Without any of the usual hullabaloo (and since you probably already have your mind made up), I’ll just come right out and say it:
South Park: The Stick of Truth has my early vote for Game of the Year. We weren’t expecting to see it until some time in December considering the amount of times that it’s been pushed back, and now…it feels like Christmas in our office. Seriously. The last time I remember diving into something with this much abandon, was when I got both the Millennium Falcon AND Luke’s X-Wing for Christmas in 1987. Yes, unquestionably, interacting with all of South Park’s denizens is akin to playing with imaginary friends for 20+ hours…and loving every second of it.
Yet, despite my Christmas connotations, you shouldn’t EVER let your kid play this. Seriously. South Park: Stick of Truth is easily the most deserving of a M rating (and I can’t figure out how it didn’t get the dreaded AO–Adults Only). Seriously. It’s brash, incredibly vulgar and takes lampooning to the darkest depths yet.
It’s also hilarious, insightful, brilliantly-written and well-executed. It literally might be my favorite “traditional style” RPG ever made (next to Final Fantasy VII).
Yes, make no mistake about it: even with it’s ridiculous overtones and complicated “specials”, it’s still an intensely story-driven RPG, with a fairly deep quest system, intricate crafting opportunities and a multitude of specials that each team member can activate during combat.
There will likely be a TON of people who immediately dismiss Stick of Truth as abject fan service. Don’t get me wrong: it has nearly every possible callback to the episodes since the first, as well as the viral Christmas Card that actually got them the show on Comedy Central (if you want to get technical). Everything from the “(s)hit you over the head” Mr. Hankey missions, to the subtle background music shift that happens every time you talk to Tweek’s parents. The biggest perk for me, was that they seem to have included every character that has shuffled across the South Park screen, with each of their voices replicated exactly as you remember. And sometimes, there are characters that you don’t see (just try looking in Stan’s closet at some point), but you definitely hear them.
If there’s one thing that game companies hate, it’s having their game compared to another title. South Park: The Stick of Truth is a massive shout-out to classic PlayStation 1 RPG titles, namely, Final Fantasy VII (and VIII). The first (and most obvious) is the Sony/JRPG turn-based combat system that lines you and your enemies up on opposite sides of the screen, only crossing the median whilst attacking. In addition to the JRPG standard of melee, ranged, magic and “special” attacks, you can also do extra damage by pressing either Square, X or Triangle whenever you see your weapon flash; triggering them at exactly the right time will give you a “perfect” attack, which can add damage or de-buffs to your enemies.
The other JRPG conventions that you’ll notice right away are the slotting elements and the summon ability. Throughout the game, you’ll either find (or be awarded) patches which can be added to armor, and “strap-ons” that can be used in conjunction with weapons. Both of these items give provisional buffs based upon use. For example, when attached to a weapon, “tufts of ginger pubic hair” will do 50 “gross out” damage on perfect attacks.
Summons, on the other hand, can be unlocked by doing various tasks for characters throughout the town. For example, (Priest’s name) will give you a quest to find Jesus, whereupon you’ll look for the hiding and giggling Jesus in the pews of the church. Once you find him twice, you’ll unlock the “Found Jesus” trophy, as well as get a summon token from the Savior himself. You’ll be able to use that token in any fight (except for boss fights), and he’ll show up with a ridiculous intro and vanquish all of the enemies on the screen. You can use that summon (and any of the other summons you unlock) once per day, and must return each day to get a subsequent summon token. Each summon is hilarious, and well worth taking the time to unlock. Plus, it’s good to have an ace (or five) up your sleeve. Ok, bad analogy, but you know what I mean.
Environmental interaction is a huge part of Stick of Truth as well. Hidden throughout the town, you’ll see Chimpokemon to knock out of trees and collect. Also, before battles, players with a keen eye might spot environmental attacks that can decimate your enemies before combat even begins. Hint: if you see a lantern laying around, chances are pretty good that you can break it with your ranged weapon, and ignite it with a fart attack.
The only thing that bothered me, in terms of gameplay, is that certain segments weren’t exactly intuitive, leading me to point and click blindly with each of the “left side” skills. As you get deeper and deeper into the game, you’ll get more and more teammates (who you can switch out at will), and each teammate has a “buddy power”, and some buddy powers are necessary (but not obvious) to bypass obstacles. So, you’ll end up scanning the area with all of your abilities, then switch to all of theirs. Granted, most times you’ll notice a phantom finger, alerting you that your ally has some way to interact with it. Problem is, many of the environments are so intricate, that the “phantom finger” gets lost in the background.
Diehard JRPG fans will likely complain about it being too easy, and if you’re one of them, I’d recommend hardcore mode from the get-go; you’re more apt to get killed, you’ll work harder to win, and you’ll really need to plan out attacks and combos (as opposed to simply letting them happen).
You’ll also notice loading stutters and frame-rate dips a couple times as you travel through areas. It’s slightly annoying, but nothing worth complaining about. I haven’t yet experienced any stutters that affected actual gameplay, combat or story elements. So there’s that.
Also, given that there’s a ton of side quests, you can easily drop 24 to 30 hours playing it through, if you take your time and enjoy the game. Speeding through, doing only the main storyline quests will take you 15 to 18 hours, so any way you cut it, it’s a beefy title…especially given that it’s a tie-in too! Add in the four possible classes, and the (somewhat) branching storyline, and it’s easy to find good replay value even after thoroughly beating it the first time.
And as far as DLC? When we interviewed Matt Stone and Trey Parker last year at San Diego Comic-Con, they both agreed that “…DLC, especially DLC that’s on the disc, is bullshit”…and they stuck to their guns. Aside from the standard “preorder bonus” incentives, there’s no hint to “buy more content” in the game; hell, it isn’t even on the horizon. And there’s absolutely zero mention of a Season Pass. What does that mean for you? It means they literally included everything they possibly could. And after you finish, it feels like they did.
I know it sounds like I’m beating a dead horse, but South Park: The Stick of Truth is quite literally the complete package. It’s my dark horse, early contended for Game of the Year, and it’s probably one of the best RPG’s I’ve touched in 5+ years.
I cannot possibly stress this enough: The Stick of Truth is ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NOT a game for your kids. Hell, I literally wouldn’t get it for anyone under the age of 18, no matter how “incredibly mature they are for their age.” You’ll get graphic scenes of people fucking horses, people jerking off, giants having sex, profanity and…ahem…colorful adjectives. Pretty much, things that would get your kid expelled from school for even describing them. So exercise caution when playing…there’s literally something gross or off-color every 5 minutes or so. Best part? It never gets old!
I can’t recommend this game any more than I already have. Even if you’re a passing fan of the South Park universe, you should check it out. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to practice my Sneaky Squeaker.