All jokes and memories of broken promises and technical shortcomings aside, you can’t deny Obsidian’s knowledge and understanding of RPGs. And to have turned the world of South Park -- a collage cartoon that really just started as a dick and fart joke-addled middle finger to popular media at the time, into a full-fledged deep and layered role-playing experience, is a major feather in the dubious developer’s cap. There are reports of other reviewers out in the review wild who encountered technical issues with their game, but I had none.
Playing off a retail disc on Xbox 360, South Park: The Stick of Truth ran smooth and looked and sounded awesome during my review experience. In fact, the only negative in this space that really reared its head was loading in certain areas, but hey, that’s almost first-world-problems right there. Just dump the game on your HDD and get on with it, I say.
If you’re at all up-to-date with the show, the game essentially follows the three-parter from Season 17 where the boys played an LARPG based loosely on Game of Thrones. They also included, as part of their split factions, the PS4 and Xbox One as divisive components to allegiance in that three-parter. Unfortunately that isn’t really addressed in the game likely due to it not being on those respective platforms, a giant missed opportunity in my opinion. Still, the story that is here is completely on-point for South Park and delivers the laughs in dick-shaped spades.
In fact, aside from the addictive combat, looting and micro-management of the game, it’s the story and humour riddled throughout that will likely keep you playing through. The whole affair is full of fourth-wall breaking moments, such as waiting for Jimmy to finish a sentence for so long that the game actively
prompts you to skip the scene, or being told by the Elves faction at one point, while you’re surrounded by them and your presence is requested by the Elvish King (Kyle), that “at this point in the game” it’s not worth fighting them and to just go along with the request. How all of this is paced alongside humour and jokes from the show’s very long history, right down to classic alien probe cracks (which we partially miss out on here in Australia), is one of the game’s biggest triumphs, but it also speaks clearly about the intended audience, which may be a bit exclusive for some.
I’d be weirded out to hear of people who’ve never watched South Park, but it is feasible that there are people out there who don’t like it. I’m vehemently against Family Guy and American Dad, but am a huge fan of South Park (and early Simpsons and Futurama -- more recently, Bob’s Burgers is gold), and so for me the game speaks to my interests and tastes. I understand the subtle, well-hidden jokes as well, like references to Mecha Streisand or the Shake Weight. I know why the Tower of Peace is there and why City Sushi next to it is in tatters. It’s safe to say, as a fan, I’ve picked up on it all (or a huge amount anyway). If you’re not a fan though, you’re not going to really get it. Even the game’s loot is centred around the show’s rich history, as are your moves and abilities; your weapons and gear.
To this end, there needs to be a heavy reliance on the game’s combat and exploration, which is actually very tight. Turn-based RPG rules made popular by the Paper Mario series are in check, and as fun and engaging as ever, but if you’re not a fan of South Park it’ll be hard for me to tell you the value of “Cup a Fart”.
The other hook then lies in just how much the game manages to reference RPG tropes in similar ‘fantasy-styled’ games of this nature. If you’re a videogame fan, there’s an entire layer of content and reference awaiting your digestion. It’s not the main focus, rather the show’s history, its characters and some stellar dick and fart jokes take centre stage, but it is likely the right amount of bait with the reel being the turn-based combat, to still pull you in.
From a straight-up gameplay perspective, it can be a little difficult at times controlling the “new kid” in tight spaces. This is in part because of the show’s presentation-made-game, but it also just feels like more time could have gone into basic character control. The game’s biggest controller failing, however, has to be in farting. Throughout The Stick of Truth you’ll be given a chance to learn new fart (or magic) moves, and these require mastery of a dual-stick system to perform. On paper and even exampled in-game, it sounds and looks easy, but some of them are ridiculously finnicky and frustrating to get right. And honestly, I’m not an average gamer. A better input set-up for the moves would definitely be my preference, but it doesn’t break the game.
You’re looking at the better part of a 10-hour experience with South Park: The Stick of Truth, and there’s plenty of density in the game-world for expanded exploration and side-questing, but again it’s all going to boil down to where South Park as a whole sits on your radar. The more modern humour of the show nestles nicely to the less articulate comedy of the early seasons, and thankfully most of the out-of-date stuff is more or less reference material than part of the actual storyline. There’s also the promise of downloadable content, which should keep fans like myself happy, though timely delivery of this would be nice in the wake of the game’s tardiness.
For Aussies, there’s also the censorship issue, in that any scenes with anal probing or abortion have been removed and replaced with an image of a crying koala and an explanation by Trey Parker as to what it is we’re missing out on. The frustrating thing is, the entire content of the game would likely be fine if it was presented as an episode of the show on TV here, but even with an R18+ rating, we can’t get it in interactive form. Granted it doesn’t break the game by any measure, but it’s not the creators’ original vision and speaks to how our new system is still flawed, but I digress.
If you’re not a fan of South Park but can look past the dressing, there’s still a fun and addictive turn-based RPG to play here. If you’re a fan, you’re in for a real treat. The game is full of laugh-out-loud moments, the same addictive gameplay and countless throwback jokes, in-jokes and meta jokes built from the series’ rich and successful history. It’s delivered in an on-point way for the show and reeks of Trey and Matt’s iron-fisted IP control, in a good way. Not releasing on next-gen is a real shame, but it’s an oversight that’s very easy to overlook. If there’s a steady stream of engaging content post-release, this is a game you could play throughout the year with ease. Definitely worth more than a look-in.