South Park: The Stick of Truth Xbox 360 Review

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South Park has had its ups and downs when it comes to licensed video games. You have the god awful Mario Party rip-off known as Chef’s Luv Shack, then you rise through the ranks to see such games as South Park Rally, the original South Park first-person shooter, where you could take a piss to create lovely yellow snowballs, to the pretty great South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play! that came out in 2009. Well, how aboot I blow your mind and say Obsidian Entertainment, the team known for creating games adored by fans, like Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords, has just created the best South Park game ever, and also one of the best licence products to hit the market since probably the first Batman: Arkham game. A pretty amazing achievement, especially after what seemed like development hell with the delays after delays and the switch from publisher THQ to Ubisoft after the awful news that THQ had gone bankrupted and had to sell its assets.

Enough of the sad news, as there really is nothing to be upset with in regards to The Stick of Truth, since it’s so loyal to the source material, while actually having a decent game behind it as well. The story begins with the player creating his South Park avatar, which no matter how you design yourself, will always seem to fit within the universe of the TV show. After that, you’re set at your new house, while your parents act mysterious aboot the events that led up to you and your family’s move to South Park. From here, you’re told to make friends, and so off you go on your little adventure to meet up with Butters and Cartman, and his human army of Kupa Keep, to protect The Stick of Truth from the evil elves and whatever else litters the eccentric world of South Park. It’s here where you truly begin your adventure, by picking one of four classes, Fighter, Rogue, Mage or Jew, and then being tasked to help find Cartman’s friends and retrieve the stolen stick.

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All the kids in South Park are letting their imagination run wild. The characters are set up based on the recent Black Friday/Games of Throne three part episode that ran last year around the time the new console launches were happening. While that story from those episodes doesn’t have a bearing on what goes on in The Stick of Truth, it’s a perfect set up to get the kids acting like fantasy characters in a genre that isn’t exactly short of fantasy settings. The South Park twist allows for plenty of jokes and self-awareness of the tropes that come with the RPG genre, with the game all too happy for you to join in with its jokes that all RPG fans will recognise.

But that isn’t the biggest accomplishment. The fact that the series creators’ Trey Parker and Matt Stone somehow managed to turn a 10 hour game into feeling like a lengthy South Park episode – actually, I guess you could just call it a whole season, since the length of the game is longer than a whole recent season of the TV show – is a remarkable achievement that one would probably think is impossible to pull off.  Yet these guys have done that, and it’s one of the biggest kicks fans of the show will get out of this game. There’s just an unholy amount of Easter egg content relating to various episodes of the show, such as seeing a memento of Clyde’s mum in his garage near a toilet, or Tom Cruise still refusing to come out of the closet. I don’t want to spoil any more, even though there are simply loads of them, but anything seen in an episode is probably tucked away somewhere – this is ultimate fan service.

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It makes sense that the game is completely and utterly hilarious from the get go, since the writing was done by the creators of the show, Trey and Matt. Of course, this also means that if you aren’t a fan of the show, then don’t expect to enjoy this game, because there is simply so much love being put into the game to offer that authentic South Park experience. The gameplay itself, while solid, remains an afterthought compared to the care the developers have taken in producing this interactive South Park title. The Stick of Truth feels like you are taking part in an episode of the show, from the animation, voice acting and productions being done by the exact same people that do what you see on television.

Obsidian has gone with using the building blocks of the Paper Mario series for the game, and I think that was the best RPG mechanic to pick, since so many people will probably be playing The Stick of Truth that most likely don’t play RPGs. The Paper Mario battle mechanics have always been easy to understand. Each of the four classes has their own special move sets, but sadly, none of the classes have limitations on weapons. A mage can use a sword, a staff or a bow or wear any armour. This isn’t the same for team members you come across, since you cannot mess with their main weapons, but they do get stronger when your character does. You can only have one member battle with you, but you can switch party members in a fight, so being stuck with one doesn’t mean you’re hopelessly at a disadvantage if the opponent is giving your buddy a beat down.

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Basic attacks are based on the character’s weapon, and like mentioned, the Paper Mario concept of pressing a button just at the right time to deal additional damage. If you completely miss the timing, the attack often becomes awfully weak, we’re speaking one damage point of health taken from the enemy. Blocking is also done in the same way, with timing determining how much percentage of damage you receive from the enemy’s attack. Every attack is featured with this concept. For example, a special move for the fighter class has the player holding down A to charge up a bull ramming move that when let go at the right time will cause for massive damage. On top of that, some moves have follow ups, meaning you have to keep an eye open to do the right motions and not waste the move on dealing puny damage.

The main character will level up from battles, gaining new abilities and talents to make them stronger. In typical RPG fashion, levelling up means that you’ll eventually be able to equip higher level gear and unlock new special attacks. One of the cool things aboot The Stick of Truth is that its loot system reminds me a lot of Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls and Fallout 3, in where you find random loot in draws, cupboards, dead bodies and other obscure locations. You’ll easily end up with hundreds of items flooding your inventory, with plenty being junk that are included for laughter, such as the Antonio Banderas blow up doll from season three. There’s just an overload of references in every possible place.

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Which gets me onto the topic of the world of South Park – this is probably the most coherent map of the town you’re going to find in any medium. While it’s not a huge place to explore – all the locations from the show are finally blended as a whole town. You can visit the church to meet Jesus, go see Uncle Jimbo to hunt down bizarre animals as a side quest or go visit the school and beat up the ginger kids acting as Mr Mackey’s hallway guards. The main story is going to be the main draw for the comedy, but not participating in the side quests means you’ll be missing out on some genuinely funny moments. It’s one of the games where I felt the side quests were rewarding to work through, even though they are in essence the same fetch quests and kill quests you have done before, but with the comedy of South Parks’ characters thrown into the mix, making them more enjoyable than they should be.

The presentation in The Stick of Truth is simply outstanding. If you stuck someone in front of the game and told them to watch the scenes unfold, I bet most would find it very hard to tell the difference. The artists have wonderfully ensured everything looks straight from the TV show, even down to the small details. This is a game that gets away with looking fantastic no matter what platform you play it on, because its simple yet effective art style that the show uses allows it to be fully portrayed on the Xbox 360 or PS3. Some aspects of the menus are messy, such as scrolling between the different menu categories, but in a sense, it works, because South Park has survived on being this low budget show. Everything you love aboot the production values of the show is represented in the game, with the audio just as good, featuring a ton of voice work by the same actors (mostly Trey and Matt), along with famous tunes fans will know from nearly 17 years of history (damn, that makes me feel old).

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South Park: The Stick of Truth is South Park through and through. From all the jokes, Easter eggs, piss takes and digs that litter the game, it’s surprising that there is a solid RPG built underneath the weight of the South Park licence. Sure, it’s not the deepest RPG, nor the best, but the task for this game wasn’t to be the best RPG to grace the video game market, but to be the best South Park game that has ever been released. It just happens that Obsidian has managed to make a competent game that supports the licence, giving players the chance to enjoy a video game that won’t test their patience as they wait for the next South Park sketch. South Park: The Stick of Truth is the first time that a South Park game truly feels like an addition to or extension of the show, while giving fans a hilariously good time to boot.

8/10

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Version tested: Xbox 360

Also available on: PC, PS3

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment

Publisher: Ubisoft

Genre: Role-Playing Game