem like junk but later turn into quest items. It’s a rare occasion that while playing an RPG, I didn’t feel like I was going through the motions of RPG’s past. Some items collected are hilarious for fans of the show, and finding out that a pair of underwear I can’t sell are later added to my quest was a refreshing take on the tropes of other games in the genre.
One of my least favorite aspects of the game was most definitely the combat. Although pretty well designed, it couldn’t hold a match to the atmosphere. There were some awesome boss battles and show throwbacks, but the overall battling system was rather underwhelming. As a turn based RPG, the game performs relatively well but often times I found myself grunting at having to fight the “grunts” throughout the game. For the most part it was attack, wait for enemy buffs, and then repeat which works but it wasn’t anything incredibly innovative. I cannot, however, emphasize how awesome the boss battles are. Without giving away anything, battling an underpants gnome in a very strange battle arena was one of the most memorable events in a game I have literally ever played.
I also found the battle inventory very annoying to navigate. There isn’t much of an organization to it which made it difficult to locate items quickly and efficiently. What might have worked better is a system labelled by HP, Mana, Special, and Buffs but instead you have to scroll through South Park memorabilia to find something that gives you a speed boost. Luckily, both allies and enemies alike make comments about how long it’s taking to find an item adding a hilarious consolation for the disorganized system Obsidian has established. Gripes aside, the battle system mostly works the way it is intended and would not deter me from suggesting the game to anybody.
One thing that should be brought to everyone’s attention are the rather poor frame-rate drops that occur constantly throughout the game. Transitioning from screen to screen brings with it a drastic fame-rate drop that almost puts the game at a standstill. The only time it was really an issue were during transitions and the rest of the game ran perfectly fine. It was more annoying than it was game breaking.
What Obsidian, Parker, and Stone have accomplished through all of the turmoil of THQ’s demise is impressive enough, but the fact that they did while making a fantastic game is admirable. I went in to The Stick of Truth with a cautious optimism and came out a rejuvenated fan of the series and RPG’s as a whole. Although it can get extremely awkward on so many levels, this game is the best 18 hours I’ve spent in a long time.
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