In my 27 years of gaming, I've only had three experiences in which I've had to walk away momentarily due to content that made me uneasy. The first time occurred in the original "BioShock," where I had to beat someone with a golf club. Another happened in Manhunt, where you're required to suffocate someone with a plastic bag. The latest member of this dubious club comes by way of a gory abortion scene in "South Park: Stick of Truth." But if you can handle South Park's boundary-pushing — as we suspect most of its fans can — then you'll find this game to be a riotous combination of the TV show and a send-up of traditional video game tropes.
Think you have the balls to face the Mexican Staring Frog? Then read on.
"Stick of Truth's" central story is located (surprise) in the quiet little mountain town of South Park. The game takes much of its premise from the show's episode "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers," placing the kids of South Park in a massive RPG in a mission to procure the legendary Stick of Truth.
Instead of playing as one of the show's four central characters (Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Kenny McCormick and Eric Cartman), gamers take on the role of the New Kid, recently relocated to South Park.
A war is waging between the humans, led by Cartman, now known as the Grand Wizard of the Kingdom of Kupa Keep (KKK), and the Drow Elves, controlled by Kyle and Stan. Cartman's faction quickly recruits the New Kid, tasking him with helping to secure the Stick of Truth, a magical article so powerful that whomever controls it gains mastery of the universe.
In the fight to claim the stick, the New Kid teams with Butters to assemble Cartman's best warriors for the upcoming battle. The New Kid explores the town along the way, picking up side quests from favorite South Park denizens such as Mr. Mackey, Mr. Slave and Randy Marsh.
Like any good South Park episode, New Kid winds up aboard an alien vessel, where he and other citizens are being probed. "It's just one of the things you put up with when you live in a small mountain town," says Randy Marsh (Stan's father) matter-of-factly. The ship then crashes into town, spilling toxic green goo all over the place, and turning everything it touches into Nazi zombies (seriously, we couldn't make this up if we tried).
Much of "Stick of Truth's" story is told through cut scenes voiced by the "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The scenes are perfectly timed, and paced just like an episode of the show. They have all of the trademark, off-brand humor that fans of "South Park" have come to expect.
Amidst the anal probes, hobo fights, fart jokes and elf-on-human violence, the game manages to sneak in some biting commentary. "Stick of Truth" calls out gaming tropes such as the silent protagonist, as well as the overuse of Nazis and zombies. There's also a point in the game when New Kid is listening to audio logs strewn around the board, while discussing the inanity of leaving behind said logs.
Fans of old-school RPGs will feel right at home in "Stick of Truth." At the beginning of the game, players must choose among four playable classes: Fighter, Mage, Thief or Jew. Each class features signature attacks. For example, the Fighter class starts with Assault and Battery at the start of the game and gains more powerful attacks as his level increases. The Jew class has a unique set of skills, including the Sling of David, which shoots off a projectile trailed by tiny Stars of David. This class is also a master of Jew-Jitsu, a martial arts-style attack.
Instead of real-time battle, "Stick of Truth" employs turn-based combat. It gives players more than enough time to choose their next moves, making it easier for first-time RPGers.
Players control a party made up of the New Kid and one member of the original "South Park" cast. However, players can swap out the secondary party member when it's their turn to do battle. It would have been nice to throw down with a robust party of five, but this is a decent compromise.
The protagonist can choose among a variety of attacks, which can be augmented in real time. Melee strikes can be chained into powerful combos by pressing the indicated button at the right time. The same goes for ranged attacks, special moves and magic.
Inspired by "Skyrim", the New Kid has access to a special set of powers called Dragon Shouts. But since this is a "South Park" game, you shout with your butt. That's right, Dragon Shouts are fart-based weapons of varying powers and uses. Our favorite attack, by far, is the Nagasaki, which demolishes large objects by syncing a fart to the object's unique frequency.
The game also employs a form of Summons spells. However, instead of beautiful, majestic animations of imposing monsters, you get Jesus blasting away enemies with an automatic rifle and Mr. Slave enveloping an enemy in his rectal cavity.
