Authors note: The previous “In-Progress” review of The Stick of Truth was an experiment that didn’t exactly work as planned. It has been re-categorized as a “preview”. This article is the full review of the game.
South Park is what it is, and everyone likely has their own opinion of it by now. 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 removes the chocks of the already controversial show and makes no intentions to appeal to a broader audience. Like it or not, you better already like it.
The game takes place directly following the events of the shows “Black Friday” trilogy of episodes. Almost every boy in the town of South Park is playing a massive live-action-role-playing game. The two factions led by Wizard-King Eric Cartman and High-Elf Jew Kyle Broflovski fight over control of the titular twig which, according to their rules, determines who controls the universe. They base their little world and their characters on Game of Thrones, Lord of The Rings, and even a little Legend of Zelda. 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. But in typical South Park fashion things escalate quickly. What begins as simple errand-quests in an imaginary game suddenly gives way to Alien Greys and Nazi-Zombies, 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 game often makes jabs at common video game elements like collecting pointless yet oddly irresistible audio-logs, and the inexplicable ease of infiltrating a military base and collecting vital information that is so obviously left out for you. The fact that the New Kid is a silent protagonist who just stares when asked a question is a constant reference and results in him being given the title of “Douchbag”.
As a stand-alone RPG, Stick of Truth could be considered just above average. There is some reliance of South Parks cache to make the game something bigger, but fortunately it does. Still, the gameplay is very serious about it’s turn-based combat, even if the way certain genre-staples are handled are clearly joking. Elemental damage and equipment augments are straight-forward, but potions take the form of familiar food items and poison damage is delivered by grossing out your opponent. Magic is cleverly, yet crudely used by harnessing the power of your farts into what is known as a “Dragon Shout”. Character progression is also rather clever. 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 by completing tasks for people. The game is not as difficult as many other RPGs, but it is enough to prevent battles from feeling like a pointless waste of time. Unfortunately, a lot of the difficulty I experienced was 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 either given no indication of what buttons to press or are told to press the wrong key (seriously?!). This goes well beyond the level of just annoying and really is an unforgivable oversight on the part of Obsidian. Hopefully, this will be patched soon.
I was impressed 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 simply a stage, but here it’s the kids own little Middle-Earth and has a character all its own. For the first time in South Park history, the entire town has been mapped out by creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone – who apparently never felt the need to have anything be in a set place until now. While the inside of certain houses don’t always resemble their TV counterparts, the game does a good job of making you feel like you’re inside the show. 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 100% like the show and most of the songs that have been used throughout its history can be heard all over the game. But it’s the use of some pretty good Foley sound effects and an epic, clearly Skyrim influenced soundtrack that really surprised me. Head in to the local Chinese restaurant, City Wok, to hear a great nod to “The Hive” from Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
The most unfortunate fact of The Stick of Truth is that the game is not very long. A main-quest only play-through can be completed in as little as 9 hours and my completionist game clocked in at around 26 (but I play slow). The final chapters feel as if they were somewhat hastily put together at the end of production and lack the flow and tuning of the their lead-up. Having followed this games development from the beginning, I can tell that there was quite a bit of content cut from it. Scenes, locations, and enemies showcased as late as a few months prior to release are nowhere to be found in the final product. That creates a problem because Stick of Truth desperately needs DLC, yet Trey Parker has already said “F*ck that” to making DLC based on cut content. While I think we all appreciate his unwillingness to hold on to parts of a game just so they can later be sold separately, I hope he sees the necessity of building up what is already a great base-game. Stick of Truth is intended for South Park fans, but even we might not find enough in this game to completely satisfy us or justify the price. The game is solid and the world is ripe for expansion, but after so many years of troubled development it feels as if it might have been rushed at the end. It just barely earned the 3.5 stars I’ve given it and that’s largely because most of the games problems are nothing a title-update can’t fix. But until it receives an expansion I can not recommend it except to the most devout of South Park fans.
Authors note: The game has seen 3 patches since this review, fixing many of the problems it had. Obsidian has done well to support this game after release.