South Park: The Stick of Truth Review – PC/Steam

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After years of suspenseful anticipation South Park: The Stick of Truth has finally been unleashed to what will soon be the delight of South Park fans and RPG-adventure gamers everywhere.  I’ve been rolling with laughter for the past 20+ hours as I made my way through our pick for Best Xbox 360 Game and Best RPG of E3 2012.  Sure, it’s almost two years late but it was worth the wait.  Matt Stone and Trey Parker have created something wholly unique here, and The Stick of Truth plays out more like an entire season of the show rather than a video game thanks to excellent production values that mirror both the look and sound of the show down to the finest detail.

This is normally where I would say, “you don’t have to be a fan of the show to enjoy this game” but you really do.  The game is bursting at the seams with insider jokes, winks, nods, and subtle nuances that only the most diehard fans will notice or appreciate.  Sure, the game is playable and entertaining if you are coming in cold, but it really helps if you are already used to South Park’s special brand of humor, which is meant to offend everyone equally at all times.

I’ll keep the story details at a minimum to avoid spoilers, as this is one of the few games of recent memory that has a story worth discovering.  Basically you play a new kid who has just moved to South Park under mysterious circumstances.  At the insistence of his parents he goes outside to play and encounters Butters who he saves from a fight.   It’s a fake fight as all of the boys in town are currently LARPing (live action role-play), so the grateful paladin takes the new boy to meet his master, the Wizard King (aka Eric Cartman).  He is accepted into their ranks and thusly dubbed Douchebag before beginning a short but competent tutorial on how to fight.

The Stick of Truth uses a turn-based combat system much like the older Final Fantasy games in which you and up to one other party member will face off against enemies of varying type and numbers.  Using a command wheel you can choose between melee, ranged, and magic attacks, as well as other special abilities specific to the character or progress in the game.  Each character gets a turn that allows them to access a potion and also attack.  Modifiers like a Speed potion can double your attack while negative buffs inflicted by the enemy can slow you down or even stun you causing you to miss your turn.

The best powers in the game are your character-specific abilities like the Thief’s backstab or the Wizard’s fireball (Roman candle) spell.  There is also a Fighter and a Jew class, and they all have their own unique power and upgrade path.  I tried all four and they all seemed perfectly balanced as far as gameplay, so it basically boils down to what kind of player you are.  Once you have mastered combat Cartman will unveil The Stick of Truth that grants the possessor ultimate power over the game, but just as quickly the Stick is stolen by the Elves, a rival group of LARPers headed up by Stan and Kyle.  It’s only when the Stick is stolen by a third party that the two rival factions must join forces to defeat their new common enemy.

Over the course of 20 hours you will be given a wide assortment of quests and side-missions that will take you all over South Park to all of your favorite locations from the show as well as some excursions to a zombie-infested woods, a remote farmhouse, and even a substantial visit to Canada where the game takes on a unique 8-bit graphics style that brought back found memories of my very first Ultima game.  Now I want a cloth map of South Park.  Missions are structured so that you always have goals that will advance the story as well as numerous side-quests that boost your XP for completing them as well as all the extra combat they produce.   It’s a clever balancing system that ensures your character is always at a suitable skill level to tackle the next story quest.  It works so well in fact that I never once got to an area or boss fight and found myself underpowered.

One of your first missions is to recruit three missing players.  Tweek is working at his dad’s coffee shop and you’ll need to help him finish his chores before he can play, while Token is locked away in his palatial estate to the north of town.  And then you have Craig who is currently serving detention and will require a full-on rescue raid on the school.

One design element I really loved was that everything that can be opened and searched is highlighted in gold from drawer handles to door knobs, and anything that can be remotely shot and activated glints with a silver sparkle.  There are numerous collectibles; some quest-specific like finding five pairs of underpants, and others that span the entire game like finding all 30 Chinpokomon.   There are so many other random items ranging from armor and weapons to patches and attachment mods to boost your gear with special perk powers.  There are all sorts of potions to boost strength, healing, mana, and power, and an almost infinite possibility when it comes to customizing your character with hair, facial features, bears, glasses, and a variety of armor outfits that come in three-piece collectible sets.

