PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Review based on Xbox 360 version
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date: March 4th, 2013
In keeping with the recent fantastical episodes of South Park, such as the “Black Friday Trilogy,” the boys of South Park are split in half, this time as feuding factions over the legendary Stick of Truth. He who holds the stick possesses control over all time and space. You play the part of the new kid in town, who inevitably comes between the factions of humans and elves, having to choose one side or the other for the sake of the greater good. However, the more time you spend in the small little mountain town, the more things begin to follow the protocol of the animated series and almost immediately go off the rail when a Taco Bell cover-up brings nazi zombies and government agents to the area that happens to be your fault after being abducted your first night there.
The Stick of Truth is actually very slow to start. In fact the first day, even some of the second can be rather boring and painful to work through. It sticks to the common theme of immature humour, fart jokes, and mostly Eric Cartman, the Grand Wizard, lobbing insults at everyone, especially the Jews. Aside that and a few side missions you can start early with some of the most stereotypical characters in the show’s history, there’s never really anything that grab your attention and holds it. You do get the chance to explore the town, but only sticking to the streets at first. There are some wooded areas, but you can’t advance there until you start to learn your first magic spell, and then it becomes an early The Legend of Zelda-themed journey, where one wrong move will have you lost for quite some time, though simply going up or down constantly will bring you back to town, or the local cattle farm.
You can open doors and go in some homes, and sometimes there are interesting surprises in store like a nude woman screaming and slamming the door in your face, and a man masturbating on the couch until he sees you in the doorway. This does lead to some of the most hysterical side-missions the game has to offer, such as the wildlife hunting quest you get at Jimbo’s Guns that reintroduce a very special character only present in one episode, helping Mr. Slave return Mrs. Cartman’s package while you get his at the post office, and even doing away with those god damn Mongorians for Mr. Kim so he can stop selling the Mongorian menu. This also will unlock some people you meet as special assists to help beat enemies (but not a boss) like Mr. Kim’s war dance and Jesus breaking out the machine guns. Along the way you even get to make friends with the Crab People, Lemmiwinks, and even the Underpants Gnomes, all before finally visiting the eight-bit Dragon Warrior style world of Canada and meeting Terrance and Philip. You also will learn the unfortunate fate of Mr. Hat towards the end.
But as you do all this and more, the outbreak becomes more rampant through the town. What starts off as an innocent game a bunch of kids are playing becomes a quest to save their town from destruction in the Taco Bell cover-up, snukes, deception in the ranks, and even nazi zombie fetuses to name a few things that happen the closer you get to the end of the game. Of course some of these things, such as the anal probe and abortion scenes, are censored in other areas, so if you don’t have access to an uncensored copy, some of the wild events and gross-out humor will be lost on you.
Every character from the television series is present with proper voices, so it does feel like a genuine South Park experience from start to finish. Even Scott Malkinson is present in the game, though Cartman’s ridiculing of him by repeating what he said and ending with “I’m Scott Malkinson and I have diabetes” is unfortunately nowhere to be found. However, there are some issues to be had. Sometimes the sound effects won’t come through, or even the dialogue itself will be missing. I experiences this towards the end when discussing who will disarm the snuke when Cartman’s dialogue basically vanishing. Usually it’s nothing too important or will prevent you from finishing, but given the chemistry everyone has, its a shame when things like that happen.
Sadly that’s not the only way the game will glitch out. There were numerous times where the game simply won’t advance, prompting you to either Load a previous check point, or going so far as to restart the game or, in the case of the Xbox 360, navigate back to the console menu. During the tutorial battle at the very beginning, as the game was instructing about a counter attack after perfectly blocking an enemy, my character stood there behind the kneeled down Craig, and nothing would advance it until going back to the dash board. There were also times where the dialogue just stopped and the game couldn’t advance, and many times where the characters would just start skipping, as if suddenly loading a great deal of information that made the gameplay choppy, which was simply the worst when in combat.
The fighting is where many of the other problems resided, sadly. Combat is largely determined by what you equip. There are many “strap-ons” and patches you can buy to give yourself an edge, and many ability upgrades you can unlock as you obtain more friends, though there’s a good number that you simply won’t need as you progress and unlock stronger battle companions. There are battle tutorials early on, but you learn quickly the controls don’t seem to respond as well as you would hope. It also won’t matter what you have equipped if you go in for an attack and the button just completely fails to register. If you don’t attack when you see the glimmer on your weapon, you either don’t strike at all, or if you press it late can deal maybe one hit point worth of damage. Sadly there are times where you hit it right, but don’t attack. Even if you press the light or heavy attack repeatedly after the first unrecognized button push, it still won’t attack, leaving you in a very tight spot.
