South Park: The Stick of Truth isn’t simply a game inspired by the show. It is the show. It’s like an entire interactive season. You create a ‘new kid’ in town, who (in typical RPG fashion) is drawn into a conflict between two opposing factions (Humans and Elves). But, given this is a game based on the show, these factions are actually just two groups of kids role-playing a traditional fantasy scenario.
Castles and Kingdoms are backyards and cardboard boxes. Weapons and armour are sporting goods and fireworks. Potions are junk food and drinks. Traders buy and sell for allowance friendly prices, anywhere from a few cents to $20 plus ‘high level’ items. It’s fun (and often amusing) to see this imagination aspect at play, but more than that, it’s quite ingenious the way these traditional RPG elements are woven perfectly into the setting.
The game looks and is animated just like the show, and it works wonderfully. As I said, it’s like stepping into an interactive episode. This is both a good and bad thing. It’s bad in the sense that if you have no interest in or simply don’t like the show, you won’t really get anything out of this game. If, however, you have enjoyed the show at one time or another, this is better than anything you could have hoped for from a South Park video game.
Over the course of the game you’ll encounter just about every character or visit every location that’s featured on the show. And whilst the world isn’t exactly huge, it is rich in detail. Every location, every item, every quest – it all ties perfectly into the South Park setting. It’s clear that the creators of South Park had a huge part to play in keeping everything consistent and in line with the show – the dialogue, the style, the tone and the humour.
So The Stick of Truth is a fantastic South Park experience. But is it a good game? Well, sort of. If we strip away those South Park elements and judge the game purely on its gameplay, The Stick of Truth is solid, but nothing to get too excited about. In fact I’d find it hard to rate it beyond a 6/10.
The main story takes place across three days and if you ignore everything else, you can probably clear it in about 10 hours or so, which isn’t exactly great. Of course, if you do skip all the side quests and exploration you’re missing out on a hell of a lot. There’s a nice variety of side missions to undertake, and a lot of collectible items to hunt down. That said, even completing all the additional content doesn’t take the completion time much beyond 20 hours, and that’s if you really take your time.
But should we judge this game’s value only by how long it lasts? No, I don’t believe so. It may come in short compared to other RPGs, but this isn’t like any other RPG out there. This is a South Park RPG, and as I’ve said, it’s pretty much the definitive South Park experience and one of the best (if not the best) applications of an established license yet seen.
So let’s take a look at how it actually plays. You have your typical exploration element whereby you traverse the town of South Park, exploring for items and accepting quests. New areas unlock as you progress through the story and gain new abilities. Your character has a great range of cosmetic customisation, as well as a varied range of weapons and armour sets. These also come with sockets for additional upgrades. All these customisation options are nice, but sadly there’s no real incentive to use the cosmetic items beyond playing dress up. More quests revolving around gathering different disguises would have been very welcome.
There are four classes to choose from, each with their own 5 special abilities. These can be upgraded by using skill points you earn as you level up. There are also Perks you can choose from as you expand your list of South Park friends, plus a party system, although sadly it’s only limited to one party member at a time. Each companion also has their own unique attacks and abilities.
But what about the combat? This was surprisingly more in-depth than I was expecting. It’s turn based, but with an interactive element. Each turn you have a variety of options available. Normal and Ranged attacks. Items & Potions. Summon abilities. Special attacks & Magic. But your attacks aren’t simply automated affairs, as every action requires precise button timing to be effective. Blocking works in a similar way, as you can time a button press to block most of the damage of an enemy attack.
There are different types of elemental effects such as Fire (burning) and Frost (slow), along with negative states such as bleeding, sleep and stun. There are also buff (and de-buff) states increasing (or decreasing) armour or attack. This is also combined with different enemy stances such as riposte and reflect, forcing you to use a variety of attack types to win a battle. So yeah, a lot more depth than you might expect, but unfortunately it never quite results in battles that are as interesting as this extensive framework should allow.
This is partly due to the rather limited class and skill system. By the time you are around half-way through the game, you’ll have unlocked all of your class abilities, and probably fully upgraded your most useful special abilities. You very quickly establish an effective battle routine to deal with your opponents, and there’s very little reason to deviate from that as you progress. As a result, I found battles got rather tedious towards the end of the game. And upping the difficulty doesn’t increase the complexity or challenge of the battles, it simply makes them take longer to complete.
And this really is the game’s biggest problem. Although the combat framework has all these nice little elements (stances, state effects etc) it never really makes proper use of them, and battles quickly grow rather dull. It needed more varied styles of formations and tactics used by enemies as you progress to keep you on your toes. It has a great deal of enemy variety, but they all tend to follow similar patterns, so even very early on in the game, you’ll have encountered and know how to counter just about every attack pattern. As it is, groups of enemies tend to repeat the same system and pattern of attack time and time again, and once you’ve figured out the most effective way to beat it, these repetitive battles can get a bit irritating to play.
This is made worse by the lack of class abilities. The level cap is 15, and honestly, it feels like half of what it should have been. I’d nearly hit it before I was even half-way through the game, and I’d have loved another 15 levels to progress through with at least another 4 special attacks to unlock. This game really would have benefited by double the amount of skills and upgrades to keep combat and character progression feeling fresh and interesting all the way up until the end.
So what’s the final verdict? Well, if you’re a South Park fan, I think you’ll love it. If you’re like me, not exactly a fan, but you have enjoyed the show at one point or another, then you should get a lot of enjoyment out of this. But if you’re not that interested in the show, but are curious about the RPG aspects, then I couldn’t really recommend it, as although the framework has depth, the execution (in terms of the combat, class and skills system) isn’t as good as it could be.
That said, The Stick of Truth is one of the most clever and amusing games I’ve played, and certainly one of the best licensed games ever created. What it may lack in terms of its combat and class system, it more than makes up for in just about every other area. It’s not simply a South Park game. It is South Park. And that’s pretty damn impressive.