If you hate South Park, don’t play this game. That should be a no-brainer, because if the show’s brand of abrasive, offensive humor isn’t to your taste, you’ll find that same humor turned up to the max in The Stick of Truth. There are jokes that will make some uncomfortable or worse, though if you’re the type of person who doesn’t care for that style of humor, you probably already know that a South Park game isn’t for you.
On the other hand, fans of the show and those who sit somewhere in the middle (like myself) will find an engaging turn-based RPG with nothing-is-sacred writing and scenarios that will both disgust and amuse. The level of care spent in capturing as many in-jokes as possible, both for South Park fans and for long-time gamers, is staggering. Every one of the many objects in the game has unique (and often hilarious) text to describe it, and all manner of gaming tropes are brought into the spotlight and then bludgeoned for comedic effect. The world design is hilarious and creative and puts the whole of South Park (and its surrounding environs) at your feet. There’s more to talk about than I ever could in the space of one review, but suffice it to say this is absolutely the definitive South Park game and one of Obsidian’s best games in years.
The story finds you, the New Kid (or Douchebag, as you’ll be quickly named for voice-acting’s sake), as the freshest face in the mad Colorado town of South Park. In a matter of minutes, you’ll be swept up into a clash between the “humans” and “elves” over the legendary Stick of Truth, which grants its owner the ability to control space and time. Over the course of the 10 to 15-hour storyline, you’ll switch alliances, witness (and perpetrate) betrayals, and fight aliens, Nazis, hobos, dogs, rats, and still stranger creatures as you quest after the Stick.
There’s a kind of glee in the double world at play here. The game is absolutely South Park in its humor and delivery, but it’s also an incredible display of the childlike wonder and drama we all once found in playacting. The children’s fantasy world Zaron and its war over the titular Stick bleeds into the real South Park’s “actual” danger, and what the player is left with is a bizarre meta-narrative in which kids hitting each other with plastic swords are also murdering Nazi zombies and blowing up houses with “magic.” It’s hard to articulate, but it’s wholly compelling and always pushes you forward. The pacing of the game is utterly fantastic, with new and insane things happening constantly, making a strong argument for the game’s relative brevity being a positive rather than, as certain sectors of the Internet have decided, a negative. Additionally, unlike many similar games, this is an adventure that picks up steam as it goes along, rather than petering off. The final day of the storyline is packed so full of insanity and hilarious betrayals (and a trip to Terrance and Phillip’s homeland of Canada) that I found myself laughing almost the entire time.
The presentation is dead-on. The game looks and sounds like the show, which is to say that it’s not exactly pushing any technical limits, but it’s one hundred percent successful in doing what it sets out to do. The music satirically apes recent big-fantasy scores and even offers a few catchy tunes. More importantly, the requisite Latin chanting and choir vocals are replaced by Cartman’s voice making up his own words, which sound like something along the lines of “jews, sanctus,” in a fashion that is both funny and demonstrates that there’s a real understanding of the kinds of tropes we accept as fans of high fantasy.
Attacks and enemies in the turn-based combat are consistently hilarious, and, most importantly, fun to wrestle with. Each of the game’s character classes offers a unique set of skills, and the various party members whose aid you’ll enlist have unique dialogue for combat situations and story beats, so there’s definitely some replayability here. You might skew towards your favorite character in the show, as I did — perpetual victim Butters Stotch is irresistible to me as a paladin who gives his friends a comforting pat on the back for his special healing skill. The game also makes use of a number of different traversal powers during exploration, both your own and those of your buddies. This adds a lot of incentive to send you back to earlier areas or scour the far reaches of the town looking for colored cracks, alien satellites, or hurt friends in need of a little pick-me-up, since following up on these leads usually results in a side quest, secret weapon, or some otherwise hilarious exchange of dialogue.
Unfortunately, while the role-playing elements, which include lots of exploring, talking, side-questing, and secrets to uncover (along with tons of in-jokes, jabs, and references), are great, the game becomes a bit too easy a bit too quickly. Even on the hard difficulty, I was killed only once in the game, and by the end I was laying waste to bosses in a matter of two or three turns with my explosive firework attack. Additionally, I did experience one game-breaking (but amusing) bug in which Cartman lowered his pants to light a fart on fire and the game stopped responding. There I sat, Cartman’s ass hanging out in the enemy’s direction, for about thirty seconds until realizing that the game had locked up while still animating and playing music.
South Park isn’t a world I’m especially in love with. The creators are adamant that they do not set out specifically with a point of view to push on viewers , but rather aim to take nothing as sacred and spear anything with comedic potential. As a result, there are jokes in the game that even I found occasionally a bit much; likely by design. And yet I was completely engrossed in The Stick of Truth. I had a blast from start to finish, with not only the humor, but also the Mario & Luigi-style combat, the dense world, and the varied storyline scenarios. If you’re at all open to the idea of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s world, Obsidian has given you the best vehicle yet to go on down to South Park.