South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

Cartman's forces prepare to strike

  • Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Release Date: 5 March 2014
  • Time Played: 13 hours

So I was umming and ahhing about purchasing this particular game. I must confess that I'm a bit of a fan of Obsidian Entertainment but when I heard that the guys behind cerebral RPGs like Planescape: Torment (during their Black Isle days) and Knights of the Old Republic II were making an RPG based on the South Park franchise, I was scratching my head at the news. It didn't seem like a good match and while I enjoy certain South Park episodes, I can't say that I'm a devoted fan. So based on the fact it was a game about South Park, I thought I would give it a miss. However, a member of my new usual haunt, the Whirlpool Forums, suggested I give it a chance:

Majority of South Park humour the last few years has been pop culture references, I dare say you'd enjoy it if you don't mind a bit of adult humour. :)

So I decided to give it a go but is the game worth it if you're not a South Park fan?

Plot (2/5)
You play the role of a new kid to South Park and are often referred to as such (when you're not being called "Sir Douchebag"). The New Kid is a silent protagonist which results in a lot of characters talking on your behalf during the course of the game (and is a source of some of the humour). As soon as you arrive in South Park your father forces you to go and make new friends with other kids in the neighbourhood which include many well-known characters from the series such as Butters, Cartman, Kenny, Stan and Kyle. You'll meet several more later on but what all these kids are doing are LARPing (Live-action role-playing) a Dungeons & Dragons-like game where Humans and Elves fight over a magical artifact known as the Stick of Truth. Apparently whoever controls the Stick of Truth, controls the universe (and no we're not talking about Spice from the planet Arrakis).

The plot happens to be a blatant rip-off of Skyrim though as you're known as the Dragonborn or Dovahkiin, you learn various Dragon Shouts (which are naturally a variety of farts in South Park) and even the interface and loading screens are similar. However there's a lot of South Park references that the fans will recognise (I'm not even a hardcore fan and even I recognised several) and they often crop up in side quests or even the main story quests as antagonists. There are occasional glimmers of genius, especially the jokes which act as social commentary: the pervasiveness of Facebook in modern society being a particular example (and a reason why it reminds me of Redshirt a bit), but this game is definitely more of a goldmine for South Park fans and mileage may vary for anyone else.

Also it's worthy to note that this is the first game I've played that has an Australian R18+ rating that goes with it. However, even though it's received a rating indicating only adults can play it, it still manages to have some parts of the game censored. Apparently Australia wasn't alone in this regard and different countries/regions also received their own customised censorship messages which describes what happens but doesn't display it. I have to say I'm actually kind of relieved I didn't get to see them.

Good to see Australia get a mention, even if it's for the wrong reasons

Gameplay (2/5)
This is Obsidian Entertainment. I don't understand. They usually do wonders to games - for example, I loved what they did with Dungeon Siege III as they brought more role-playing to the game than previous iterations (so it was more than just a simple hack 'n' slash). This game however is just a Western take on a JRPG using the South Park franchise. i.e. combat involves turn-based battles with you and a party member of your choice, against one or multiple enemies. You do happen to use Quick-Time Events in order to perform more effective attacks but that's about the only addition to the formula (and not a terribly good one at that). So while the gameplay mechanics are tried and true, and while for all intents and purposes they are serviceable, it's not that much fun, and not what I'd expect from Obsidian Entertainment.

Also whoever designed the inventory interface should be shot - unless they were trying to make it intentionally annoying - but that's an argument for another time (i.e. games should only go so far in parodying annoying features).

Beware Al Gore's speech on climate change!

Sound (5/5)
Audio is as authentic as you can get, using various sound samples from the show including voice acting by the original cast (which admittedly is mostly Trey Parker and Matt Stone).

Music (4/5)
The soundtrack isn't a terribly memorable one but it's pretty good with even a couple of tracks sounding very similar to Jeremy Soule's Skyrim soundtrack.

Graphics (5/5)
The visual style employed in the game consists of really basic 2D animations but you've got to give Obsidian Entertainment full credit for making such a faithful adaptation of the cartoon series.

Replay (1/5)
I managed to finish the game after about 13 hours and that's with about half of the side quests completed. I found it a bit of a struggle to finish the game though due to the crude nature of the jokes. I know South Park is intentionally meant to offend - that's its trademark humour and maybe I'm just a bit squeamish, but I've got to be honest - there were a couple of times I wanted to quit and stop playing, instead of trying to persist through some very cringe-worthy scenes.

Polish (4/5)
The game is fairly well polished - and usually I'd be joking about numerous bugs since it's an Obsidian Entertainment game. However, since it's not like traditional RPGs that Obsidian make, that's probably a major contributing factor. Multiple story arcs and hundreds of decision points tend to be hard to test for. I disliked the console-like auto-save system, aka the dreaded Save System Type 1 (according to a previous article I published). It occasionally means having to restore from somewhere slightly further back since you're at the mercy of wherever they decided to trigger the autosaves.

Score – 6/10

If you're a hardcore South Park Fan, add an extra point: the game is definitely one of the most faithful games to a franchise I've ever played. Otherwise, if you're an Obsidian Entertainment fan hoping for something deep and meaningful (without jokes about someone's anal cavity), you'll have to look elsewhere.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam or at popular retailers (e.g. EB, JB Hi-Fi, Big W, etc.)

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[ LINK: Official South Park: The Stick of Truth website ]