South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

Gaming

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South Park: The Stick of Truth
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment, South Park Digital Studios
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: Out Now!
Price: $59.99 – Available Here

Overview

After three delays, South Park: The Stick of Truth is finally here! Originally to be published by THQ, the RPG was planned for release in March, 2013. It wasn’t long after it’s first delay to just a month later in April that THQ infamously filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. In their assets auction, Ubisoft bought the publishing rights to the title, confirming a second delay to December of the same year. The final delay saw that date changed to March, 2014. Fans of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s iconic TV show have waited a long time, and expectations were held high throughout. If the game bombed – after an entire year of delays – the disappointment would be immense. Luckily, South Park: The Stick of Truth forces us to respect its authoritah and delivers.

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Story

Welcome to South Park. You’re the new kid in town, and boy what a “quiet mountain town” your parents decided to move to. Pushed outside to go and make new friends, “the new kid” steps in as Butters is bullied by another kid. Befriending the innocent, wholesome Butters grants you an introduction to Cartman, who rules as the “Wizard King” of the KKK (Kingdom of Kupa Keep). Yes, the racism starts strong and early in South Park: The Stick of Truth. The “Grand Wizard” (pick a moniker and stick with it already!) takes it upon himself to christen you “Douchebag” and enlists you in the ever-waging war against the Elves (for whom Kyle is King) over possession of ‘the stick of truth’. Just as the conflict heightens, a new threat arises, leading to a Government cover-up, military intervention and… Nazi Zombies?! What began as a children’s game of make-believe turns into a true struggle for South Park’s very existence. Throughout the 12-14 hour experience, all major South Park characters are encountered, along with some of the more minor ones too, but every single one gets their just focus and spotlighted moments. References to hundreds of episodes worth of television can be found around every corner, with the signature South Park sense of humour and spirit in tact and permeating throughout.

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Gameplay

South Park: The Stick of Truth presents itself as a light role-playing game, although the mechanics do deepen significantly as the game wears on. That being said, the learning curve remains gradual. At times, the game will feel almost too easy, especially if you take your time to explore, sell junk, do side-quests and consequently find/be able to afford new equipment. At the start of the game, you are tasked with selecting a class, although the differences between the four available are not drastic enough to dramatically change your gameplay experience. They are: Fighter, Mage, Thief and Jew. Fighters can utilise heavy armors and two-handed weaponry, but then again, so can the others. The real thing that makes each class unique is their inherent special abilities. The Mage makes use of the elements, i.e., in South Park flavour, “Dragon’s Breath” – holding lit firecrackers in the face of an opponent – whilst the Thief is a master of inflicting debuffs, such as with “Backstab”, which causes bleeding in enemies, and “Mug”, which stuns victims. The Jew class calls upon religiously-themed abilities, such as “The Sling of David”, which can backfire and hurt the player if not executed perfectly, and “Plagues of Egypt”, which leaves the enemy awash in pestilence, rained upon by frogs, bombarded by fiery hail and sufficiently aggravated by flying insects.

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RPG fans will be familiar with much of the conditions that player can attain or place on a foe, such as “Attack Down” or “Defense Up”, but then there are states like “Pissed Off”, which results in the recipient being blinded by rage, focusing their next attacks on the attacker and being unable to utilise any special abilities until they calm down, so to speak. It’s a fantastic example of how a classic RPG element is twisted to feel right at home, tonally, within the context of a South Park game. Potions and other items can be consumed in the midst of battle, and do not take up your turn, allowing you to follow up with an attack. The aforementioned special abilities use up PP, while “fart attacks” – or magic – use up Mana, the latter of which does not replenish automatically. Juvenile, but that’s the way we like it! In battle, magic quickly became an after-thought, yet outside of battle they proved to serve a much more imperative purpose. Along your journey, teachers of the arts will bestow upon you the knowledge of a new kind of “magic”. The Dragonshout is your standard blast; the Cup-A-Smell enables the player to direct the gaseous emission; the Sneaky Squeaker can be controlled and detonated at will, distracted those within its putrid radius; and the Nagasaki… well, it’s name says it all… it can destroy boulders for God’s sake. It’s the nuke of ass-attacks.

