South Park: The Stick of Truth Review & Nvidia Shield Commentary
Editor’s note: SP:TSoT is a title for mature audiences and so is this review. Also, consider yourself warned of some light spoilers ahead.
After almost half a dozen of shitty to mediocre South Park video games that were developed by just as many studios in the last 15 years, South Park: The Stick of Truth is an interactive experience based on Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s adult-oriented animated sitcom that we’ve all been waiting for. It’s also the first South Park RPG, and after investing over 30 hours in it, I can only wonder why hasn’t anyone thought of this before: this series and its lore mix seamlessly with turn-based combat, leveling mechanics, looting, and quest-solving. Or, maybe they don’t; maybe it’s the geniuses at Obsidian Entertainment who made the said combination work so well. Regardless, the fact is that South Park: The Stick of Truth is an exceptional game. Let me tell you why:
“Terriblearious” should be a word
I like humorous games, and I’m sure many others do, as well. However, The Stick of Truth isn’t a humorous game. No, it’s a fucking hilarious game that will make you laugh in tears on plenty occasions. Sure, Stone and Parker’s humor isn’t for everyone, but even those who don’t find racism, sexism, pedophilia, xenophobia, drug abuse, religious intolerance, swearing, rape, zoophilia, abortions and other relatively controversial topics particularly funny will be able to laugh at the game’s mocking of pop culture, celebrities, American government, and other similar stuff. No, I’m not trying to say this is a kid-friendly title; I wouldn’t recommend buying it to your little nephew even if he’s playing GTA and Leisure Suit Larry on a daily basis, nor am I implying that every adult will like it. However, if you can tolerate the aforementioned touchy subjects and aren’t necessarily offended by them, you’ll probably enjoy the hell out of the rest of the game.
True South Park experience
South Park: The Stick of Truth really spares no one and nothing: from social networks like Facebook and Twitter, fast food chains such as Taco Bell and McDonald’s, celebrities like Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, David Hasselhoff, Jim Carrey, Justin Bieber, and Nicki Minaj, and politicians such as Al Gore and Barack Obama to The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto, Fallout, Final Fantasy, Shadow of the Colossus and other video games, literature and movies like The Lord of the Rings, Matrix, and Game of Thrones, all the way to Canadians, FBI, Homeland Security, NRA, and literally hundreds of other organizations, people, philosophies, things, and phenomenons – everything is parodied in this game, just like in the original animated series. In this regard, The Stick of Truth is the most faithful interactive recreation of the South Park universe yet.
The game even mocks itself in an incredibly intelligent and self-aware manner, always dancing on the fourth wall, but never breaking it. Turn-based combat system, looting mechanics, leveling, scripted events, inventory management, side quests, exploration, character customization, moral choices, achievements, quick-time events, mini-games, and every other element that most modern role-playing games, Stick of Truth included feature to some degree are constantly made fun of, and it never gets old. Being interrupted in exploration because you’re found by your parents who ground you since it’s past your bedtime, listening to audio logs about “who the fuck makes these audio logs that are only a distraction,” or hearing Butters talk about feeling much more experienced after watching you beat the shit out of an unarmed homeless guy with a burning katana are just some of the many such moments worth experiencing in the Stick of Truth.
The main protagonist of the game is a nine-year-old kid that comes to South Park with his two parents. Before you actually start playing, you get to pick his hair and clothes, and soon after you’ll also get access to hats, gloves, armor, facial hair, melee and ranged weapons, tattoos, glasses, enchantments, and various props, many of which have both aesthetical and practical value. The Stick of Truth gives you a lot of customization freedom, and I’d expect nothing less from a video game made by guys and gals at Obsidian. The main character is more or less a mute, which is often referenced by other people and parodies silent video game protagonists in general. His name is mocked in a similar manner, as you can see in the gameplay video below.
Paper Mario for adults
As for the gameplay itself, The Stick of Truth plays a lot like the beloved Paper Mario games: you have a relatively open world to explore filled with enemies, puzzles, treasures, and unique encounters. Combat is turn-based, but it never falls in the pit of monotonous attack button-mashing: in order to perform an attack, cast a spell, use a special ability, or deflect an enemy hit effectively, you’ll have to press a certain button in a timely manner, repeatedly smash it, succeed in a quick-time event, or carry out some other related action. Unlike Paper Mario games, such actions aren’t just an optional way of increasing combat efficiency, they’re a requirement to perform if you don’t want to completely screw up your chances of winning battles on both normal and hard difficulty.
