Publisher: Ubisoft | Developer: Obsidian Entertainment | Out: 7 March
Within the first five minutes of South Park: The Stick Of Truth, we found ourselves sat upon a toilet, being prompted ‘Mash A to poo’. Subsequently, we reached into our porcelain throne and received a ‘shit nugget’ – an item that can be flung at your opponent to inflict the ‘grossed out’ status effect.
This whole experience sets the tone of the game better than any we’ve played recently. Right there, the game is telling you what to expect going forward – this is an immature, self-referential pastiche of the RPG genre pulled off with both confidence and style. It really is a no holds barred experience – the faint-hearted should step away now; it only gets worse.
Our favourite thing about The Stick Of Truth was its consistent approach to self-deprecation; because of its setup as a live-action role playing game within the South Park town, the game automatically has license to poke fun at itself. In your first battle – against Clyde – Cartman talks you through the controls (it’s your standard turn-based RPG fare, beefed up with contextual prompts to bolster your attack or block some damage here and there).
As you’re getting to grips with everything, Clyde becomes impatient and sets out to attack you. Exasperated, Cartman chides “you have to wait your turn, Clyde, like in the olden times.” We genuinely chortled a little at this and even left the game idling a little longer to hear Clyde get more worked up. “Doesn’t it bother you that there’s a game to be played,” offered Cartman, after a while. We can’t think of many other games that are so entertaining when you’re doing literally nothing.
Complete your tutorial and you’re sent off into the world of South Park proper. The aim of the game is to make friends – whether through exploration, quest-solving, item retrieval or battle-winning, the myriad residents of South Park will all appear in some shape or form. The game is brimming with fan service – in the first few hours, we thought Trey and Matt had exhausted all possible references they could, but the further you get into the game, the more attention to detail you see: even the random loot drops and containers found around South Park have relevant items in them. The whole of South Park has been brought to life attentively and respectfully, and that is probably the game’s greatest achievement.
This attention to detail is a double-edged sword though, unfortunately. The whole game experience is fairly short – it took us just 12 hours to do everything we could find on the map; all side quests, Chinpokomon collectibles and the vast majority of friends were completed in this time. Those looking for a sprawling, 100+ RPG experience will be disappointed, but those used to more action-oriented titles will fit snugly in the game’s demographic. That isn’t to say those 12 hours aren’t enjoyable though, in fact we’d go as far as saying we’ve never laughed at a game like we laughed at The Stick Of Truth – the whole experience is more than just a game, it’s like watching a series of the show where you have to move from one episode to another.
The game’s pace is dictated by ‘days’ spent in the town, each day tasking you with another mission or duty from the benevolent Wizard King (Cartman) or the powerful Jew Elf (Kyle). Over the course of your adventures, you’ll acquire magic – read: farts – and ‘abilities’ that help you break through obstacles throughout the town. This does little to grant longevity, though – once you’ve unlocked everything there is to unlock (about eight hours in), the whole world opens up: Timmy’s fast-travel stations are there more for convenience than necessity.
We played through the game on its hardest difficulty and we noticed something peculiar – the difficulty curve operates the opposite way its supposed to. To begin with, you and your buddies (think Fallout’s companions but with more anarchic abilities) will die so easily its funny. Get a decent weapon, stack it with good strap-ons and learn when to hit A to block/attack, though, and every battle becomes a cakewalk.
There’s a deep elemental system behind the weapons and a lot to consider in terms of attack order, buffs and debuffs, but once you’ve cracked the formula none of it seems to matter – we walked through the latter part of the game without re-equipping our weapons or armour once, and we felt practically invincible. While this does let you sit back and enjoy the story to the fullest degree possible, it made everything go a little too quickly – an interesting choice for a game that sells itself as a legitimate RPG experience.
South Park: The Stick Of Truth feels like the next logical step in the evolution of the South Park franchise; it seamlessly ties in with the most recent season of the show, it shows the same self-effacing qualities Trey and Matt are known for and it offers you the chance to play as one of the boys for a while – and who wouldn’t want that? But with little-to-no endgame and an unfortunately transparent battle system, we have to wonder why the game was delayed as long as it was.