Take part in an epic quest to save the town of South Park.
PC Release: March 3, 2014
By Ian Coppock
Even the most hardened of horror fans can get worn out by hours of puzzles and being chased by monsters. When this occurs, a good chaser is in order, typically something with a completely different tone and maybe some humor to bury the emotional scars. After such a game as Wednesday’s Lethe – Episode One, it’s time to shift gears to something a little lighter. A little funnier. A little more… South Park.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a game set in everyone’s favorite quiet mountain town. It’s also the first in a long line of licensed South Park games to actually be any good. Why is it good? Because the creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, served as creative directors for the game. Parker and Stone are gamers themselves and huge fans of epic role-playing games like Oblivion and Skyrim. They wanted to apply that love of fantasy adventure to their TV show, so they teamed up with Obsidian Entertainment to craft a game no less surreal and no less ridiculous than the TV show that preceded it.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is evidence that for a licensed or movie video game to be any good, it needs the involvement of the people behind the original project. King Kong: The Official Game of The Movie was good because Peter Jackson was involved. Alien: Isolation and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor were good because the minds behind the Alien and The Lord of The Rings movies were involved. Games that are rushed out to coincide with movies and TV shows, but without any involvement from said movies and TV shows, are almost certainly destined to fail. Not South Park.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a comedy fantasy game. Players can insert themselves into the South Park universe as the New Kid, a custom-created 4th-grader who moves to South Park with his parents at the beginning of the game. The New Kid is ordered by his overbearing parents to go out into the town and make friends, and discovers that the other boys in the town are locked in an epic struggle for the Stick of Truth, an artifact that can apparently control all space and time. The boys are divided into two teams: the Kingdom of Kupa Keep (KKK) led by “Grand Wizard” Eric Cartman, and the Elves, led by Kyle Broflovski. The New Kid is drawn into this mighty war as a recruit, befriending such series regulars as Butters, Stan, and Randy Marsh/Lorde. Nearly all of the TV show’s regular and recurring characters appear in the show, all voiced by the original cast.
As the New Kid, players can pick one of several classes, ranging from the warrior Paladin to the magical Mage to the mischievous Jew (oh South Park). Just like in classic role-playing games, players craft their New Kid from the ground up with a variety of hair and cosmetic options, and then add weapons, armor and other equipment found throughout the game. South Park: The Stick of Truth contains a central narrative surrounded by equally humorous side quests. The New Kid can traverse the town of South Park on a quest for the Stick of Truth, or help the town’s wonky denizens with other matters. Whether it’s finding Jesus at the church (no, literally, he’s hiding in the pews) or helping Al Gore track down the terrifying Manbearpig, there’s no shortage of hilarious shout-outs to the TV show in this game.
Most of the gameplay in South Park: The Stick of Truth revolves around battling enemy kids and nefarious monsters, and these play out in quick turn-based matches. Most turn-based combat is slow, but in South Park it’s so fast that the game almost acts like it’s ashamed of it. Players can battle other kids with physical weapons and an assortment of class-based powers, and use potions (read: candy bars) to heal or restore mana. Regardless of his class, the New Kid also has the ability to use farts in battle, leading Cartman to proclaim him as the Dragonborn.
Despite being turn-based, the combat in South Park: The Stick of Truth is really fun, relying on a combination of quick strategy and funny powers to get the job done. The New Kid can journey across South Park with a buddy, starting out with Butters and adding more kids to the roster as the game goes. Winning battles in South Park: The Stick of Truth requires careful management of potions and resources, especially against the game’s many bosses. The New Kid can also summon a third warrior, like Jesus or Mr. Kim, to aid in battle.
Apart from combat, there’s a lot of fun to be had in walking around South Park. Players can transition from scene to scene fluidly, and visit every locale in the town from Tom’s Rhinoplasty to Skeeter’s Bar. Most of these places have hidden treasure and quests to be found, and players can rifle through containers for items just like in countless fantasy RPGs. A lot of the items found throughout the game come from the TV show; Randy Marsh’s Creme Fraiche, from the hilarious episode of the same name, can be found in the Marsh house’s fridge. The “Margaritaville” blender Stan tries to return can be found in the bank, right next to the “Aaaaand it’s gone” bank guy, who’s become a meme of his own in Internet culture.
Walking around the town of South Park is surprisingly engrossing. It’s easy to get from one end of the town to the other, and there are many buildings to explore and many South Park references to laugh at. The game’s world was crafted with an attention to detail that only the creators of the show could bring, and bring it they did. Fans of the show will find no shortage of things to point and laugh at while walking around in South Park.
The main plot of the game plays out like an episode of South Park; a mysterious event happens in the middle of otherwise normal affairs, there’s an overblown, ridiculous response, and everyone gets swept up trying to clean it up. Though a game about elves and warriors seems innocent on the surface, strange events are happening throughout South Park. From alien sightings to the federal government apparently building a giant Taco Bell, something is definitely up in South Park, and the New Kid’s arrival to the town might not be a coincidence.
Though the plot of the game is certainly funny, it doesn’t deviate from the South Park formula at all, for better and worse. The situations may be new, but the themes are the same. South Park: The Stick of Truth utilizes the same blend of wit and cringe humor in its approach to storytelling, creating one of the funniest games ever made. Parker and Stone have a lot of fun with this new storytelling medium, forcing the player to participate directly in the wit… and the cringe. Obviously, a game like this is not exactly for the under-18s, but inveterate South Park fans and adult humor enthusiasts in general will find a lot to puncture a lung at.
Between its fluid combat, engrossing world, and apt application of the TV show’s humor, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a strong debut game for Parker and Stone, but the game does have a few design flaws. The most glaring one is that players can’t play as a girl; South Park has plenty of female fans, and denying them (or anyone) the ability to be female inadvertently alienates a lot of the audience. Sure, “the girls” play a huge role later on in the story, but being able to play as a girl could’ve opened up new narrative paths for the game. It would’ve been really interesting to see the core four boys of the TV show have to regularly interact with a new female character, but alas, no such luck.
Additionally, the DLC for this game is a complete ripoff. To be fair, this almost certainly has nothing to do with Parker and Stone and everything to do with Ubisoft, the game’s publisher and current challenger to Electronic Arts for the prestigious “Worst Video Game Company To Ever Exist Ever” award. Five bucks for a collection of equipment that becomes useless right after the game’s prologue? Even by Ubisoft standards, that’s pretty low. Do NOT get the DLC for this game. Despite what Cartman implies to the New Kid, it’s barely worth a dollar, let alone five. Worst Ubisoft DLC since the “bonus” weapons for Assassin’s Creed Unity.
Apart from these glaring flaws, there’s really little else to be said about South Park: The Stick of Truth. Hardcore RPG fans might find the role-playing a little light, but the game’s quick combat and hilarious content makes it a great game. Any fan of South Park who also games will want to pick this up immediately, especially with the sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, due out this December. South Park: The Stick of Truth joins Alien: Isolation and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor as a triumvirate of evidence that licensed games can be good, if the same passion and drive that helms the original media is present.
You can buy South Park: The Stick of Truth here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.