Every now and then a game comes along that makes you go “Why didn’t they do this before?!?”, and South Park: The Stick of Truth is one of those titles.
It’s basically a game-length episode of the TV show starring the foul-mouthed 8-year-olds we’ve come to know and love over the past 17 years re-done as a modern RPG, and it’s as clever, funny and dirty as the best of the shows, if not even more so thanks to a good helping even more over-the-top jokes that not even fans of the show will see coming.
You play as “The New Kid”, a new addition to the South Park kid population, and your over-arching quest is to become “cool”. Doing that means you need to get in with the local kids, make friends with them on Facebook, and that’s done by playing with them.
If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings episode, you’ll know exactly how Cartman and the gang play. They dress up as their favourite characters and tromp around town on various quests that they’ve made up in accordance with the game’s theme, and that’s exactly what happens here.
What makes The Stick of Truth so clever is that even though the kids are just “playing” at being whoever they are, the game treats them as if they are exactly that. So effectively, Cartman IS the “King of the Elves”, your character IS a knight/mage/thief/Jew, and the “magic” that is farting, IS the game’s magic system. It’s brilliant. (And yes, “Jew” is a character class.) Typical South Park.
The titular Stick of Truth is an item of great import in the game you join; as Cartman says, he who controls the stick, controls the universe, and for the moment, the Stick is in the possession of Carman’s faction, the Humans. Your task as the New Kid – dubbed “Sir Douchebag” by Cartman early on – is to defend it from the Elves, headed up by Stan and Kyle. As the game progresses there’s a lot of back-and-forth with the stick, ending in a climactic boss fight that has to be seen to be believed.
For most of the 15 or so hours you’ll spend playing the first time through, you’ll run around the town of South Park talking to people and getting sent on quests. The town has been lovingly recreated as an explorable locale made up of all of the show’s iconic locations, and in it you’ll encounter the vast majority of characters seen throughout the show’s 17-season run.
The game cleverly manages to avoid the “ fetch quest” pitfall of many RPGs by involving as many of those characters as possible. As a result, the quests you go on are unique and interesting and generally give you something to laugh at along the way. Without giving too much away, you can expect to be given the kind of tasks you’d expect to get from South Park’s inhabitants, ranging from wacky to outright sick. But in a good way.
Take it in turns
As with any RPG, there’s a lot of fighting in The Stick of Truth. The game uses a turn-based system, and each of your characters have abilities that help you mill through the enemies you come up against. You’ll end up collecting a huge number of weapons and weapon augmentations along the way that will, with clever use, help, as will your “magic spells” (farts) which unlock as you progress. You’ll fight homeless people, drunks, rats, gingers, dogs and more, but easily the most memorable opponents are the game’s Nazi zombies, regular folks turned into grey-faced killers by an event I won’t spoil here, who go around yelling lines from one of Hitler’s Nuremberg addresses. Yes, really. You expected anything less?
The combat does get a little repetitive towards the end of the game, but it’s very good nonetheless. You can only have one companion with you at a time (you can choose from Butters, Kenny, Cartman, Kyle and Jimmy, each with their own special abilities), but even though you usually face more than two opponents, your weapons, their upgrades and your characters’ abilities easily make up for it. Skill upgrades are unlocked by earning experience points through combat, while Perks are unlocked by making friends.
The art style is identical to the show’s construction-paper look and feel, the story is clever, sick and twisted, and the F-bombs drop harder and more often than the A-bomb did on Nagasaki. Even the achievements are hilarious, and well worth going after even if just for the laughs. Never have I laughed harder playing a game than I did while playing The Stick of Truth, and that’s ultimately why I enjoyed it so much.
It’s not without its flaws, of course. As a South Park fan, I loved my time with The Stick of Truth, and not even the occasional combat glitch (button-presses not registering being the biggest offender), the slow speed of the backend interface or the way my character wouldn’t always go where I wanted him to go was able to ruin that.
I was a bit annoyed, however, that the version South Africa gets, namely the European version, has been heavily censored in places. During one particular sequence that takes place aboard a UFO, certain probe-related scenes deemed too extreme for Europe were replaced by a message from the developers explaining what Americans would be seeing at those particular points.
South Park is known for its out-there humour, and yes they cross lines but that’s the whole point, and being prevented from seeing everything the creators had dreamed up by someone who had apparently made my mind up for me about it very much offended my libertarian sensibilities. That’s not the fault of the developers, the show’s creators, or anyone involved in the actual game – it’s the fault of asshole politicians who feel they have to nanny people. As if the 18 age restriction is somehow not enough. Ugh.
Anyway, that bit of irritation aside, if you even remotely enjoy South Park the TV show, you’re not easily offended by Nazi zombies, jokes about abortion (somehow that’s okay but anal probes are a no-no) or the idea of exploring the insides of a gay man’s ass as a gnome-sized version of yourself (yup this is fine too) and you love you a good RPG, I honestly can’t recommend South Park: The Stick of Truth enough.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC from R399.