There’s also a large window that doesn’t offer the most precise explanations on when to most opportune time is to block other than when you see a gray disc under the character. It seems there is a certain moment to get the best perfect rating, and it wasn’t until near the end that I finally got through a battle with all blocks being perfect. Throw in the choppiness and the timing you may desperately need is damn near impossible. There’s also the government agents with guns who give you no chance at all to block and can kill you in one shot. There is a chance to block their head shots, but it’s so slim you won’t defend yourself against it given the aforementioned response issue.
The other issue that creeped up usually occurred during the magic spell tutorials. For the most part, you are given a tutorial on them, but when you actually go use them, none of that matters outside of the Nagasaki spell. Sometimes in training, even if you do things correctly or follow the on-screen directions, it still claims you’re wrong. The Silent Sneak spell took a good twenty-plus tried before it finally admitted I did it right, and when you use it in the world to distract people, you don’t have to half of what you had to in training. These spells do make for a way to get additional gross-out combat damage though, so they are worth learning for that part at least.
Then there’s some of the incredibly long story quests. When you have to talk to the girls and get their help, it seems like the mundane quests just never end. Though, when they do, it’s a mind blowing experience well worth the extensive trip loaded thanks to the abortion segments that will have you cracking up laughing. But then you have the Canadian segment, which is just going from one town to the next doing favors, avoiding getting Dire AIDS, and cutting off some balls. Yes it sounds like fun in theory, but this is actually the most boring part of the game with no real pay of, leaving what could have been solved with a cut-scene involving a Google, perhaps a nod to Cartman’s mom being a whore in the process, instead of the sizeable chunk of filler just for a French to English translation.
But the worst, most irritating aspect of this game is that, yes, there is in fact a level cap, and a low level one at that. Given everything you can unlock and upgrade, you would imagine that you could earn enough experience to upgrade every ability. Unfortunately, the highest you can reach in this game is level fifteen, which is fairly easy to accomplish by half way through day two, if not the end of it. Just screwing around with side-quests and other miscellaneous missions like finding Jesus or defeating elves or zombies can cap you off early. Levelling up is basically pointless as well since when you do, so do your foes, making it so you never get an edge over them outside of an upgraded ability, stronger weapon, or patch/strap-on if you can equip one.
The biggest perk about the game is the character customization. You can change quite a lot about your character before you even begin to play, and then you can buy or loot costumes and cosmetic changes you can apply at any time. Some of them can affect achievements if that’s your thing, but for the most part it depends on just how you want your character to dress. You can even earn the Crab People costume Kyle and Mr. Garrison were forced to wear on the episode where they try to take over the world during the taping Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, look like a girl from a make-over for a story quest that you can always put on again later, or even get some rhinoplasty to look like David Hasselhoff. There’s enough customization, and even little hidden trinkets you can pick up or spot from the show, such as collectable Chinpokomon for fun, that fans of the series will have a blast just looking for the nods to the series.
Visually, much of the title looks exactly like a South Park cartoon, with the exception of Canada for obvious reasons. The characters and backgrounds are crisp and vibrant, immersing you right into the little mountain town and it’s citizens. However, the biggest eyesore to anyone playing on a high-definition television is clearly you. The new kid is nowhere near as crisp as the others. In fact, most of the time you look blurry, as if from a standard definition layered over a crisp, digital background. This might be due to all the customizations you can make and how they appear in the cut scenes, but it definitely becomes annoying after a while, especially when you happen to pick up on it for the first time.
South Park: The Stick of Truth may take a little while to get going, but when it does, you get one off-the-wall event after another that are so random and insane you’ll break out into hysterics that make you question if what you’re seeing is actually happening on the screen or not. Trey and Matt have outdone themselves this time, and the many delays were worth the wait for the most part. You need to stick with the game for a few hours and not only ignore some of the filler material, but also find ways around the control and progression glitches that can kill your experience and drive to finish. The Stick of Truth is the game South Park fans have been waiting for, and despite it’s many faults, you’ll end up having a blast from start to finish. At least, if you have the uncensored version…