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Modifiers can be applied to armours and weapons in order to add offensive and defensive effects such as “Does 100 Frost Damage” or “Takes 25% Less Damage from Grossed Out Opponents”. There is a lot of variety in opponents and their resistance to different debuffs. Some can even enter a riposting or reflecting stance, enabling them to counter melee and long-range attacks respectively. Active buddies on the battlefield  – of which there are 6 in total, but only one allowed at a time – each come with their own exclusive set of attributes and capabilities. Kenny, for instance, who chose to identify as a girl and dress up like a princess, can die in conflict, but needs no “Revive Potion”… instead, he is automatically resurrected after two turns, playing off his invincibility. Much like the farts, each of these characters has an ability that can also be used outside of combat. Butters, who is your first companion, can be ordered to heal an injured soul in the open-world, although this functionality is only remembered when it is mandatory to progress. Part of the reason why is that the iconography signifying where/when a moment calls for its use is very faint. The same can be said for fast travel points on the map, which are greyed out until you interact with one in the physical space. Exploration is a key element to the game, as is making Facebook friends. Doing so sometimes requires the completion of a presented side quest – specifically, Al Gore’s ManBearPig hunt features an entertaining conclusion.

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Can you remember them all? List them in the comments section below.

Any handle or access point that is painted gold can be opened/used, with junk ripe for looting everywhere you look. This junk can be sold at any merchant’s for spare change, basically, but it all adds up. Your character can be customised to the umpteenth level, and if you’ve got the money to spare, I recommend going to Tom’s Rhinoplasty and shelling out $175 for “The Hoff”. Besides costume sets, there are 30 hidden Chinpokomon to find and collect, as well as 120 Facebook friends to meet. Why is the social network so prevalent in this game? Because, for every increasingly large number of friends you make, you are granted a perk point that can be used to unlock a perk. Similarly, upgrades for your special abilities can be unlocked for every XP level you reach. As the wackiness unfolds, and you find yourself being probed aboard an alien spaceship (banned for Australia/Europe, sadly), dealing with underpants-hunting gnomes, and… shrinking and taking an excursion up someone’s rectum (“the OFLC meter is going crazy!”) – not all in the same level, mind you – you’ll periodically be dealt the tools to teleport to previously unreachable points, shrink to fit in cracks (wait for it) in the wall (ha!), blast through obstacles and use the environment to your advantage, executing simple traps and finding hidden locations/loot as you clear out an area. In all, there are more than basic RPG elements at play, giving more depth to the overall gameplay. Some of the systems could have been better integrated and differentiated, but South Park: The Stick of Truth always remains a fun time.

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Visuals & Audio

Trey and Matt made it a point to find a developer who could recreate the two-dimensional animated style that South Park employs, and after showcasing a couple proof-of-concept pieces to the duo, Obsidian were deemed to be the right fit. Now, having played through the game for myself, interacting with the environments and combing over every detail, its that much clearer from a fan/gamer’s perspective that the right choice was made. Pixel for pixel, this is South Park. A highlight, however, is visiting Canada and watching the graphics regress into 8-bit form as the nation’s blocky presentation from the animated series is taken to the next step; 8-bit musical renditions of “Oh Canada!” (and a couple other surprises) also accompany your travels therein. The game literally transforms into a take on the original The Legend of Zelda, which for true gamers is a real treat. As mentioned, visual callbacks abound, from the subtle to the not-so subtle. Cruise by each of the main cast’s homes, and enter their closets to reveal archive-like hoarders’ collections of items, costumes and more from episodes past. One in particular cannot be opened as, well… somebody refuses to come out from inside (did you see the clue?). Trey and Matt reprise all of their voice roles, and the writing is what you’d come to expect (offensive, ludicrous, gross, hysterical!). One of my favourite early Easter Eggs can be found inside Cartman’s bedroom, where you can play tracks from his Faith +1 album.

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Overall

South Park: The Stick of Truth is like playing a new season of the TV show. Its creators Trey and Matt have found excellent partners in Obsidian Entertainment who, together, have created a great, typically controversial, vulgar, hilarious, and fun RPG. It’s 100% trademark South Park, ensured by the writing and heavy involvement of both showrunners, and I see absolutely no possible, conceivable way for fans to be disappointed with the title. Some gameplay elements were undercooked and/or underutilised, and even at the Hardcore difficulty setting the combat could prove quite easy, but these perceived drawbacks are handily overshadowed by the authenticity and hysterics of the digital world and its crazy, eccentric inhabitants. One can only hope that we see some DLC in the future, as there was a fair amount of content featured in earlier promotional materials and screens that has since been cut for final release; I’d personally love to battle crab people and fight emo’s in a cemetery (they have it coming). Just promise me this, “never fart on someone’s balls”. That’s an important life lesson right there. Poetic. Oh, and that you’ll buy the game… unless you’re under 18 years old. In which case, “nyeah-nyeah-nyeah-nyeah-nyeah-nyeahhhhh!”

8-5-capsules-out-of-10
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.

I am a graduate of the Bachelor of Interactive Entertainment (w/ major in Games Design) course at Qantm College, Sydney.

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