I finished South Park: The Stick of Truth
early this morning after navigating the wilds of Canada, alien starships, the Lost Forest, encounters with Crab People, and the myriad dangers, pitfalls, and ridiculous events that weave the fabric of life in the quiet mountain town of South Park, Colorado. The vast majority of licensed games wallow in a lugubrious swamp of suckitude, snared by overwrought plotlines and poorly designed combat systems. The Stick of Truth
, in contrast, celebrates
its own universe while moving the game along at a fast clip.
The game begins as you, the titular New Kid move to town and are drawn into the ongoing role-playing game between the humans of Zaron (led by Grand Wizard Cartman) and the Drow Elves. The two sides battle for the Stick of Truth, an ancient and powerful artifact that allows its wielder to control the fate of the Universe. As the New Kid (promptly christened Douchebag), your goal is to safeguard the Stick of Truth -- at least when you aren't battling toxic alien sludge, finding Jesus, infiltrating government labs, recruiting new factions, and following in the footsteps of Lemmywinks, the Gerbil King.
Jesus El Saviooooooooor Christ!
The Stick of Truth is a game explicitly designed to showcase the plotlines, characters, and scenarios that have enlivened South Park over the past 17 years. Al Gore and ManBearPig? They're here. Cartman's closet has an AWESOME-O robot suit stuffed in it. One of Butters' special powers in combat is to turn into Professor Chaos, while Cartman's special power activates his V-Chip and unleashes a torrent of curse-powered lightning.
This is the most complete vision of South Park
we've ever seen in a video game, and it's a lot of fun to explore. Some of the buildings on Main Street are areas we've scarcely seen in-game, and again, there are plenty of call-outs -- you can pick up David Hasslehoff's nose at Tom's Rhinoplasty or grab a cup of coffee at Tweak's Coffee, along with an annoying "Good ol' days" speech for Tweek's Dad.
Gameplay in the Stick of Truth is JPRG-lite. You only get one party member at a time, but the game has implemented quick-time events in a way that doesn't
feel stupid. All of your attacks and powers are driven by properly clicking or hitting the right button at the right time, but failure just means flubbing a single attack, not a lengthy reload sequence. Available character classes are Fighter, Mage, Thief, and Jew -- I picked Jew, which doesn't have a major impact on gameplay -- Cartman ribs that you'll never be friends, but there are no special dialog options with Kyle or class-specific quests.
Estimates of the game's length put it at 10-12 hours and while I play slower than most people, I'd agree that it's not much longer than that, even if you do all the side quests. In this case, however, that works to its advantage. South Park
is a 20 minute TV show by default, and much of its humor is driven by jaw-dropping decisions and utterly ridiculous events. These kinds of plot devices can overstay their welcome in a longer title, but TSoT is well-paced. As is typical in the SP universe, the adults have their own view of events, the kids have another, and the two only cross intermittently. The RPG elements work brilliantly here because they blend the two -- in a world where Barbara Streisand has been known to turn into a 300 foot tall fire-breathing kajiru, it's possible to believe that maybe, just maybe
a wooden stick has untold powers and hidden potential.
The game's sound track is heavily flavored with elements of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
, The Lord of the Rings
, and the entire classic South Park
soundtrack. Classics like Gonna Need a Montage, Sexual Harrassment Panda, and dozens of other pieces are all used as background audio in various locations in the game.
Bugs and limitations
There are a few downsides to the game. You're stuck playing as a male, even if you dress and present your character as female -- there are no transgender or female character options. This is a bit disappointing, because South Park
has traditionally pushed the envelope in embracing non-normative characters -- Parker and Stone have a long history of thumbing their nose at convention while simultaneously mocking harmful stereotypes and have portrayed the kids of South Park
as far more accepting than their parents, or as mystified by elements of adult bigotry that don't exist in their own internal worlds.
Writing at Polygon, Alexa Ray Corriea, a longtime South Park fan, summarized
her own disappiontment in the lack of a female option, and having finished the game I can see her point. It would've been difficult to fit a girl choice into the game's structure, but it would've opened up fascinating replay and alternate experience options.
There's been some chatter about buginess, and I'd like to note that there
are some issues with the game at present. Your character will sometimes vanish from cut-scenes, or flicker on and off the screen. More troublesome are the occasional hard crashes (I encountered three), particularly when hard crashes can also
delete your manual save games. I never lost my current position in-game, but my previous saves were wiped twice, both times after the game died. These weren't severe enough to hamper my finish, but you may want to manually back up your manual saves in order to ensure they don't get wiped.
The keyboard commands are also a bit clunky in places; learning magic farts is a bit tedious -- though they're considerably easier to deploy in combat than to master in the initial stages of the game.
Verdict: Play the Game
Yes. This actually happens.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is the movie sequel we never got. It's a vibrant romp through much of the South Park universe. It's an opportunity to save the land of Zaron, rescue Princess Kenny, and face down rampaging hordes of dire wolves, drow elves, ginger kids, and zombies. Brave the wilds of Canada! Destroy alien incursions! Slaughter innocent wildlife for Jimbo Kern and Ned Gerblansky!
Just make sure you're home before dark.