South Park: The Stick of Truth Xbox 360 l PlayStation 3 l PC
DEVELOPER: Obsidian Entertainment
WRITERS: Trey Parker, Matt Stone
RELEASE DATE: March 4, 2014
It begins with a simple screen of black, the words “Press START” floating in the middle while some epic music plays in the background. Is this the next big fantasy video game? Why no, this is South Park: The Stick of Truth.
Fans of the hit Comedy Central animated series have been awaiting the arrival of this game for a long time now after various speedbumps (it was initially being published by THQ, who ended up going under before Ubisoft swooped in and saved the day) and delays saw its release date pushed back again and again. Sometimes delays like this can spell doom for a game. Sometimes it simply means that the game’s makers are taking as much time as necessary to deliver the best possible product.
Well the time is now, folks. The Stick of Truth finally hits store shelves today. Continue reading to see if it is everything you’ve hoped it would be, or if it’s just another animated TV show turned video game that fails to deliver!
After the above mentioned start screen and a brief cinematic intro, the game kicks off with your character creation. This is South Park, so obviously your character is simple enough. But there are plenty of options to help you make your character your own. First you pick a skin color (including the glowing orange of “New Jersey Spray-Tan” if you wish it so). From there you choose a hairstyle and color, outfit, and any distinguishing features you might want such as freckles or scars and so on.
When you’re all set, the game can begin. You play as the new kid in the town of South Park, a rather, well…quiet…kid, who may or may not remember why they had to move there from wherever they last lived. Your first objective, per the demand of your parents, is to get out there and meet some new friends. Making friends is part of the game; as you meet new people—many of whom will be very familiar to fans of the show—they’ll be added to your social network, and they’ll post status messages on your profile as you play. Because, as we all know, it’s all about the social networking these days.
Not long after starting you’ll meet the Grand Wizard, Eric Cartman, and learn about the Stick of Truth. And that’s where I’ll stop when it comes to story, because it’s just too much damn fun to play this game knowing as little as possible.
The first and most important thing to keep in mind is that South Park: The Stick of Truth is not just created by Obsidian Entertainment, the makers of games like Fallout: New Vegas (which I just finally beat recently with no knowledge that I was going to get to review this game at the time, believe it or not), Neverwinter Nights 2, and Alpha Protocol. The most crucial of decisions made when it comes to this game is when South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided that they would be heavily involved in the making of the game, unlike previous games based on the show. They wrote it. They voiced all of their characters. These things are of paramount importance to the final product’s quality.
Because of how involved Parker and Stone were in the game’s development, The Stick of Truth is everything you so desperately wanted it to be…and feared it might not be. The game truly feels like you’re playing around in an episode of the show. And not just the cut scenes, which are identical to watching an episode of the show, but even the gameplay. As you move around the world, you and the other characters move just like they would on the show. It’s amazing. But as a bonus, this is of course a video game, so there’s much more to see and experience than you’d find in one 20-ish-minute single episode. With multiple storylines you feel as if you’re playing through multiple episodes or one of the great multi-part mini-movies we’ve seen made like Imaginationland. Hell, some of the game is directly related to/inspired by actual episodes such as the “Black Friday” three-parter (click right here for a guide of episodes you can check out before or even after playing).
Speaking of gameplay, I have to be honest about something: I absolutely despise turn-based RPG games. Always have. I’m all about realism in most of the games I enjoy, and my character saying “OK, your turn!” in a combat situation always crossed me as completely and utterly stupid. I know many gamers disagree, but it’s how I’ve always felt. This game is a turn-based RPG. But for whatever reason, the whole turn-based thing sounded perfectly acceptable to me for a South Park game. Because I knew that it wasn’t going to be a serious game. By no means has it won me over on turn-based combat, but if you’re like me and not a fan, do not let it deter you from playing. It will take a little getting used to, but everything is laid out easy enough for you to grasp onto and you should have no problem getting in a comfy groove quickly.
As you’d expect from an RPG, there’s an insane amount of options when it comes to weapons and outfits and added goodies. You’ll constantly be finding new stronger weapons and new gear that offers special bonuses, and you can always boost these things via special augmentations (stickers and such—this is just kids playing make believe after all…most of the time anyway). You’ll also be able to sell all kinds of items you find on your adventures in order to buy more shiny new toys.
Another thing that should be mentioned is the game’s map. This is the first time ever that Parker and Stone had to actually figure out where everything was located in the town of South Park. In episodes of the show they simply show the front of the school or someone’s house or wherever the next scene is set and that’s all that’s needed. In the game, you have to actually be able to walk around the small town. This isn’t something that makes or breaks the game one way or the other, but it is a very cool little bonus for you die-hard fans to enjoy taking in.
When it comes to making a game like this, there are two main paths that can be traveled. One is to be as faithful to the source as humanly possible, and the other is to try to appeal to the die-hard fans of the source material AND those who are not as familiar with it in hopes of maximizing potential profit. The latter path usually ends in messy, confusing failure.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a game made very specifically for fans of South Park. In addition to it feeling exactly like you’re playing around in that TV world, it’s also overflowing with more references to past episodes than I could possibly list off. Everywhere you look—whether it’s a quest line involving Al Gore searching obsessively for ManBearPig, or a familiar song playing on the radio in one of the buildings you enter, or one of the many different items you’ll find while looting that you can either save (I couldn’t bring myself to sell Butters’ tap shoes or Mr. Twig, for example) or you can sell for a buck or two—there’s something familiar to smile and laugh about.
That’s not to say you can’t go and pick up a copy of the game today without having ever seen an episode of the show and still enjoy it, but I would advise you to make sure you’re aware of what you’re getting yourself into. Don’t go buying it for yourself or your kids and then complain about it later. It is not for the faint of heart, and if you are someone who can be insulted, even if it’s not easily, you probably will be here. The game is every bit as raunchy and graphic and downright shocking as many of us have come to expect from South Park (even censored in some countries). And it is, without a doubt, one of the craziest, most hilariously enjoyable gaming experiences I have had in a long time.