*This article was an experiment that didn’t exactly work out. It has been re-categorized as a “preview” and will no longer be updated. Please refer HERE for our full review of the game.
It’s pointless today to even mention the crude, dirty, and immature nature of South Park. The TV cartoon used to be so controversial that you’d wonder why it remained on the air. But today, well, it’s South Park – it simply is what it is. If you are not already a fan of the show, I can tell you that The Stick of Truth may not be the best introduction. It is the deepest end of the taboo pool filled with a concentrated mix of South Parks trademark, don’t-give-a-damn comedy and self-referential fan-servitude. This game makes no intentions to appeal to a broader audience so, like it or not, you better already like it.
Directly following the events of the shows “Black Friday” trilogy of episodes, we see almost every kid in the town of South Park doing what kids do, play a massive game. Split into two factions led by Grand-Wizard Eric Cartman, and High-Elf Jew Kyle Broflovski, the kids fight each other over control of the titular twig; which doesn’t actually do anything and is just a stick… for now. They base their little world and their characters on Game of Thrones, but Lord of The Rings and even a little Legend of Zelda makes its way in (Kenny is clearly dressed as Princess Zelda). Combat follows rules that the kids have agreed to, which explains why they take turns. They may think it’s stupid but that’s how their game is being played. You take on the role of “the new kid” who gets sucked in to this game as soon as you step out the door to your new home.
*The following was edited on 3/6/14:
My large quest in the imagination of children has quickly become something much bigger. I’ve laughed and chuckled my way through the opening and poked around at countless gems of the shows past, but in typical South Park fashion things have escalated quickly into much more important events. Suddenly there are Alien Greys and Navi Zombies roaming around, yet still the kids are more concerned with which side has control of the Stick of Truth and are willing to cause more damage to the town than either of the aforementioned monsters might. The story and its writing has progressed much the same way as I expect from the hand of Trey Parker – he has managed to set the stage for a story as deep and interesting as any other game, while also making fun of the whole thing. From finding audio-logs aboard an Alien ship that only talk about how pointless yet impossible to resist audio-logs are, to the ease of infiltrating a military base and collecting vital information that is so obviously left out for you, the game makes you laugh while keeping things intriguing enough as to not make you feel like everything is pointlessly absurd.
As you play, you are often reminded not only of the game the kids are playing, but also of the fact that you yourself are playing a video game. Jokes point out some of the odd elements of games in general such as your character being a silent protagonist who just stares when asked a question, and the fact that no one in the world ever refers to you by the name you give yourself. Due to a cruel joke by Cartman, you are always known as “Sir Douchebag” no matter what name you choose. Your class determines your starting equipment and abilities which is all rather straight-forward except that all weaponry is clearly made of other objects the kids find/steal. I have, however, leveled up enough to the point that I’m finding real blades and have even found the Master Sword from Legend of Zelda.
Character progression is executed in some very clever ways. You gain experience from battles and quests to level up as usual, but perks are given based on how many Facebook friends you gain through social interactions in town or completing tasks for people. I even friended Al Gore after helping him track Man-Bear-Pig, only to be spammed by lonely, desperate messages from him. I had to beat him up to stop it.
The gameplay is very serious about it’s turn-based, JRPG-style combat. Don’t expect it to be a simple mechanic overlaid onto an interactive cartoon. It’s brutal and unforgiving. I am not a tried-and-true veteran of this genre, but I’ve played them before and am finding this game to be just as complex as you might expect. RPG staples of stat-boosting and ability-lowering are covered in unique ways to try to keep them tied to the game’s world. you can add patches to clothes for various effects, or use weapon “strap-ons” to augment their capabilities. Setting people on fire, slowing them with frost, or making them bleed are also possible. Poisoning is delivered through the use of “gross-out” damage such as throwing a piece of crap at someone or getting touched by a Ginger (yes, even my people are not safe). Magic is cleverly, yet crudely used by harnessing the power of your farts. The first fart technique you learn is called “Dragon Shout”, and resembles Skyrim’s trademark Fus-Ro-Dah. You are even called the “Dragon Born” by mastering magic so quickly.
It’s a nice level of difficulty, but also the kind of up-front difficulty you don’t often see in games today. Unfortunately, a lot of the difficulty I have experienced has been due to poorly designed controls when using a mouse and keyboard. Obviously an Xbox 360 controller was the focus, but with a keyboard you are often given no indication of what buttons to press for an action and when you are they are sometimes the wrong key (?!) or some obscure key that I actually have to look for to find. How am I supposed to know that I need to press the arrow keys instead of the WASD when there’s no indication? Quite annoying
I’ve been surprised by the artistic elements that really make the game not only look like the show but actually expand upon it to portray an even broader view of the world. In the show, the town of South Park is a setting. Here, it’s the kids own little Middle-Earth. For the first time in South Park history, the entire town has been mapped out by Parker and Stone, who apparently never needed anything to be in a set place until now. I will say that, as a long-time fan of the show, I am a little irritated on a nerd-level at the fact that all the houses in the game have the same layout. I’ve seen the inside of Butter’s house on the show enough to know that it doesn’t look like Stan’s, yet here it does. I have seen just a couple of graphical glitches which only really stick out since the overall look is so simplistic. The voice-overs are also 100% like the show, but it’s the use of some pretty good Foley sound effects and an epic, clearly Skyrim influenced soundtrack that really surprised me. My favorite bit of audio so far is the music playing in the local Chinese restaurant, City Wok. It’s clearly a nod to one of the greatest pieces of video-game music, The Hive from Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Considering the length of time this game was in development, I did expect a higher level of tuning than what it has delivered so far. It plays very well, but is marred by small problems with tutoring and graphics. Fortunately, I haven’t found anything that couldn’t be fixed by a simple update yet. Loading is very common and oddly long and you can only save your game from the nearest checkpoint, which are thankfully many.
If you would like to see what the first few minutes of the game is like, you can watch this Ubisoft-released introduction to the game below.