South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS3)
South Park is a series that needs no introduction, excluding the previous remark that serves as an introduction to state that the series needs no introduction. South Park: The Stick of Truth is a role-playing game set in the South Park universe, written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. There have been previous games based on South Park, but none of them were really all that great. They existed within the typical realm of videogame adaptations, serving simply to echo the source material rather than deliver the experience that players wanted. It’s a sad existence for a series that thrives on mockery and satire to simply deliver the standard quota. The Stick of Truth is different.
Players take the role of the new kid in South Park. Forced by their parents to go out and make friends in this new town, the player is engulfed in a pretend battle between humans and elves. This is a game in which the player plays, well, a game. The elves and humans are locked in a battle over the stick of truth, in which those who have it may bend the laws of the universe to their every whim. Many major characters from the show make some sort of appearance, often in rather funny ways.
The title takes advantage of the opportunity provided by the meta-game to make a number of self-aware remarks and quips about the medium, but this never becomes the main focus. Rather than fall into the amateurish trope of just mocking every facet of a game in the same fashion as a bad Let’s Play, The Stick of Truth uses these references relatively sparingly and never becomes overbearing or desperate. There’s a sort of cleverness to the general wit, with some underlying satire permeating through out the title’s campaign. The title is smart, funny, and often really crude. It captures the essence of the very best of South Park. It’s a near perfect adaptation of the show, feeling more like a continuation than a separate item. The game even looks identical.
Players can explore the entirety of South Park, and some additional areas from the show, discovering hidden collectables, acquiring new gear, and partaking in a number of quests. Gear can be used to change the player’s appearance, but they may also provide bonuses in combat. Additionally, players can even add “strap-ons” to include additional bonuses to that item. Occasionally, players will also come across enemy characters on the field. Depending on their actions, players can gain advantage over their enemies before the game transitions into a separate combat screen.
Combat is turn-based, with players selecting commands and then executing them, although it is a little more engaging than just committing to actions and watching them get carried out. When attacking, the player has the opportunity to time a button press to increase the effectiveness of the attack. They may use a fart–The Stick of Truth‘s spells– or apply a heavy strike or weaker, combo strike. Additionally, this may apply to both physical and ranged attacks. Players will also be expected to time a block for any attacks oncoming. Depending on the class that the player is playing, they may initiate different skills that require PP, and mana can be consumed to employ one of four fart attacks. Careful that the mana gauge doesn’t overflow, though! It leaves quite a mess.
The player is usually accompanied by a single companion who may be swapped freely amongst one of the protagonists of the show. Unlike the player, these characters do not obtain experience and level up, and their gear cannot be customized. Instead, they progress in synch with the player specifically based upon their class. In contrast, the player’s class has little bearing on how the player progresses, beyond the four abilities they may use and upgrade. Instead, the player can freely form their character with little restriction using different equipment. Farts are available through all classes, as are ranged attacks and physical. Leveling up does not increase character parameters either, instead enabling the player to upgrade their current abilities and equip higher level gear.
As the player progresses through the game, they will have access to more perks which provide a variety of bonuses inside combat. These perks unlock by becoming friends with the denizens of South Park. This concept becomes a central gameplay theme, with the pause menu’s appearance designed to emulate that of a social network, namely Facebook. This is also a nice source of laughs as other characters will occasionally post on the player’s wall or news feed (both of which bleed into the one feed). The player may become friends with other characters through simply progression, talking to them on the field, or from completing quests for them.
Despite all the options for customization, there isn’t any real balance or challenge to the game. Simply exploring the world will unlock high enough quality gear to overwhelm enemy characters, and oftentimes the player would likely find old gear better than some of the higher level gear as a result of the focus on bonuses rather than parameters. The parameters still exist, but these can be counter-balanced with strap-ons to establish an over-powered character. The act of blocking with accurate timing is also almost mandatory, but not difficult to pull off. Enemies will often take off large lumps of the player’s health, even when blocked, but even when the player fails there are plenty health restorative items freely obtainable through-out the map. Some status ailments are also more useful than others; although the trade off is that some of the less useful ailments are also more comical.
Furthermore, players that aren’t strangers to Obsidian’s most recent releases will be familiar enough to expect a number of bugs. While these are not game breaking, they can be rather obnoxious. The frame rate becomes erratic when the game auto-saves, and occasionally there are input bugs that interfere with gameplay. The input bugs, specifically, can be easily rectified by returning the controller to neutral, but they can be a tad annoying.
It’s safe to say that South Park: The Stick of Truth‘s forte is most definitely in its writing. The universe is masterfully recreated in this title, and the humour is fast and frequent, with some elements of satire underlying throughout the storyline. It’s a simple game, but a joy to be experienced–particularly if you’re a fan of the show. While the lack of challenge and the need to explore the mechanics is a bit disappointing, this at least ensures that the title is light and accessible enough for players unfamiliar with the genre to enjoy the extension to the show they enjoy. This is one of the few videogame adaptations that just get the source material right.
4 farts out of 5South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS3),