Review: South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS3)

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Title: South Park: The Stick of Truth
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (3.6 GB)
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $79.99 Grand Wizard Edition
ESRB Rating: M
South Park: The Stick of Truth is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2014:
– Best Role Playing Game (PS3)
– Game of the Year (PS3)

To say that South Park: The Stick of Truth was one of my most-anticipated titles of early 2013 would be an understatement. To then say that South Park: The Stick of Truth was my most-anticipated title of late 2013 (December 3rd to be exact) would also be the under of statements.

I was planning my holidays around having the game. So to say that it had become one of my most anticipated games of 2014, should have been the crab-people level of understatements. But that was no longer the case by the time March 4th rolled around.

I am a firm believer that delays in games are usually indicators of the developers taking the time to make their product right. But when a game misses its deadline twice, I begin to lose faith and worry that the initial product was so far from great. And after two delays or more, I tend to wonder if the developer is simply throwing its hands up and giving us what they have, regardless of quality.

Stick of Truth could be forgiven for its delays in that it experienced a swap in publisher and almost never made it out the door. But licensed product, plus delay, was already working against it in terms of my expectations. The reason this weighed so heavily on me and my anticipation of the game is mainly due to my utter obsession with South Park. In days long past I would plan almost religious-like viewings with friends, coupled with wings and beer. I called it Wingsdays. But these planned evenings went beyond my love of buffalo wings. It was a celebration of my favorite animated show. From the day my college professor introduced me to the show seventeen years ago (Beavis and Butthead was still on the air) until this very season, I have never missed an episode. And while there have certainly been seasons that instilled concern in the legacy of the show, somehow Trey and Matt always managed to bring it back with some ridiculously hilarious episode that made me exclaim “There you are!” After all, when you have so much human silliness to lampoon, your pool of material is limitless.

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Like an obsessed fan, I bought every South Park game in existence: from the old PS1 game, to current mini games on my phone. And I have to say that I even enjoyed them. But you know what they say about love and blindness. I only enjoyed them because they starred my favorite characters, running around throwing snowballs at each other. “It was just like the show!” Yeah [email protected]#king right, because that’s what left me in hysterics on Wednesday nights: the piss-covered snowball fights.

Stick of Truth comes at a different time in the gaming industry. Developers seem to “get things” more than they used to back then. I’m not excusing crap titles, or even saying that everything delivered to our consoles comes from devs that have seen the light, but I believe that the more old gamers become part of the development process, the more they can undo wrongs from our past. Matt and Trey are gamers. You can see this in some of the show’s funnier episodes regarding specific elements about gaming that only true gamers would know. Hell, there is even a Last Starfighter reference in one of the episodes (a reference to a movie about a game). So with their involvement, I truly believed that they understood how they wanted to tell their interactive story. But of course good intention and good execution don’t always yield great results, otherwise, we would have a lot more triple-A titles. I mean who goes to a pitch meeting and says, “I want to make this insanely crappy game”?

So was I the wrong person to review this game, what with my love of the show? Ten years ago, I would have said, “Don’t give that to me, because I will like it no matter what.” That’s not the case anymore. And I only needed to express that because South Park: The Stick of Truth is actually pretty damn good. It’s not perfect (and I’ll explain why), but it is a far cry from the horribly licensed games from the franchise’s past. Stick of Truth puts you in the shoes of the new kid in town. The purpose of this setup was to give the player the chance to create his or her own kid.

You have a somewhat limited choice of customization to start with, but you get plenty of decorative elements throughout the game. I didn’t actually find my perfect beard until a few hours in. Alas, the game doesn’t offer an actual female player, but since the other characters mainly refer to you as “douchebag” and “new kid”, you can dress the character up like a girl (complete with makeup) and never really know the difference. Kenny does it, after all. Your character doesn’t speak, but unlike other RPGs, everyone in town acknowledges this and it becomes a running joke as you meet new people around town. But for reasons unknown, your mute character holds a very important purpose in South Park, one that unfolds as you move through the ten-hour story.

