South Park: The Stick of Truth review: Oh, hamburgers!

Fans have been waiting for quite some time for South Park: The Stick of Truth. Repeatedly delayed over the years, the Obsidian-developed RPG is finally seeing the light of day. And while the RPG mechanics are overly simplistic and the game suffers from major bugs, this is an authentic South Park experience that will delight show devotees.

The story follows a "new kid" moving to the titular town. The silent protagonist quickly makes friends with Butters and Cartman, who initiate him into their fantasy tribe of elves. But the plot soon moves beyond defending the Stick of Truth from Kyle's band of humans and into something far bigger, expanding into a story that would more than fit in with Trey Parker and Matt Stone's hit television series.

focalbox

In fact, the game goes well beyond what the show attempted. While cable TV has standards to adhere to, there are no such restraints in a video game. And without those restrictions, show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone don't hesitate to take the gloves off and earn every bit of The Stick of Truth's M rating. This game gets very raunchy, right down to a sequence near the end that might make sensitive players a bit squeamish. These scenes definitely felt like the creators trying way too hard to get a laugh, yet paradoxically, they're very much "South Park" and fit the show's atmosphere well.

The narrative works to keep the game feeling fresh, long after battles begin to feel stale. There are numerous fan service moments that reference 15+ seasons of material, while also playfully skewering various gaming tropes. Even after exploring every corner of the town, The Stick of Truth comes back with a new locale that doubly serves as one of the game's most hilarious gags.

Unfortunately, the terrific presentation is backed with by-the-numbers RPG gameplay. There's nothing overly complex about The Stick of Truth's turn-based battle mechanics. The new kid enters battle with a designated buddy from the show that can be switched out any time during their turn. Direct, ranged, and magic attacks can be selected and made more powerful with a timed button press, while characters each get an opportunity to use an item before attacking. Characters can be afflicted with various status affects that can all stack atop one another as the battle goes on.

Simplicity isn't necessarily a bad thing, but what makes The Stick of Truth's battles disappointing is that they can be far too easy, even with the difficulty mode set to Hardcore. Character health and power points (PP) will all be refreshed after every battle, which doesn't leave much room for strategy over a long period. With every defeated character leaving various drops, it's also incredibly easy to stack up on essential items. Though switching buddies will cost a turn, it ultimately means little when the next buddy can come in with full health. While the turn-based mechanics are certainly capable, the challenge is almost nonexistent.

The real challenge comes from trying to figure out where to go next. It's easy to get stuck at certain points and the game is almost never clear on how to proceed. One such sequence had me aboard the Visitors' spaceship, wandering around completely lost. A loading screen tip told me to check my map to see where to go next. Unfortunately, pulling up the map would show me an overhead view of the town. Needless to say, this wasn't helpful and it also wasn't the only time I would wrestle with The Stick of Truth's objective system.

The Stick of Truth also suffers from some noticeable bugs. Some issues are small, like voice overs overlapping. But I also hit several instances where scripted events would fail to queue up. The first time I hit this was during one of the game's opening tutorials, requiring me to reboot my game completely. Other times would see me mash buttons for minutes at a time until the scripted event would finally trigger. These are some ugly bugs, only alleviated slightly by The Stick of Truth's very friendly autosave system that offers checkpoints at just about every new screen.

As an RPG, it's hard to recommend South Park: The Stick of Truth, given that there are a number of more polished titles that offer deeper battle systems and much larger worlds. As a South Park game, however, this is easily at the head of the class, nailing the show's humor at just about every turn. Even with its shortcomings, South Park fans owe it to themselves to play through The Stick of Truth's story, as it's paced and structured very much like the show's classic three-part episodes. This is very much a game for fans of the show only. [6]


This review is based on early PC code provided by the publisher. South Park: The Stick of Truth is available at retail and digitally on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 for $59.99. The game is rated M.