There have been some South Park games in the past, but none of them really made you feel like you were in a quiet little pissant, redneck, podunk, jerkwater, greenhorn, one-horse, mud-hole, peckerwood, right-wing, whistle-stop, hobnail, truck-drivin’, old-fashioned, hayseed, inbred, unkempt, out-of-date, out-of-touch, white-trash, kick-ass mountain town. Well, new kid, all of that is about to change.
South Park: The Stick of Truth has a bit of a rocky road to release, giving developer Obsidian, publisher Ubisoft, and all of us fans fits as a deluge of delays cast a longer shadow of doubt over this epic looking title. Very few gameplay clips were released, almost no press coverage was allowed, and everything that would normally point to doom and gloom was shifted into place to make this a ‘throwaway’ title. Literally none of that matters – South Park: The Stick of Truth is the best South Park title, a solid RPG, and the funniest title I can remember. Ever. Every single moment of this game is punctuated by the best bits and pieces from the storied 17 seasons of South Park. Crab People? Check. Mr. Hankey? Howdy ho! Underpants Gnomes, Chimpokomon, Mr. Slave, Jesus, City Wok, Tom’s Rhinoplasty, Chef’s unique brand of music, and every other character you can think of is here. Welcome to South Park.
After using the papercraft-inspired character creator to build your toon, the game starts with you, the new kid, moving into town with your parents slinging some amnesia nonsense to explain why you don’t talk and have no backstory. Kicked out of the house to go meet other kids, you soon run into Paladin Butters who brings you into the LARP (live action role playing) game between Grand Wizard Cartman and Drow Elf leader Kyle in their battle for the Stick of Truth. It’s at this point that you pick your class. Picking between fighter, mage, thief, or Jew (with “helpful” commentary by Cartman), you’ll learn the combat basics smacking around some of the kids in Cartman’s camp (“This is Scott Malkinson who has the power of diabetes”).
Combat in South Park is turn-based JRPG style (Cartman: “You have to wait your turn, like in olden times!”) with friends on the left and foes on the right. Each character has PP (power points) that they can use for special attacks. As a mage you can use “Dragon Breath”, which is to say light a Roman Candle firework and spray it at your foes. Fighters can unleash spinning attacks and power attacks, thieves can backstab – it’s standard fare. The Jew class? I’m not going to ruin that for you. Your attacks, whether they be normal or special, are usually accompanied by some sort of action. Butters has a power that asks you to spin your thumbstick and then hit X at the right time for additional damage. It ensures you keep your eye on the combat, even if it is a fairly simple paper-rock-scissors system of tanks, healers, and support classes. As you progress in the game you’ll also gain “summons” like Jesus. He descends bathed in light and then unleashes an AK-47 on your foes, leaping back into the sky like Neo in The Matrix. These can only be used once per day, but they are hilarious every time. Each character you eventually add to your roster has a unique payload of special powers. Butters the Paladin commands lightning and can heal, but also can eventually become Professor Chaos, unleashing random attacks courtesy of a giant spinning wheel. The Bard (again, no spoilers) can sing to his foes to put them to sleep, or serenade your team to buff them. Since you can swap them out at will, you are never without a solid party, even if it’s always just a two player affair.
Defeating foes earns you experience, just like in any RPG. Levelling up allows you to select from five powers that are gated. You’ll also gain access to perks by meeting progressively more friends from this sleepy town. The perks offer bonuses like reduced damage, reviving at full health and increased stats, but perks and powers aren’t your only skills – you are the Dragonborn. As Cartman explains, you have a unique skill that allows you to unleash a “Dragonshout” at your foes to wreak incredible damage during combat. This naturally comes from your ass as you hold down the right thumbstick to breathe in, wiggle the left thumbstick to build power, and then release both to unleash a noxious wave. Later you’ll learn to cup your ‘power’ for more directional control, and it only gets more crazy from there. You’ll use this more in the environment than you do in combat, but as far as toilet humor is concerned, it’s pretty well thought out.
You don’t earn equipment after combat in Stick of Truth. That’s all found by exploring the town and uncovering the veritable treasure trove of South Park references contained therein. A two-handed toilet plunger might have a power that hits enemies with Gross Out, preventing them from healing. Additionally you might apply stickers you find to regenerate health, do shock damage, and other such modifiers. In fact, it seems like every few seconds you are opening something that dumps its contents into your pocket. The best part is that even the vendor trash has a story attached. I found various and sundry sex toys in Cartman’s mom’s room, I’ve picked up several “TV Awards” that look strangely like Emmys that are worth just 70 cents buried in the sewers, and I’ve picked up Terrance and Phillip dolls everywhere. The floodgates of new customization options, from hair and makeup to Goth eyeliner and a Keith Flint (lead singer of The Prodigy) inspired haircut, will give you any look your mind can conjure.
With Parker and Stone onboard, Obsidian had access to the entire resources of South Park Digital Studios. This means that the game looks and moves exactly like the show, stilted rocking-horse walking animation and all. The results are nothing short of…well, extraordinary would be the wrong word. The game looks as terrible as the show, but in that way it’s perfect.
The voice work comes directly from the source on this one. With all of the show’s resources at their disposal, every character is fully voiced. Mr. Mackey’s signature “Mmmkay”, Mr. Garrison’s effeminate drawl, Cartman’s nasally curses, Kenny’s muffled banter, and Wendy Testaburger’s high pitched voices are just a small slice of the full cast. Even Chef’s dulcet tones gets a nod as elevator-esque background music at the various businesses around South Park. The audio is also the one and only bug I found in the game. Given Obsidian’s track record of releasing bugs with games occasionally attached, it was refreshing to only find this one issue – though it is annoying. During cutscenes, and infrequently during gameplay, the audio will desync from the action on screen, making the stilted animation look like a dubbed Japanese Anime. When it happens during combat it makes attack sounds that happen seconds before the defend icon appears, throwing off your timing a bit.
If you’ve not gathered it thus far, the house that brought you Fallout: New Vegas, Dungeon Siege III, Alpha Protocol, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Knights of the Old Republic 2 have struck gold once again. An epic RPG, a licensed game that somehow transcends its source material, and the culmination of everything South Park has come together to create the funniest game I’ve played in a decade. Stuffed with fan service, South Park: The Stick of Truth is better than any episode of the show, and it’s so much better than any of us could have anticipated.