This is it. The first big game of the year that I was excited to see and had to play day one! I was excited enough, that I actually spent 2 weeks without a main game since finishing Saturday Morning RPG so that I could open this up and start playing that day! On that fated Tuesday, I went to several stores to pick this up for PS3, but found everyone sold out. It was annoying, and left me with a choice: do I get it for PC where I am very reluctant to get anything by Ubisoft due to their uPlay system, or do I get this on 360 where I have an old one my brother left at my place? With a little research, the game found it’s way into my Steam collection, as uPlay is not in the game and the console in question is one of the old white 360s which are known for certain issues. I started playing that night, and the game blew me away for the first few hours.
But as I finish the game last night, I find myself not so hyped for it and not so excited. The game is fun, but it is not anything as good as it could have been, and not near worth it for the asking price of a AAA game.
Story: It is just another day in the sleepy little mountain town of South Park. Of course that leaves a lot of space to define what “sleepy” means in that statement as any fan of the TV series knows. But on this particular day, a new family has moved in and the new kid in town heads out to get to know and play with the other kids.
It isn’t long before he is wrapped up in their RPG game of Elves vs Humans, and recruited by the Kingdom of Kupa Keep and the Wizard-King, Cartman to help him in his ongoing war with the Elves and to keep an artifact safe from them, the Stick of Truth. This artifact dictates the universe according to the game the kids play, and whoever has it controls the universe…. so of course it doesn’t take long for someone in Kupa Keep to completely fuck up and lose the stick to the Elves in an assault. It is now up to this new kid to lead a campaign to help the kingdom regain what is rightfully theirs!
Over the next few days, you play the roll of the new kid as the story of the neighborhood RPG unfolds for all the players even as far more sinister events begin to happen resulting in inhuman enemies of various types also arriving in town, from rats, to aliens to undead Nazi zombie… well.. everything. As a result, you will find a very action packed storyline that will make you laugh, smile, cringe, and at times wonder why you wanted to play this game at all…. but at the same time, you will want to see just where all this insanity goes.
And the game will not make the trip boring on the way, as it is packed with references to now classic episodes of the TV series this game is based on as well as more then a few of it’s own gags that fit right in. Add to this some descent writing and basically you will find yourself effectively playing through an extra long episode of the show without the restraints TV puts on it… for better and for worse. Just be aware this game will not offer you a lot of reason to replay it once you finish, as everything it does is pretty much a single shot. Nor should you expect a particularly satisfying ending, as the game feels like it was an after thought to show everything get wrapped up neatly rather then have anything important happen. You are here for the ride, not to come back, and not for how it all wraps up.
Graphics: Have you ever watched the TV series of South Park? If you have, then you know exactly how this game looks. The developers went to great lengths to make sure everything in this game looks exactly like the show and it’s construction paper style, including in some cases, the texture of the paper. The town is recreated with exceptional detail, from Cartman’s backyard to the inside of the church, to even places rarely visited in the show like the photo studio in the center of the town. The world you will play in was lovingly recreated with all the care you can expect under the instruction of the show’s creators.
And that is the best way to define the graphics. Almost the entire world is a set of flat images made of paper cut-outs with occasional marker work to put details on things. But that is not to say that the game looks terrible. On the contrary, it is bright and colorful and very very distinct, sticking out among other major games for not ever trying for 3D work, and yet looking perhaps better then most of the games that do.
Sound: Much like the graphics, the sound department took just about everything straight out of the show. Every character you know from the show has the exact lines that fit their personality, delivers them perfectly, and with a voice that if it is anyone who isn’t the normal voice actor, you simply wouldn’t know. The work is just perfect.
Nor is the music backing them up any slouch. Appropriate for a fantasy RPG (as that is what the kids are playing) most of the music will blend into the background very well, sticking itself out only when intentional (like Cartman adding a few words over it that “sound about right” even as they are very incorrect and possibly offensive to a few). Though perhaps the best stuff in the game throws all of this out the window for a specific part late in the game, but to say much more would be to ruin the surprise for anyone who decided to go on and finish it. Suffice it to say, late game has a real treat here, and it would be a shame to miss it.
If the game has a weakness in the audio department, it is one common in the genre, the sound effects. The thing is, in this case, it’s not so much they are bad as everything else is so good it kinda sticks out. From hitting things to blowing shit up to the occasional roar or squeak of a creature enemy, the actual sound effects don’t really offer much to enjoy. They are just kinda standard and quickly fall behind the rest of what this game will offer your ears.
Gameplay: Like most RPGs, you will spend most of this game in two styles of play: roaming a map and fighting enemies, though in both cases, the game does some minor adjustments to the age-old formula. While wandering the map, you will have access to whatever weapon you have equipped and a handful of powers you will gain over time, starting with the abilities to shoot your currently equipped long range weapon and “dragonshout” (or fart on things), and you will need both along with additional powers you will get as the game goes on to find hidden items and sometimes do whatever quest (main or side) you are trying to complete at the moment. For example, one of the first trees you come across has a Chinpokomon doll in it, and the only way to get it out is to shoot it out of the tree. This is, of course, in addition to the traditional ability to talk to just about everyone and open things to loot.