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Yes. Stick of Truth is a ten-hour RPG. But before you lynch Mr. Garrison in the locker room, let me explain that I completed the main story in ten hours. I rushed through it in order to get this review out in a timely manner. But upon completing it, I was allowed to continue exploring the town and take on further missions (ones that I missed through my story play-through). These were not text-based insignificant missions. Rather, they had their own voiced work, and even expanded on the main storyline. Some of them introduced characters that didn’t play a role in the narrative. So while the main story can be completed in ten hours, I spent an hour or so last night, exploring the sewers under South Park looking for Mr. Hankey’s kids. The rewards were definitely worth it. And there are plenty of side missions. Thus, I recommend taking on side missions and not rushing through the main storyline.

Gameplay:
Stick of Truth is an active turn-based RPG. The active element comes in the form interacting with the interface as your characters attack. Traditional turn-based RPGs had you pressing the button and letting your character do all the work. In order to land effective attacks here, you must press the button at the right time, match buttons to on-screen cues, or move the joystick in a certain direction. Some of the moves take some time to get accustomed to, but after a few hours, I had most of my attacks down to an instinct.

If you have ever played the digital titles Costume Quest or Paper Mario then you know exactly the type of gameplay to which I am referring. In fact, Costume Quest immediately came to mind while playing this game, sans the fart attacks and genitalia.

But it’s actually some of these attack mechanics that introduced one of my few complaints about this game. I literally spent about five to ten minutes figuring out a fart move that I was being taught because the description on the screen was not clear enough. In one instance, the screen indicator was telling me to press the right joystick down, when it was really supposed to be up. And in another situation (one that left me having to restart an entire sequence of events when I failed), the on-screen instruction appeared for only a split moment before vanishing, leaving me guessing what direction I had to press the controller. I failed multiple times before I finally guessed correctly.

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I didn’t want to penalize the game if I was the only one experiencing this so I checked online and even our own Facebook page had some folks complaining about this. It didn’t detract from the game’s overall experience, but it did break the momentum of one of the funnier scenes. Otherwise, I found the interactive elements in the fighting to be a blast. It felt nice delivering some of Stan’s sword swipes and ninja-ambushing bums in the sewers with my character’s assassin team attack (I chose the Thief class for my character).

The game lets you choose between four classes: Fighter, Wizard, Thief, and Jew. While the classes provide you with different abilities, you are able to wear all armor in the game regardless of your class. This doesn’t present a huge incentive to replay the game, but it’s still interesting to see what each class is capable of. Where your character’s skills lack, your buddies compensate. As you move through the storyline, you will join forces with some of the other characters in the South Park universe and each one comes packed with their own class and skills. While you can only choose growth in your own character, the other kids unlock skills as you progress, so its good to always check on their abilities from time to time.

I found myself using Cartman a lot for his “AOE” fire spells, but Stan is an awesome physical damage-dealer. With the exception of losing that character’s turn in battle, you are always able to swap character mid-fight without penalty. Stick of Truth only allows for one companion in battle, but the others are always available after they have joined your party.

The interactive element of combat in the game extends outside of the battlefield, and I love this particular aspect. Your character is able to swing his weapons (melee or range) outside of combat, during the exploration phase of the game. All of your enemies roam around the environment (no random encounters), so if you see a group of enemies and throw your ranged weapons at them, the effect of that weapon’s capabilities will be attached to the enemy at the beginning of combat. Additionally, if you hit an enemy with your melee weapon, you will initiate combat and get first attack.

