The South Park franchise hasn’t had the easiest of rides when it comes to video games. The last one I remember playing was a First Person Shooter on the N64, which wasn’t great. South Park: The Stick of Truth, however, is an RPG developed by Obsidian that has been garnering quite a bit of attention. Will we be respecting its “authoritah”, or will it be sucking our chocolate salty [edited for European release].
Initially, the story focuses on the battle between the Humans led by Cartman and the Elven Army led by Kyle, fighting over the Stick of Truth – which is literally just a plain stick – for whoever holds the stick controls the world. The player takes on the role of the new kid in town, and as someone who can turn the tide of the battle, both sides are keen to sign you up! However, you might just hold a secret or two of your own.
As you would hope from a South Park game, it’s frequently hilarious, and fans won’t be disappointed in the slightest. The dialogue is great, and while there are plenty of in-jokes to enjoy, you won’t have to be a die-hard South Park nut to enjoy it. My own favourite running gag comes whenever Jimmy is on-screen. I won’t ruin it, but I love those cu… cucucucu… cuuuu… cuuuuut… scenes.
It’s not just the dialogue that is funny, as the situations you are put in when exploring the town are ludicrously brilliant and imaginative. I wish I could tell you more, but that would simply ruin the fun.
No matter how humorous the characters are, South Park: The Stick of Truth would have fallen flat on its face if the actual gameplay wasn’t up to scratch. Luckily this is not the case. The game revolves are several key mechanics, the first of which is making friends. By walking around South Park you’ll come across a whole host of familiar faces – most of which you can add to your social media friends list and can be accessed at any time via the inventory screen.
Getting friends unlocks another gameplay mechanic; the perks, you use to develop your character. This might sound like a breeze, but more often than not you’ll need to complete a task before anyone will be your friend and some characters won’t even give you the time of day unless you have a certain amount of friends on your list. These tasks often start out sounding like simple fetch-quests, for example, but generally end up unravelling quickly into different storylines.
There’s an impressive amount of customisation on offer. Alongside the aforementioned perks, you can also alter the appearance of you character in goodness knows how many ways, as well as RPG staples such as weapons, armour, head-gear and equipment modifiers. New weapons aren’t so frequent that you’ll get overwhelmed, but neither is the game miserly. It’s a great balance in my opinion.
There are also several character classes, one of which you’ll have to choose at the beginning. The Fighter is a melee specialist; the Mage uses magic, the Thief uses sneak attacks and the Jew class (yes, you read that correctly) has access to abilities such as “Jew-Jitsu”.
Then there is the power of your farts. At various stages in the game you’ll be taught how to control that particular bodily function, each time giving you access to a new spell, for lack of a better word. These can be used in battle, while using up mana points, but also in the game world to overcome obstacles and uncover hidden areas. In fact, taking a walk through South Park can uncover all manner of things if you happen to pay attention.
There comes a point in every task where a fight breaks out, and this is where South Park’s interesting battle system comes in to play. It’s a turn based system, but one that requires the player to interact with every move in a fashion which makes every battle more interesting. For example, Kyle has a move where his army unleashes a whole load of arrows. Rather than just selecting this and watching it happen, you are required to input button presses as they appear on screen. Get it wrong and arrows will fly, but will only land a fraction of the damage.
As well as standard melee attacks, you’ll unlock a whole host of different abilities through levelling up, which can then be upgraded in turn. Then there’s the buddy system, through which various South Park characters will join you to fight by your side. These characters can be swapped at any time, and they all have unique abilities that can also help solve puzzles around town, when farting isn’t doing the trick.
More character appearaces occur when you gain access to summons through task completions. These are one-use characters that will appear and do large amounts of damage. Once they’ve appeared you have to wait a day before going back to that particular character and requesting them as a summon again. It did make me smile having a machine gun wielding Jesus as a summonable character.
All of this adds up to battles that can actually be really tactical, but when set to normal difficulty, South Park: The Stick of Truth is ridiculously easy. I don’t play many RPGs, but I managed to breeze through most fights using a bit of common sense and good equipment management. The only times I died where when trying to fight certain people who were too high a level, so my advice would be to whack the difficulty up to hard.
Visually, the game is fantastic, and truly looks as though you’re playing through the cartoon. Unfortunately, there were occasional framerate stutters on the Xbox 360 version. In the game world this isn’t too big a deal, but when it happens in battle and causes you to miss a button prompt, it can get irritating. While we’re on negative points, I also found the map quite slow and clumsy to use.
The thing that is going to prove most divisive though, is the length of the game. I completed the main story, plus a good chunk of the side quests, in less than eleven hours. Personally I think the game is paced perfectly, with next to no pointless filler, but if you’re expecting a 40 hour epic then you’re going to be disappointed.
Frame rate issues aside, I really enjoyed my time with South Park: The Stick of Truth. The game is laugh out loud funny, while managing to eliminate a lot of the boring parts that seem to come with most RPGs. Hopefully the length of the game won’t put people off, as that would be a huge pity.
Oh, and the bits of the game that were censored for Europe are possibly even funnier because of it. The text screen that appears each time is pitched perfectly.
Version reviewed: Xbox 360