South Park: The Stick Of Truth – Review

Title   South Park: The Stick of Truth
Developer  Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher  Ubisoft
Platform  Windows PC, Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3
Genre  Role-playing
Release Date  March 7, 2014

It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it, but there are seventeen seasons of South Park now, and while I’ve long since given up on it (it was replaced for me by Family Guy, just like it replaced The Simpsons, and Archer, of course, has surpassed them all now), Stick of Truth has been on my radar ever since it was brilliantly announced at E3 a couple of years back with Parker and Stone (the show’s creators) taking the piss out of Microsoft with all their SmartGlass nonsense just when everyone had realised that Microsoft no longer cared about making proper games.

It’s been a while but South Park: The Stick of Truth has finally arrived, smack in the middle of a fairly barren period for console games. The game tells the story of the new kid in town, played by you, who befriends the delightfully awful Eric Cartman and takes part in a daft kids’ role-playing game that takes in all of your favourite South Park characters.

While the game is set in present-day South Park, the role-playing aspects are somewhat enhanced in the kids’ imaginations allowing you to use magic and weapons that everyone in the game are buying into. It’s a nice premise that combines a lot of great comedy with some enjoyable gameplay elements, and it’s good to play an RPG that isn’t set in some sort of Middle Earth or space setting.

With the initial exposition out of the way, you get to pick your class (the usual choices such as fighter, mage and er… Jew) and explore South Park following the main campaign or numerous side-quests which take you to the various different areas of town. Thankfully the game world is quite compact, which is something I wish more games would be like. This cuts down on the travelling and keeps the action, and humour, going. Bully had the same idea and, for me, it makes for a much-better game world. I’d rather play in an area like this than gallop around dusty plains for ages in Read Dead Redemption. There’s still plenty of scope for exploration too, but without it ever feeling overwhelming.

The world is viewed side-on, much like the TV series and the graphics and animation are spot-on, as is the voice-acting. There are also a lot of excellent tunes hidden in there as you’d expect. The compilation of music that the goths listen to are particularly well-observed. The attention to detail is what makes the presentation so good in the game and makes it a must for fans of the show. Even lapsed ones, like me.

The gameplay is no slouch either, but this is where the game’s few issues are highlighted. The main part of the game sees you roaming around doing quests, and finding items, and is standard RPG fare. When you meet an enemy, the game puts you into a single-screen, turn-based battle similar to Final Fantasy 7 (the later ones may well do the same thing but that’s the last one I played). That means you pick your attacking character, your attack, and your enemy, and start whittling down their hit points. They then take a turn and you try to defend it.

This may not be the most sophisticated turn-based ‘tactics’ RPG ever, but as someone who has only dipped a toe in the genre, I found it to be a nice change of pace from the usual Western RPGs that I’ve played. This is of course aided by the ridiculousness of the attacks on offer. I won’t spoil any of it, but it’s well worth trying out all the characters and their attacks, just for the giggles.

Thankfully, the game doesn’t resort to the usual random encounter bollocks that Final Fantasy is known for, and you can actually out-run some foes if you want, but the combat is enjoyable enough to not feel like a chore. The downside, however, is that it’s all a bit easy. I only had to a retry a handful of battles during an entire playthrough of the campaign which itself is quite short (ten or so hours will get you through it). I don’t particularly mind this as I had fun as I went along, and maybe I’m not a complete slouch, tactically speaking, but the lack of resistance may irritate others.

More worrying were the occasional technical glitches including one issue where my next checkpoint refused to load. Obsidian clearly must have picked up on this in testing as they automatically save the last three checkpoints for you, but that didn’t help even when I went back and replayed a section of the game. In the end, a well-hidden post on GameFACUNTS suggested I switch out my support character and that saved the game from getting punched in its digital throat.

One big issue for gamers is the censorship that the game has been subjected to. Different statements have been put out about the reason for certain scenes being cut, and I don’t care enough to weigh them all up, but in practical terms, the game doesn’t handle this at all well. Instead of each scene, there is a written message on the screen apologising for it and telling you what was cut. I’d rather not be reminded over and over that I’m missing out and it’s a shame that Ubisoft, or whomever, didn’t stand their ground. It doesn’t hugely affect the game but it is definitely annoying.

While Stick of Truth isn’t a masterpiece, I never stopped having fun with it. That counts for a lot and if I were reviewing the game for me alone it’d probably score higher. It might not be to everyone’s taste though and it does have some potential shortcomings. That said, it captures the qualities of the TV show perfectly, adding a lot of value for the fans out there.

It may be a bit too simple and short for hardcore RPG players but that type of joyless grind isn’t why I play games, and I rather like the truncated RPG antics of Stick of Truth. I’m about to embark on my second playthrough later (for the achievements which could be handled better as there are many missable ones and a lot of collecting) but I am more than happy to go through the story again with a different class.

  • Excellent presentation that captures the look and feel of the TV show perfectly
  • Enjoyable RPG action that is short and snappy with none of the usual chorey bullshit you get with other RPGs
  • Genuinely interesting story which is often hilarious and incredibly offensive
  • Good loot progression
  • Too short for some (not me though)
  • Too offensive for some (not me though)
  • Is a bit too easy
  • Censorship is disappointing and badly handled
  • Technically is still a patch or two away from greatness
  • Might be all a bit lost on you if you don't watch the show

I had high hopes for Stick of Truth and while it wasn't exactly the game I was expecting, the pace and length of the game were perfect for me and I found the turn-based action to be very enjoyable. The game is perfect for fans of the show and also people who fancy playing an enjoyable RPG without all the usual trappings and chore. With lots to see and do, Stick of Truth hits the spot and feels a lot fresher than all those goddammned Oblivion clones that are out there but is maybe a few tweaks and design decisions away from true greatness.

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  1. Stu Stu says:

    Nice write-up, Richie. This is definitely on my ‘want’ list, but as I’m not splashing out on any previous gen titles it’ll be a case of waiting until Steam/someone else has a particularly good offer for the PC version. As a big fan of turn based RPGs I’m expecting it to lack somewhat in this area which will be fine if the storyline makes up for it.

  2. Lorna Lorna says:

    I’m with Stu on waiting to see if it floats to the surface at a good price on Steam. If not, perhaps I’ll be convinced to pick it up for the Xbox 360 in a few months. I think that the censorship was fucking ridiculous and disappointing – what did Ubi expect when they bought the fucking thing from THQ? Downton Abbey?

    As much as I dislike turn-based RPG combat, I’ll still keep it on my maybe list – especially if the story is halfway decent.

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