Ever since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 proved to be a less polished experience than Bioware’s original, Obsidian Entertainment has been known for producing brilliant games that don’t quite live up to their promise. Fallout: New Vegas, for example, was an amazing entry in the series that released with an incredible number of bugs, and even the brilliant Alpha Protocol has been heavily criticized (though unjustly). Because of this history, many assumed that South Park: The Stick of Truth would prove to be an equally unpolished experience. Instead, it’s proven to be both surprisingly stable and polished, every bit the South Park game fans of the series have been hoping for.
It’s true to the show
Anyone familiar with South Park’s “Black Friday” trilogy of episodes will be familiar with the kind of tone to expect here, and there’s a good reason for that—the story of The Stick of Truth directly follows the events of those episodes. The costumes are the same, Kenny’s still a princess, and the general tone skews toward the fantasy elements seen in those episodes, so watching those episodes before playing is definitely advised. Those aren’t the only episodes referenced, however; throughout the game, I noticed a staggering number of references to episodes of the show. All in all, The Stick of Truth is 100% faithful to the spirit of the source material, and everything plays out just as it would in the show, making this one of the best video game adaptations ever made.
The whole thing is a bit short and easy
Though The Stick of Truth is a great game, it’s definitely not perfect, and the length is one area where this shows. You could easily make your way through the whole story and all of the side content in a matter of days without trying too hard, and the game’s difficulty tends to be surprisingly forgiving, allowing you to breeze through even the hardest sections with ease. Personally, I found the length to be about right, lasting just long enough to avoid wearing out its welcome, but it’s definitely on the short side for an RPG and this may be a deal-breaker for some.
It plays a lot like Paper Mario
Anyone familiar with the turn-based combat in Paper Mario should feel right at home here because there are some serious similarities between the two games. Even the combat is similar—as in Paper Mario, you enter combat by touching an enemy on the overworld and this brings you into turn-based combat with your playable character and one of his “buddies,” which are unlocked as you progress in the game. Each turn, you’re given the ability to use one item and one attack (you can forfeit using an item by just attacking), and you have special attacks in addition to your main ones. Attacks even rely on timed hits like in Paper Mario. It’s actually kind of uncanny how similar the two games are.
You eventually end up with a pool of “PP,” which are used for special moves, and “mana,” which is basically your pool for special flatulence-based attacks. Health and PP points restore after combat, while mana can be restored by eating “mana potions” like burritos (though using too much causes you to have an “accident,” causing you to lose all of your mana in the process).
The bad of combat
You’re quickly taught that some enemies can “riposte,” which means that attacking them is a very bad idea because they’ll end up doing damage to you instead of the other way around. The problem is that sometimes they’re the only enemy you can attack, and the game doesn’t include the option to skip a turn. This means that you’ll occasionally have no option but to take damage for no reason. Again, this isn’t exactly a difficult game, so that’s not exactly game-breaking, but it’s definitely annoying that there’s no option to just skip your turn.
Be a social whore
As you wander around and meet the inhabitants of the world, you’ll quickly end up getting a bunch of friend requests on the fake in-game equivalent of Facebook. These aren’t just meaningless badges, however, as they unlock Fallout-esque “perks” that can help you do more damage or survive longer in a fight. Many friend requests are out of the way, so this helps pad the game’s length out a little by making you explore the world’s nooks and crannies for hidden characters.
Knowledge of the series is a big plus
This game can be played without any prior knowledge of South Park, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it because of how many show references you’ll miss out on. Many of the weird things characters say throughout the game are actually references to various episodes, and even the items in certain characters’ closets and weapons you can acquire over the course of the story reflect things that have happened on the show. Without a basic knowledge of the world and its happenings, then, you’ll be missing out on a huge amount of humor that adds to the experience immensely.
So many friggin’ QTEs
One problem I had with the game revolves around its tendency to throw a million and a half QTE sequences at you. There are “mash this or that button to fill up a bar” QTEs, Simon Says-type minigames, and “press a certain button before the time runs out” QTEs, and all of them suck. Seriously, why do developers keep insisting on putting QTEs in their games? Quick time events are awful, and this is doubly true of the “mash a button to fill up a bar” ones in South Park; at one (mandatory) point in the story, you have to engage in one of these QTEs, and filling up the bar proved to be incredibly difficult for me. In fact, I ended up having to download Cheat Engine to slow down the entire game so that I could actually get past that point. This is simply inexcusable.
Weapons, armors, and upgrades
There’s a surprising amount of customization to the game, with most weapons and armors coming with at least one slot for upgrades. These upgrades can reduce the damage you take, leech life away from enemies under certain conditions, inflict bleeding/fire/”gross out” statuses on enemies so that they take damage each turn, and much more. Coming up with combinations that suit your play style feels incredibly rewarding, even if the game is a bit on the easy side.
To keep you from using overpowered weapons or armor too early, every such item has a level limit. For example, the strongest weapon in the game (in my opinion) is the Sweet Katana, and while you can buy it fairly early in the game, you can’t actually use it until you’re at level 14. To get an idea of what that means, the level cap is level 15, so you’ll inevitably be going through most of the game without the use of the katana. While this may sound like an artificial limitation, it actually encourages you to switch out weapons and armors for new ones regularly, and their different effects keep combat feeling a bit fresher than it would feel otherwise.
Making money is easy
Wandering around in South Park, you’re free to shoot/smash anything you want. See a lamp in someone’s living room? Smash it and pick up the trash it leaves behind. Trash can? Smash it and pick up what’s left. See a clock on the wall? Obviously the only logical thing to do would be to shoot it and loot the gears. All of this trash is useless and can be sold, and since there don’t seem to be any item limits, you can pretty much just smash stuff everywhere you go and sell it for massive amounts of cash whenever you need it.
It’s a bit over the line at certain points
Expecting political correctness from South Park is a serious mistake, but there are a few instances where I felt that they went way over the line of good taste for no obvious reason. That “for no obvious reason” is the important part, because while the show has often dealt with outrageous content, it’s almost always had a good reason for existing. However, when your character’s parents are having graphic sex in the background while you chase down a bunch of underpants gnomes, there’s no obvious reason for this happening other than being inappropriate for the sake of being so. There are also a few times where you’ll walk into a random person’s house to see a naked person or someone touching themselves. These aren’t the game’s shining moments by any stretch of the imagination and never spiral into anything more humorous, so I have to seriously question why they were included in the game in the first place.
The Stick of Truth relies on checkpoint saves, which, like QTEs, are yet another thing that should have died out years ago. Fortunately, there are plenty of points where the game autosaves (and this is where the game makes checkpoints), but you can still lose a few minutes of play if you quit without making a mental note to fast travel or do something else that saves the game.
It looks like the show
One of the game’s greatest triumphs is recreating the visual style of the show 1:1. You really feel like you’re wandering around an episode of the show, and seeing all of South Park’s familiar locations linked together while looking as faithful to the show as they do helps the game immeasurably.
It sounds like the show, too
South Park has always had a pretty campy musical style, but the Black Friday trilogy really brought some epic-sounding music into the fray. Elements of both have found their way into the game, and the result is pleasing, though not very memorable outside of themes fans of the show are already familiar with.
Here’s what you should do: