Disclaimer: I love South Park. I once said, “South Park rarely disappoints” and I stand by that. I’ve seen almost every episode, and out of the seventeen seasons, I would say that only five to ten episodes were complete duds, which is no small feat. With that in mind, when I heard about South Park: The Stick of Truth, I got excited. How could I not? With Trey Parker and Matt Stone writing and Obsidian developing, this seemed like a surefire hit.
And for the most part, Stick of Truth succeeds, acting as a pseudo sequel to the Black Friday trilogy of last year, allowing it to stick to RPG and fantasy themes that South Park generally pulls off flawlessly. The humor is top-notch, never leaving much downtime in between jokes. Wherever you go in town, there’s bound to be either a character to talk to, a side-quest to perform, or some little hilarious joke in the background. The jokes often feel like they could have been from the series proper, and the best thing I can say about this game is that it truly feels like a twelve-hour South Park episode.
Stick of Truth turns South Park into a real place. In the cartoon, the map obviously didn’t need to be thought out, so the transition to an open-world game could have been disastrous. Here, the map, although relatively large (and in need of a better fast travel system), makes the small mountain town feel like a community, where you can just roam around, drop by a friends house and see what everyone’s up to. This is the game’s crowning achievement, overcoming its greatest hurdle with aplomb. The story is also classic South Park, though at times a bit too convoluted and complex for its own sake. The story never takes itself too seriously and feels like a true, albeit relatively weak, episode. The humor is there, but it won’t be as often quoted as Make Love, Not Warcraft, Passion of the Jew, or any of the other classic episodes. That said, it’s still funnier than 99% of games ever made.
Obsidian has proven its capability with combat systems before, and here is no exception. The combat is turn-based, but complex, relying on armor, shields and abilities to force players to switch up tactics. The different classes all play incredibly differently, and other party members each have their own uses, be it Butters as a strong paladin or Stan having decent area attacks. Weapons and armor can be equipped and modified with enchantments and buffs. Unfortunately, the game’s tutorial glosses over many important aspects, leaving early boss battles to be almost trial and error in their execution. Also, certain moves and abilities feel a little too overpowered, to the point where they almost became a crutch. Once someone gets the hang of it though, battles become about strategically using party members and status effects against your opponent and become incredibly fun to figure out.
If combat in this game could be compared to anything though, it would be the Mario & Luigi games. Just like those games, you can time attacks to add more power, abilities require more complex button prompts, and by timing your presses, you can block some of the damage. Although this allows combat to feel more active, a common criticism against turn-based RPGs, this turns more into a case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In the Mario & Luigi games, instead of simply blocking damage, the timed button presses allow you to avoid all damage. This helped add some skill into what is usually a stats-based system. By not including this, it feels almost like a tacked on feature. Furthermore, the effects used to show when to block are so faint that they detract from the often-humorous enemy animations.
A great addition to the game, however, is the ability to eliminate enemies outside of combat. Often, in the environment, context sensitive objects can be triggered to knock out enemies in the room. This turns a lot of the rooms into a puzzle and allows players a way to get out of grinding through battle after battle. Often times, the most rewarding feeling in the game is knocking out every enemy in the room, Arkham Asylum style, without getting into a single encounter.
The game’s pace hits the nail almost directly on the head, choosing to last about 10 hours, perhaps 15 hours for 100%. Oftentimes, just when you’re getting bored of a theme or aesthetic, the game will either give you a new ability or change up the world for you, including fun night levels that had me laughing almost the whole time. The game’s level design could use some tweaking though, as certain levels have no map, forcing backtracking and guesswork to get some simple progress. Mission structure could also benefit from less sidetracking. Lots of missions involve you needing to impress person X by going to person Y, but person Y needs you to kill animal Z, who you can only get to by talking to a random NPC across the world. If the humor wasn’t there, this would be a far larger complaint, but it’s South Park.
And that’s the main thing that holds this game for me. Yes, the game has some frame-rate issues, but it’s South Park. Yes, the audio cut out for me twice, but it’s South Park. Yes, the map is almost completely useless, going from too close to even closer, but it’s South Park. The menus are clunky, the game feels slightly rushed and unpolished, and the ending is abrupt.
But, it’s South Park. It’s pure South Park, and for me, that’s more than enough.