Review: South Park: The Stick of Truth

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South Park debuted on television screens back in 1997. Following the comical adventures of four boys: Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman and Kenny McCormick, the programme has received numerous accolades and continues to amuse audiences, even in its 17th season.

However, the series has failed to achieve the same success when it comes to video games. Despite the release of a first-person shooter, a tower defence game and even a racing title, South Park has struggled to entertain gamers to the same level as the television show … until now.

Having been affected by numerous delays, a change in developer and some censorship issues, South Park: The Stick of Truth has finally seen the light of day, but was it worth the effort? In a word, yes

The Stick of Truth is the first South Park video game which has contained massive input from the creators of the show, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who have been openly critical of previous South Park titles. Parker and Stone were heavily involved in the script and they voiced characters in the game, and it shows throughout the title’s entirety.

The game begins with the in-depth character customisation, as players create their avatar with the assistance of Cartman. Everything about the avatar is customisable, including skin colour, the character’s hair, facial features and clothing. On the whole, the character customisation is extremely impressive and each end product wouldn’t look out of place in the television programme itself.

In fact, the whole of South Park has brilliantly been recreated in video game form. The town has been excellently implemented, with iconic buildings and restaurants such as Jimbo’s Guns, South Park Elementary and the stars’ houses all making an appearance. The developer’s decision to retain the two-dimensional animation the TV series is well known for has really paid off. You could take any screenshot from the game and it wouldn’t look out of place in the television series.

But what would a town be without its residents? South Park: The Stick of Truth incorporates all the characters from the television series, including favourites such as Butters, Randy Marsh, Timmy, Mr Hankey and Jesus. The fact that each character looks identical to their counterparts and that they retain the same voice actor/actress makes it feel as if you’re playing an interactive episode, rather than a video game.

As well as the graphics and animation, South Park: The Stick of Truth also retains the humour that fans of the show have come to know and love. The script is full of gags and references to popular culture that will have gamers laughing out loud all the way through.

The story mode sees players control The New Kid (dubbed “Douchebag”) who has recently moved to the area. After befriending some of the local boys, he becomes involved in a role-playing fantasy game, featuring wizards and warriors battling for control of the Stick of Truth – a twig that possesses limitless power. It’s up to The New Kid to choose his alliance and to regain the Stick of Truth.

South Park: The Stick of Truth adopts the elements of RPGs that we’ve come to know and love. This comes as no surprise as it’s developed by Obsidian Entertainment, who has previously worked on titles including Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords and Fallout: New Vegas.

Combat in the Stick of Truth consists of turn-based battles (in a similar fashion to the Final Fantasy series), with some action incorporated into it. As well as a range of attacks to choose from, including melee, long range, magic (a.k.a. farting) and summons (which, with the exception of bosses, wipe out the enemy force for one fight), additional attacks and blocks are executed through mini quick time events. While it isn’t particularly innovative or groundbreaking, combat in the Stick of Truth is a simple, yet engaging system that works brilliantly.

However, it does come with its flaws. Combat isn’t particularly difficult, even on the harder settings. This mainly comes down to the fact that players are able to use an item or special ability before attacking, meaning those who have stocked up on health items and potions are easily able to heal themselves before inflicting damage on the enemy. Moreover, combat can get repetitive and tedious, especially towards the climax of the story.

In addition, the Stick of Truth is full of collectibles, including action figures (better known as Chinpokomon), armour/equipment and befriending all of the residents in South Park on the in-game social network. Unfortunately, a lot of them are missable and, with no level replay system, it makes achieving 100% impossible without another play-through – much to the annoyance of achievement junkies.

Another disadvantage about the Stick of Truth is the class system. During character customisation, players are able to choose between the four classes: Fighter, Mage, Thief and Jew. However, the difference between each of them is minimal, as they have no real impact on how your character behaves.

One of the main talking points about the game at launch was the censorship within the European version. While some gamers may be disappointed by the removal of the abortion and anal probe mini-games, the censored screen (which describes what has been extracted) add to the title’s humour.

Overall, it’s clear that a lot of time and effort has gone into South Park: The Stick of Truth to make a brilliant overall product. While the combat isn’t particularly innovative and there’s little replayability once players have overcome the twelve hour campaign, the brilliantly-scripted story mode contains many laugh out loud moments. This is the game fans of the television series have been waiting for (just don’t forget to bring a towel).