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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"South Park: The Stick of Truth" Review

As a long time fan of South Park, I was super excited when The Stick of Truth was announced. Here we are now, after three years of delays and THQ shutting down and the game has finally released; but was it worth the wait? 

The short answer is "absolutely!" The long answer is this review. 

South Park: The Stick of Truth is a turn-based RPG with open world exploration, character customization, and some hints of QTE (Quick Time Events). The story revolves around the New Kid (that's you) moving to South Park with his parents, in the hopes that this "quiet little mountain town" will bring them some peace. Ha! Not likely. It doesn't take long for Cartman to catch wind of the New Kid's arrival and send Butters to fetch him so that he may recruit him to his side of the imaginary war all the neighborhood kids are taking part in. The children all don their fantasy costumes from the Black Friday Trilogy and fight each other over control of the Stick of Truth (which is, of course, just a stick). It sounds simple enough, but from there things get complicated. The story becomes a convoluted mess, the likes of which only South Park can pull off, involving aliens, Taco Bell, the government and the power of farts.

Stick of Truth's gameplay is akin to that of more classic open-world RPG. You play as the "new kid" whom you customize in the tradition of games like Skyrim and Dragon Age, and who is lovingly dubbed "Douchebag" regardless of what name you give him. Once you have met with the grand wizard, chosen you character class (being Fighter, Mage, Thief or Jew) and been given a name, you finally set off for adventure!

 During the game you spend a major portion of time wandering around the town of South Park, communicating with the locals, completing side quests, making friends on what appears to be a Facebook knockoff, and engaging in battle with random NPCs.

During your travels you will see enemies ranging from other kids, to Mongolians to even aborted Nazi Zombie fetuses. Battles are engaged when either you or the enemy attacks. Attacking enemies on the field gives a slight advantage in the beginning of battle. From there the battles play out in a traditional turn-based manner. The player controls the New Kid and their current companion and chooses from a variety of options such as Attack, Abilities, Magic, Summon and Items. What separates this game from most traditional RPGs, however is that once an action is selected, a button prompt must be successfully executed during the battle animation to ensure maximum damage. If the player fails to hit the button at the right moment, then they do less damage, sometimes the lessened damage is so annoyingly insignificant that you might as well have not even attacked to begin with. Outside of regular attacks, there are special moves each character has that consume PP (power points). These attacks usually consist of buffs, de-buffs or area attacks. Of course, most of this is fueled by the children's imaginations so certain attacks are improvised. For example, Cartman is a wizard, but his elemental attacks are by no means magical. Fire is produced by farting on a lighter and electricity is triggered by the anti-cursing V-Chip that was installed in him. You can also summon certain characters you have earned by completing side quests, but they can only be used once a day and cannot be used in boss battles. A particularly annoying setback that is given no explanation or justification. It just is what it is.  

Douchebag's power attacks are entirely dependent on what class you chose for him in the beginning of the game. However, Douchebag possesses a special ability no one else does. The ability to control his farts. This is where magic comes in. In honor of South Park's never dying cesspool of juvenile comedy, all magic attacks are some varying form of flatulence, the most powerful of which is tastelessly, yet hilariously named "Nagasaki". The only complaint I have about the battle system, aside from the unneeded timed button presses, is that you can only have one companion at a time. This means your battles are always limited to two people on your team and anywhere from 1-10 people on the enemy team. this adds an unnecessary extra difficulty to the game and can often make perfecting strategy a bit tedious. This is especially the case in boss battles.

The menu screen in Stick of Truth is worth a review of it's own. No stone was left un-turned here. When you open the menu you're first greeted by a Facebook-esque social networking site and status updates from everyone you've made friends with in town. This itself is worth hours of time wasted just reading funny status updates from everyone in town. The menu is also where players can upgrade Doucebag's abilities, learn new skills and equip new weapons and armor.  

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone had a huge hand in making the game and it shows. Everything fans love about the show is alive and well in the game. In fact, the game is so much like the show there were times during cut scenes that I forgot I was even playing a game. If it wasn't for the uncensored cursing and excessive nudity, and of course the parts that actually look like a video game, you'd hardly be able to tell the difference. Being a video game, Stick of Truth gets away with a lot more than the show ever could, while still staying true to it's roots. The game itself appears to be canon and more or less a direct sequel to the Black Friday Trilogy. There's numerous references and continuities from past episodes of the show to support this theory. This is arguably one of the best games based off a licensed franchise to date (with the exception of maybe the Batman Arkham games). All the delays were clearly worth it because the game is polished, fun, enjoyable and well executed. A near perfect experience with some minor hiccups. While the main story may be relatively short, players can get lost for hours exploring South Park and the surrounding area (I won't spoil anything but I particularly enjoyed the Canada section for nostalgic reasons), and I highly suggest doing so because the only way to truly experience all the game has to offer and to meet every character there is to meet, you must frequently venture away from the main road and take the beaten path. Even with 10+ hours of gameplay I STILL haven't met every character and done everything there is to do. I'm looking forward to a second playthrough.

My Rating: 9/10             


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