And this latter part is a bit of a weakness in this part of the game. Not everything is openable, and if the people are just walking by, you cant talk to them and get them to say something as they go. There is a lot of “window candy” here, and unless you get the icon saying to talk or the item has a yellow handle, a sparkle, or some other visual que, you cant do anything with it at all. It isn’t a huge issue, but it did disappoint me as the game began. Still there is plenty to knock over for scavenging and plenty of things to find and even figure out how to get to so that is really not a problem for long.
While wandering the town and going to your quest locations, enemies will randomly be in various scenes, allowing for random combat. At the start of the game, this will be kids dressed as elves as they want to kick your ass for being of the Human kingdom, and the fight is on!
Combat is a turn based event and outside of bosses, generally decided by who hits who first on the map screen. After which, each team takes turns to do a combination of one item/unique ability and one attack of some kind. Items, while being snacks and drinks you could expect in the show, take the classic roll of health/magic potions, debuff items and team revival potions. And while you can only carry 10 of any given item, most have redundancy to them. For example, you can get a baked potato for a large health potion, but you can also get things like a box of “cheesy poofs” for the same thing, so the limit is really worked around a lot more then you would think.
Your attacks come in several flavors: Ranged weapon, melee weapon, abilities, and “spells” (farts). Ranged and melee weapons usually behave the same with you being expected to hit a button when you see the weapon flash, giving the combat a little bit of tactile control. In addition, the button you hit will decide how you use it. You could hit with a combination of standard hits, one super hit, or add “magic power” to it, provided you have the mana to do so. The stance of your enemy as well as their armor AND whatever upgrades you have added to your weapons and armor will decide which option is best against which enemy.
Abilities, on the other hand, are fueld by PP (go ahead and laugh, Clyde does when the game explains this in the tutorial part, setting the tone for a LOT of what is to come) which replenishes between battle. As you level up, you will unlock 5 of these, as well as the ability to upgrade them. However, this is both a cool idea and a highlight to one of the biggest weaknesses for RPG fans in the game. But we will get to that later. For now, I will let you know that you will simply not be able to fully upgrade all 5 of these abilities, so your build will likely vary from someone else’s depending on which moves you liked best.
Spells, or farts, as they should be called, are powerful attacks that run on mana. You will not regenerate this, but can get it back by eating “mana” items like bean burritos and the like. Personally, I never used these on their own as I found them unnecessary, choosing instead to occasionally power a weapon I was using with the stinky power. But they are available, and if you wish to use them, you can.
You can also call in a summon to help you fight, but this really isn’t worth going over for a few very stupid reasons. First, the game says you can summon them once per day, but once I used each one, they never came back in the entire game, so they seem pretty much like a one-shot deal. Second, they are ridiculously powerful, and their use pretty much means that fight might as well not have happened. And 3rd, the reason for that much power is something I can not understand, because the game will not let you use them in boss fights at all. Combine all this and you have a rather wasted function to combat that you are honestly better off ignoring beyond the fight you “just want to get over with.”
As you fight and complete quests, you will gain levels, but this is where that weakness I was talking about is. Your max level in this game is 15. And it is far from impossible to reach this before you reach the end of the game. Completing maybe 4 side quests in total, I had completed this before the last level. However, there is also another ability mechanic in this game called “perks” which assist to build your character as well. You will gain them by gaining friends throughout the game, being able to select one when you have enough of them, so while the level cap is disappointing, it is far from a game ender. It is also worth noting that if you max out your level, there are only two bosses in the entire game which should offer you any kind of challenge at all. The rest should be simply a rinse and repeat affair.
But the real problems this game has are with instructions at specific times of the game. Whoever made these, be it a specific quick time event or several places where you learn a new “spell” did NOT make them clear enough, and as a result a LOT of players will get frustrated and possibly quit at what are actually very easy parts to complete. This is a real design flaw, especially the quick time event in question due to the instructions being so unclear as to make me personally have to go online and look up help in a forum. Not even watching a video of the event explained what you had to do, and if you fail, there is no second chance. You die and have to reload a saved game just before the event, adding a menu to an already frustrating moment of gaming hell.
Bugs: There were a few times when the game seemed to bug out, not allowing me to complete a quest, when in truth it was just me not paying attention to what I had equipped vs what I needed to have equipped to go on. So while this game may appear to have a game-ending bug once in a while, I recommend you take the time to step back and review EVERYTHING you have equipped before you assume this to be the case. (Especially gloves as hands in South Park style artwork do not have a lot detail).
Overall, the game ran near perfect for me, though. The ONLY actual bug I found was later in the game when some fights for reasons I do not understand just dropped the background music entirely. Annoying, but short lived as the fights never last long.
Overall: South Park: The Stick of Truth is a fun and very funny game. But it is also a pretty flawed one. From having a basically useless mechanic for summons to unclear QTE events to the very low level cap, this game has a lot of problems for an RPG game. Add this to a very short game for the genre (I finished it in literally 15 hours), and I have a REALLY hard time recommending the game at full price to anyone. When this game inevitably drops to $30, fans of South Park should probably pick it up, as they will get a lot out of it. But there just isn’t enough material here to warrant the $60 pricetag Ubisoft wants for it, and what is here is just not good enough. As a fan of the show and a gamer who wanted simply something a little bit better, I kinda have to say, Im disappointed.