It's sometimes hard to believe South Park has been around for more than 16 years, but in all that time there's been precious few licensed video games and even fewer good ones. Obsidian Entertainment and South Park Digital Studios change that with South Park: The Stick of Truth. Not only does it live up to the expectations for what a South Park product should be, it's also an addicting, fun game in its own right.
South Park: The Stick of Truth, as with the television show, follows the misadventures of a group of fourth graders in the town of South Park, Colorado. The children have split themselves into factions of elves and humans, live action role-playing a Dungeons & Dragons-inspired fantasy conflict for control of the mystical Stick of Truth. He who controls the stick controls the universe, at least within the bounds of their imaginary game. But as is generally the case with South Park, things spiral hilariously out of control until the town itself becomes in very real danger of imploding.
You join the children's quest as the new kid, a character you create yourself with a large array of customization options, and quickly make friends with familiar faces such as Butters and the self-proclaimed Grand Wizard King Cartman. After picking your class of Fighter, Mage, Thief or Jew, the elves invade the Kingdom of Kupa Keep (Cartman's backyard) and steal back the stick from within its deep holds (a pitched tent). You thus begin a journey to find the human's greatest warriors and are set free to explore the nearly fully realized town of South Park.
To describe any more would ruin a large part of what makes the game so enjoyable - exploring every alley, building, closet and cabinet in search of increasing absurd characters, quests, items and references. What you find and the situations you're put in make it feel like a truly interactive episode of South Park, not unexpected as it was written by its creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, retaining the spirit that has made the show such a lengthy success. Fans are going to be extremely pleased over the course of the dozen hours it can take to complete. And if that doesn't sound long enough, you shouldn't worry. The game is so densely packed that it never felt too short nor overstayed its welcome.
That's not to say you can't enjoy it if you don't watch the show. It doesn't lean exclusively towards being self-referential for its humor. The laughs come even if you haven't seen the particular episode a joke is based on, thanks to the sheer insanity of what's often happening on screen. However, if you don't like South Park, then the game won't change your mind.
The bond with its other medium is reinforced with how perfectly it captures its construction-paper look, as well. With the absense of any on-screen display save for during battles or menu interaction, all that reminds you you're playing a game are the loading screens when entering a new area. The console versions suffer from aliasing, occasional stutter and some rare instances of severe framerate drops, but are otherwise free of technical concerns.
It could have been easy to make a South Park game not especially fun to play, if previous attempts are any indiciation, but The Stick of Truth has surprisingly satisfying gameplay mechanics. Blows are traded in turns between you and an ally of your choice, which you can swap out freely, and enemies arrayed in columns and rows. If a foe is placed behind another, then it can only be hit with ranged attacks or certain abilities. Additionally, dealing, stacking and removing powerful status effects while managing your resources of PP (points used for abilities) and mana become a key focus to how battles progress.
There's a decent amount of depth you can apply to its combat system. For example, the Thief is proficient at crowd control and exploiting bleed damage. One strategy I employed for a signficant part of the game was to slot a bleed-inducing strap-on, items that apply passive buffs to your equipment, to ranged weapons that hit multiple targets or times. And with your weapons, armor and the huge selection of strap-ons not being tied to any one class, there exists a fun degree of theorycrafting when building your character.
Aside from the aforementioned console performance issues and a scant few jokes that even I thought went too far, there's precious little that hurts the game. At worst, the interface is clunky and lacking certain information. It doesn't always tell you what you want to know, such as what a particular effect does, and sometimes becomes a hassle when swapping out items. The lack of a sort option doesn't help navigating long lists of gear, either. You'll also acquire an excessive amount of consumables in your travels that leaves battles feeling toothless on the normal difficulty option, though you can adjust the difficulty setting at any time.
South Park: The Stick of Truth may as well be an achievement. The soul of the show is captured perfectly with its visuals, consistently funny writing and ridiculous scenarios. It also happens to be damn fun to play. After the 13 hours it took me to complete it, all I've been able to think about since is going back to it to find every lost collectible and missed achievement. If you've ever enjoyed South Park, then you absolutely need to own this game.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.