South Park: The Stick of Truth Review
It’s rare to come across a tie-in game that truly feels like an extension of a beloved film or TV show. You could say some of the Lord of the Rings games are pretty good, but could you honestly say they capture the scale or heart of the books or films? South Park: The Stick of Truth scores marks right out of the gate for this very reason; from the featuring of the town’s landmarks to the way characters bob up and down as they walk, the game nails the feel of the show. If you’re a fan looking for a simple yay or nay, just get it, you’ll love it. For everyone else, read on.
Playing as the New Kid in town, you’re roped into the glorious war between Men and Drow Elves for the possession of the titular Stick of Truth, granting mastery of the universe to any who wield it. Not really of course; in reality you just get mixed up in the new LARPing craze sweeping through the local kids, and before you know it you’ve signed up with the humans and picking out your class. South Park: The Stick of Truth keeps it old school and boils classes down to the big three: Fighter, Thief and Mage. Oh yeah, and Jew, because this is South Park. Whatever you pick, you’re teamed up with trusty paladin Butters, kicking off with fighting the villainous elves around town, but it won’t be long before graduating to combat with the homeless, gingers (who’re weak to fire) and Nazi cows. There’s weirder, but I’d hate to spoil them.
South Park: The Stick of Truth’s combat plays out old-school JRPG style, with the good guys lined up on the left, bad guys on the right. By the end you have a choice of about six party members to choose from, but it’s a shame that only one can accompany you at a time. I would’ve liked to have hung out with Cartman, but I found Butters, who gets one free heal per turn, so dang useful I didn’t see the point of having anyone else. The game manages to miss the common trap of JRPG combat, in which the player seems to have limited involvement, by employing elements of the Mario and Luigi games. On the defence, you’re given a chance to minimise damage by pressing a button at the right moment to block an attack, or sometimes even perform a counter. On the offence, performing quasi-QTEs maximises damage, except that if you miss them you might as well not have bothered, dealing out a poultry amount of damage. In JRPGs I usually cast status-effects to one side in favour of all-out damage, but in South Park: The Stick of Truth they’re almost essential. Rather than asleep, poisoned or confused, the game has status effects much more relevant to South Park, such as bleeding, grossed out or on fire. In the late game my special abilities became useless as I was mowing down enemies with a bouncy ball equipped with a bleeding attachment, which did negligible damage on its own, but the bleeding effect killed most enemies in a turn or two. There’s the odd hairy moment, but the game never has the teeth to give much of a challenge.
Wandering around South Park is a lot of fun, often making the game feel like I was playing through an extended episode of the show. For regular viewers there’s an awful lot of in-jokes to find, although I’m not sure if they’d land with anyone else; there’s even nods back to Season One, such as NPCs talking about Mecha-Streisand. You’re let loose to explore the town within half an hour, poking your nose into everyone’s business and hoovering up their side quests, and I can honestly say this is the only RPG in which I didn’t skip through dialogue, as it was a) amusing and b) understood the value of brevity, which a lot of video game writing would do well to take note of. One particular niggle I had though was the amount of ways you can interact with the environment. At first you have three, attack, shoot and use, which is fine. By the end of the game you have ten, and it becomes unwieldy. It may be a small thing to pick up on, but if you want to do something other than attack or use, you have to cycle through menus to find the right command, making it more of a chore than anything else, especially as often as it’s required.
As might be expected, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a fantastic game for South Park fans, perhaps less so for everyone else. If you’re not a fan, feel free to knock a star off the score, as so much of what I like is down to setting and characters. Mechanically, there are some rough edges, like interacting with the environment or the inefficiency of selling a lot of items at once, and the combat could do with a little tweaking. However, when I mentioned earlier that it plays like an extended episode of the show, that should be a massive point in its favour. Possibly the best tie-in game, and yes that includes The Chronicles of Riddick.