Regardless your chosen class, you are never limited in what you can wear or what you can wield, so even though I was a Mage by choice I was bouncing around from Monk, Barbarian, Knight and even a Stupid Spoiled Whore.   Yes, you can only play a boy but that doesn’t stop you from dressing like a girl and it might just get you into the backroom of the abortion clinic.  And if the thought of an abortion clinic offends you then you better steer clear of this title as no politically incorrect stone is left unturned.  Everything from Nazis to KKK to pedophiles, beastiality, drug use, and even an adventure inside Mr. Slave’s well-used ass are hot topics in The Stick of Truth.  I’m hard to offend but even my jaw dropped when zombie fetuses started spilling out of the waste management system at Unplanned Parenthood and began eating the doctors, and you can’t even imagine who the “mother” of the boss fetus is.

It takes about an hour to level-up your character, which usually prompts a wardrobe and weapons change which in turns has you going through all your patches and mods to customize your new gear.  I was surprised at how fresh this kept the game even though you are essentially doing the same thing over and over.  When you start adding on fire, ice and electricity mods the visual variety of combat is always entertaining, and your ability to switch out your companion, even during combat, is another great way to mix things up and actually makes for some strategic gameplay in later encounters.

While the story and mission structure is going to be the same there is some great replayability in the order you can choose to tackle the missions as well as which characters you have active in any given situation.   There were a few instances where I cycled out characters just to hear their response, and some missions require you to have a specific character active like the trip to the farm for Jimmy’s flute.

There are so many crazy things to do in this game.  You can crap in toilets and collect your turds to throw at enemies later on to “gross them out”.   There are button mashing games for performing abortions and pattern memorization games for defeating alien anal probes.  You primary magical attack is rooted around four specific styles of farting, either a burst far, a guided fart, a stealth fart you can detonate behind enemies, and a super fart you’ll learn from the masters; Terrance and Phillips that can bring down walls.  Later in the game you’ll gain the abilities to teleport or even shrink yourself down for some gnome-size adventure.  You can even take a trip into the sewers to meet Mr. Hanky and possibly encounter some crab people.

Every major character from the entire series makes some sort of appearance. Even Tom Cruise is hiding in Stan’s closet.  Chef is back, Santa is hiding somewhere in the city, and once you “find Jesus” he, along with several other key characters, can be summoned into battle once per day for some awesome results.  Al Gore is back and you’ll be helping him hunt the elusive Manbearpig, and Professor Chaos is a great reason to keep Butters handy in combat.

The presentation is undeniably South Park with perfect graphics, animation, parallax scrolling backgrounds, detailed interiors of all your favorite places, and a wonderful map view that shows you quest and treasure locations.   Your quest list is nicely itemized and you can even click on objectives for your quest and have the location revealed on the map.  Timmy will even use his wheelchair to fast-travel you around previously unlocked checkpoint flags.  The game even has its own version of Facebook where people you encounter can send Friend requests and then spam your account with amusing status updates.  Some people in the game won’t even interact with you until you have a certain amount of friends on Facebook.

The music and sounds are straight from the show right down to that twangy guitar sound when you return from commercial, only now you hear it when you load your game.  The radios are playing all of the songs you’ve ever heard on the show while the TV’s are playing many of your favorite TV shows from the show (audio only).  I stood in the movie theater for at least 15 minutes just listening to the fake movie trailers ripping on Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, and movie remakes for ET, Star Wars and Saving Private Ryan.  The voice acting is outstanding and there were times I was laughing so hard I had tears running down my face and I had to pause the game.

The game checkpoints frequently and you can also save anywhere at any time.  I was annoyed with the load times, especially for the PC.  Given the relatively low system requirements almost anyone with a system built in the last three years can play this with no problem, but you can tell by the loading before each and every area they were fighting console RAM and never bothered to optimize for PC.  I’m really surprised that there is no Xbox One or PS4 version (at least not yet).   It’s not like the game will look any better, but you may as well reach out to gamers on all systems.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is about to set the world on fire, and I can’t imagine the controversy this game is going to generate.  If you thought the Hot Coffee incident in Grand Theft Auto triggered a backlash, just wait until parents catch their kids playing a game where you are fighting a gnome on your parents’ bed while they are screwing and you are dodging your mom’s swinging nipple and ducking your dad’s swinging scrotum.

There have been a lot of South Park games over the years and they’ve been mostly miserable, but The Stick of Truth is not only a great homage to the entire existing series, it is also a delightfully hilarious, enjoyable, and at times, challenging RPG adventure that I would stack up with anything else in the genre.   For fans of the show, this is a must-own game that will keep you glued to the screen from start to finish, and a game that has certainly been worth the wait.

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