South Park: The Stick of Truth, a collaboration between Obsidian and South Park creators Trey and Matt, sees the familiar cast of the mature cartoon wage war in a role playing adventure of epic proportions.
It tells the tale of the battle between proud humans and the elf people. These two factions are fighting for the ultimate prize, the Stick of Truth, a mythical item that gives control of the Universe to its bearer.
At first, players may find themselves confused when starting to play the game. The resemblance to the TV show is uncanny. Everything from the beloved characters fans have grown up with to the town setting looks exactly the same. The striking visual style that has ensured South Park will still feel relevant for years to come also has the same effect on this game.
Once getting over how it feels like being part of of an episode from the show, players are given options to customise a new character. Players take on the role of a new kid that has just moved into town. A clever trick since players can easily relate to this blank canvas by being able to choose hair styles, clothes and so on.
In true South Park fashion, the character class choices given range from the traditional fighter to a Jew. Yes, this game is the proper South Park experience right down to how it is played. The majority of the game is spent fighting enemies – be it the opposite faction or unusual ones such as a raving homeless man.
Combat is turned based and consists of the player’s character teaming up with an ally against one or more enemies. Although there are new ideas added throughout the story, the combat itself feels simplified when compared to most RPG. Although this does make it accessible to those who are not so keen on spending hours levelling up in dungeons. During each character’s turn, it is possible to make use of physical attacks, abilities and magic.
Physical attacks are the most common seeing as it’s not necessary to use up points with these moves. Both abilities and magic make use of individual points. Not that it matters much since items used to replenish both are easily found and ability points seem to refill after each battle.
Making use of all three requires the player to press a button at the right time or move the analogue sticks in one direction, so the damage dealt by the character is maximised. Unfortunately, some of the moves make use of some tricky controls. This seems to mostly affect the fart magic attacks. Yes, the magic in this game consists of different farts used both in combat and on the field. Blocking consists of pressing one button when the on-screen prompt appear. A successful block will result in character losing a smaller chunk of health points. There are also special characters who can help in battle once per day.
The issue with the combat seeming too simple is how easy it is to rely on certain moves. The fighter class has an ability involving a baseball that makes characters bleed(lose health after each attack). Bleed is one of the various status ailments that characters can receive. The fact that the bleeding ailment has a multiplier means an enemy can lose a large chunk of health in one go.
It may seem like a smart strategy but can take some of the fun out of combat. On a few occasions, enemies are weaker to certain attacks, but this still doesn’t make much of a difference. Not that it means the combat is terrible. Far from it as the fights never get to the point where they become forgettable. The various unusual boss fights and the lead up to them more than make up for it.
It feels like the same applies to allies used in battle. Butters is the first ally and perhaps the one most will use throughout the story. His range of attacks and abilities make him a versatile character. In comparison other character never feel quite as useful.
Some of the character abilities can be used on the field to find new paths and even defeat enemies. It may seem insignificant, but the ability to defeat enemies by doing something like causing an explosion with a fart is ever so satisfying. It’s not only because it means less confrontations – characters still earn experience used to level up and subsequently upgrade abilities – but it makes the player feel in control. Even more so after figuring out some of the less obvious ways to use the environment to knock out enemies by making use of abilities.
The story is moved forward by completing quests for other characters. Each quest that players must complete is usually split up into smaller goals. These are cleverly designed so that it never seems like the player is just doing fetch request. Not a lot of video-games can claim to feature quests where the character must find Jesus. Every request gets more bizarre and it makes players eager to find out what comes next.
Perhaps it’s the use of an interface similar to a modern social website that makes everything come together. Every tab of the website interface focuses on a different aspect likes quests to complete and a character profile to change equipment. The use of otherwise trivial features like a wall, where characters added as friends can share messages, makes the social theme feel authentic.
The story starts off simply enough as a quest to regain the fabled stick. However, it soon becomes clear that there is much more at stake. In fact, each day spent in this world is akin to playing through one episode of the show. It’s clear that the developers and show creators had a blast working together on this game. Although crude at times, it never fails to amuse and it never turns offensive. Which is why it is puzzling that a few scenes have been omitted in the European edition. Even more so given that similar images are viewed whilst playing through the game.
Not that this minor step back manages to even make a dent on the story’s quality. The game is eager to amuse and it’s impossible not to burst out laughing many times throughout the story. Then again it is all down to the player’s sense of humour given that certain scenes are bound to make some blush. But the situations presented end up being so bizarre that it’s impossible to take anything too serious.
It’s surprising to see the team make use of serious issues, like a certain scene involving a perverted photographer, without it ending up being offensive. This is after all an authentic representation of the South Park world and we all know how far some of the jokes go in the show. Even the game’s obsession with bum holes and farting never never overstays its stay – mostly due to the fact that it’s just too funny to take seriously.
The story also manages to successfully include jokes at the expense of modern trends. The very fact that one of the main aspects of the game is clearly adding Facebook friends is a reflection on modern society. These kids are part of the social networking generation and it shows in the way that they interact with each other.
Now when I was younger I played this Simpsons game on the PC where it was possible to explore the whole town of Springfield. I would spend hours examining every small detail and feeling like I actually was visiting this virtual place. To this very day, it’s still not clear what the goal of the game was, yet it’s possible to remember it fondly due to the almost obsessive nature of recreating the virtual Springfield.
It’s also possible to pretty much explore the town of South Park from the start – with a few exceptions that are part of the story. The town of South Park isn’t quite as big, but the urge to explore is still there. Any fan of the show will eagerly check out every place that made an appearance in the show.. There is so much to see and interact with that it becomes one of the highlights of playing. There’s also a fast travel option where Timmy transports characters between certain areas that the player has visited.
Perhaps it’s the size of the town, but there is a fair amount of loading occurring whilst moving between sections of town or making use of fast travel option. It’s not that it will ruin the experience, but it is still noticeable. There are also one or two isolated cases where the game seems to struggle with what is happening on-screen. A small price to pay to experience such a random tale.
The world of South Park is brought to life in a way that will please even the most hardcore fan. There isn’t a moment where it fails to amuse with new ideas being added at every opportunity. Whilst nothing special, the combat works with many weapons and powers for players to try using. This is perhaps the best title to have been released out of everything THQ was planning on releasing and Ubisoft was wise to obtain the publishing rights for it.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a resounding success that will no doubt remain in the minds of those who play it.