Even Mr. Hanky gets in the act, donning the red robe and blue hat from "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and raising a foul storm of epic proportions. Somewhere, Walt Disney's frozen head is weeping.
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Which brings us to the scene where our character had to pretend to perform not one, but two abortions on Randy Marsh and a machine, with Christmas music playing in the background. Our failures — of which there were several — resulted in either rupturing our patient's anus or ripping off a testicle, in all its gory detail. These scenes ultimately made us turn off the game for a few minutes to compose ourselves. Unlike the airport shooting scene in "Call of Duty," there’s no way to skip past this scene, either.
While the combat and story are entertaining, "Stick of Truth" is not without its faults. Despite all the characters and attacks, combat can get somewhat repetitive. There are also some issues with balancing, as we could lay out enemies with a single blow toward the end of the game.
The game is fairly simple to grasp, but we wish there had been a little more direction for some of the mini-games. We got a quick tutorial at the beginning of the mini-game, but were then left to fend for ourselves. In most cases, we simply pressed buttons until we succeeded.
We also experienced several instances of stuttering as we navigated the town in the PC version of the game. Cutscenes looked like something out of an old Godzilla flick, thanks to noticeably out-of-sync audio and video. In a number of occasions, a character had finished speaking, but his or her mouth continued to move.
Arts and Graphics
If you didn't know any better, you'd swear that "Stick of Truth" was just a series of episodes from the show. Obsidian did its due diligence and created a faithful interpretation of the streets, homes and shops fans have come to know and love. We immediately broke into a smile when we discovered that the jerky hopping motion that passes for walking on the show made it into the game.
The game uses the show's cutout animation, resulting in bright, colorful and charming visuals. However, the game's depiction of Canada as a 16-bit wonderland is breathtaking. The open-world map presentation invites comparisons to early 90's-era RPGs such as "Final Fantasy IV" and "Secret of Mana" that fans of retro-RPGs will appreciate.
Sound and Audio
If you thought they couldn't cram any more fan service into this game, think again. Voiced by Parker and Stone, your favorite characters' words are front and center, bringing their own brand of inappropriate funny. Cartman’s expletive-laden V-chip attack instantly brought a smile to our face, as did Scott Malkinson's lisp and Jimmy's stutter.
However, the excellent audio doesn't end at the voice acting. "Stick of Truth" also incorporates many of the songs featured in the show. When we went into the Unplanned Parenthood, "Taco-Flavored Kisses" was playing in the background. We also heard a few tracks from Chef as we explored the town.
Unfortunately, we ran into a few audio glitches as we progressed through the game. We noticed that the music would drop out during some combat scenes, leaving us casting spells and chucking dodgeballs in total silence.
"South Park: Stick of Truth" is short by RPG standards. We were able to finish the game in a little over 10 hours. But for a game whose premise is based on a television show, this was the right move. Everything is just as long as it needs to be before the joke gets old. There's also more incentive to play through each of the classes.
Obsidian will also be rolling out some downloadable content in the future, once you've had your fill of playing as Douchebag the Jew.
After a number of licensed titles that ranged from mediocre to outright terrible, a much better "South Park" game has arrived. "Stick of Truth" combines all the inappropriate humor fans have come to expect from the series with a simplified RPG play style that anyone can pick up.
The graphics, audio and story are pitch-perfect. However, the game does fall victim to repetitive combat and unbalanced battles. There are also several glitches, which are more annoying than game breaking. But for a game so short, we would have hoped for just a bit more polish.
Those issues aside, "South Park: Stick of Truth" is a must play for both die-hard and casual fans of the show. It's also a good starter RPG for gamers looking to ease their way into the genre. So come on down to South Park, where you'll find Jesus, ManBearPig and more Nazi zombies than you can shake a stick (of truth) at.
Systems: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and Steam
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment, South Park Studios
Genre: Turn-based RPG
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