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With certain enemies, it’s strategically smart to sneak up and shoot them with an arrow in order to put them out of commission for a round or two, particularly with some of the stronger bad guys. Leveling your character opens up locked abilities and each of the abilities, in turn, is upgradeable. In addition to ability-leveling, you are also awarded perks as you make more friends around town. Perks offer things like higher damage on your first strike, more overall hit points, and plenty of other attributes that help you in combat. You have lots to choose from, but in order to unlock more perks you must befriend people on Facebook (within the game), so it pays to talk to everyone in town (even the talking poops).

Throughout the game’s ten-hour campaign, I never felt myself tiring of the battle system or gameplay, and with the exception of the poor tutorial explanations, the entire experience was fantastic, with the promised authenticity of the TV show evident throughout. Seriously, if someone walked in the room while you were playing, they literally would not know that you were playing the video game unless you called up a menu. I hesitate from spoiling anything about the game, but some of the locations you visit are hilariously amazing: one location in particular pokes fun at two different things at the same time. You’ll appreciate it when you see it.

Also, one of the battle set-pieces in the game takes the overall crown for “most unique battle location in a video game – of all time”. Seriously, you have never fought in this background before, and likely never will again. Congratulations Trey and Matt, you brought something new to the gaming world.

Visuals:
Crappily amazing. That’s how best to describe the visuals in South Park. 100% authentic to the look and feel of the TV show. In fact, the only things that give the video game facade away are the HUD (which vanishes when you are exploring) and the occasional hiccup in framerate when the game loads a new environment or auto-saves.

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I also experienced a few bugs, where strange graphical glitches would appear on the screen, and would not disappear unless I restarted the entire game. In my entire playthrough, this only happened twice. I have to add that exploring South Park for the first time was really awesome.

I don’t think I’ll ever watch the show the same way again because now I know how far Kyle lives from Cartman and I know what Mr. Slave’s house looks like from the outside. I also now know how to get to Mr. Hankey’s home. The town has been visually represented amazingly and I absolutely love that I can go into almost every building and witness some previously unseen locals from the small Colorado town.

Audio:
While a lot of folks are going on about the visuals for Stick of Truth, in regards to their authentic look, sound design in the game plays an equal role in that authenticity. Everyone in the game sounds true to their TV counterpart, with good reason (as they were voiced by the same people). The music that fans have come to associate with the TV show is present here as well and even plays at appropriate times (such as the tell-tale guitar notes that bring us back from commercials).

The farts sound great, with various effects used to represent different fart styles. Some of the sound elements are downright laugh-out-loud in execution. My first moment of outright laughter came with Timmy’s introduction into the game and this was achieved with the sound effects used to present him.

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Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

Conclusion:
All fears of disappointment have fled after experiencing South Park: The Stick of Truth. While I can’t imagine myself playing this multiple times (save for the occasional nostalgic visit years from now), I can say with confidence that the game has delivered on its promise. It’s not only one of the best franchise games out there, it is also one of the funniest (with the disclaimer that this is indeed South Park style humor).

I am a little disappointed with some of the bugs that made it into this final copy. None of them detracted from the overall experience, but I did have to restart the game twice in order to remove some visual glitching and during one scene, the character voices were completely muted (I reloaded and it happened again). If you enjoy the show and you are reading this, then any warnings about its crude content should be unnecessary, but it should still be cautioned (if you are a parent) that even having children in the room should be avoided. It gets pretty bad folks, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

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  • William

    Great review. I’ll pick up down the road as I’m a fan of the show, not insane fan like Rey… lol

  • Richieboy

    Had such a wonderful first 7 hours with this game, only until I discovered a game-breaking bug I’d picked up where I could no longer perform the “Dragon Shout” move, completely blocking my progress in one of the sewer-based side missions. If this wasn’t South Park I wouldn’t be bothering to go back to the start, but it gets a pass on this occasion!

  • ChazzH69

    Great review, can’t wait to play it.

  • David Sodee

    I loved the game and had a great time with it. I buy few digital games because I like to buy then sell and recoup some costs but no regrets on this purchase. I may even come back to it again later as it made me laugh and that is rare nowadays in gaming.