Much like the rest of the game, combat in Stick of Truth is humorous and laugh-inducing on multiple levels. Starting with equipment, you’ll be fighting with all kinds of absurd objects like vibrators, extraterrestrial sticks, “Mossad knives”, and animal claws which get even more ridiculous once you start enhancing them, and the same goes for armor, helmets, gloves, and cosmetic items. Special attacks and abilities range from relatively normal backstabs, rushes, and quick attacks to ones like “Jew-Jitsu”, “Sling of David”, and fart magic which parodies Skyrim’s Thu’um, i.e. shout ability and also has a lot of applications outside of combat. These (ass) shouts are powered by mana, which is basically gas, and you’ll want to use them from time to time. The reason for that isn’t only because they’re amusing to watch (which they are) and incredibly effective against most enemy types (which they also are), but also because being 100% filled with “mana” may result in your character literally shitting his pants and losing a turn in battle. This leads me to my next point:
Intelligently designed interactive hilarity
On hard and, to some extent, normal difficulty, South Park: The Stick of Truth does a great job of stopping you from ruining the game for yourself, i.e. doing stuff like hoarding potions you’re never going to use and sticking to the same (most effective) attack pattern in every encounter which could lead to boredom, all while never feeling unfair or linear. The same goes for your choice of a partner in crime: there are six companions (Butters, Kenny, Kyle, Cartman, Stan, and Jimmy) to choose from, all of whom have their own strengths and weaknesses, and therefore situations for which they’re best suited for. You’ll certainly have a favorite or two, but the intelligent game design will ensure that you never completely neglect a party member, even though at least a couple of characters will always be equally skilled to handle any type of enemies, thus consistently leaving you with a choice.
Furthermore, every enemy has its own set of attacks and special abilities, and situations like those in which a certain someone uses “Presentation about global warming” to put you party to sleep and gives it the “Screwed” status ailment which decreases its combat efficiency are a frequent occurrence. Needless to say, they are terribly funny to witness.
Speaking of enemies, you’ll be fighting a really ridiculous cast. From relatively “normal” opponents like kindergarteners, school kids, security guards, cows, and cliches like wolves, bears, and rats, to ginger hall monitors, jealous boyfriends, pedophiles, bishops, 14th century Mongolian warriors, aliens, nazi zombies, underpants-collecting gnomes, any many, many more – enemies in South Park: The Stick of Truth are numerous, varied, memorable, and absolutely hilarious.
To summarize the above few paragraphs, just imagine the following scene: you’re fighting a giant nazi zombie aborted fetus armed with a metal vibrator that casts lighting and are teamed up with a handicapped nine-year-old with a speech impediment that’s singing “t-there once was a maiden from S-s-s-s-s-stonebury Hollow, she didn’t talk much, b-but b-b-b-b-boy, did she swallow, I h-had a nice lance that she s-s-sa-s-s-sat upon, the maiden from Stonebury who was also your mom” to increase your combat stats. Also, you happen to be dressed like an underage transsexual version of Conan the Barbarian. It’s your turn. You pour a combination of black coffee and methamphetamine down your throat and get a speed boost. Without hesitation, you violently fart in fetus’s sticky eye twice in one move. Only then, you realize you fucked up. The genocidal abortion is an Undead type, meaning it’s immune to Gross damage. The huge monstrosity with a swastika on its mutilated arm is now angry. It shouts “SIEG HEIL” and starts maniacally trashing the room with its umbilical cord. You’re distracted by the sounds of J-Pop and miss a button prompt. The huge cluster of tissue and blood vessels hits your paraplegic friend and turns him into a quadriplegic.
You got all that? Good. Now, look me in the eye with a straight face and tell me this isn’t the best fucking game ever made.
“Stop Al Gore from spamming your Facebook”
You need further proof? Ok, let’s talk about quests. What do you think about busting your school friend out of detention, playing hide-and-seek with a bunch of kindergarteners, and defending a little girl from bullies who took her Justin Bieber doll? Nothing special, right? How about fetching vibrators, stopping Al Gore from spamming your Facebook news feed, beating up hobos, or finding out who’s spreading rumors that a certain nine-year-old had an abortion? Still not crazy enough? Then what are your feelings on procuring methamphetamine, searching for Jesus in your life, trying to put a stop to ManBearPig and its reign of terror over the good people of South Park, and meddling in Canadian internal affairs? Yeah, quests in The Stick of Truth get completely crazy after a while, and the best ones are so hilariously absurd that I don’t even want to talk about them and spoil your experience with this review – you really need to play them for yourself.
The core of most quests isn’t really revolutionary and strictly technically speaking, you’ll be doing the very same fetch, beat-em-up, courier, and exploration missions that you have already completed hundreds of times before in almost every other role-playing game you ever played. However, the brilliant writing that puts all of the tasks laid out before you in context more than makes up for any lack of innovation on that part, and the number of main and side quests that felt like blatant fillers to me can be counted on fingers of one severely mutilated hand.
Use your brains
During your adventures spanning across the entire South Park and parts of Canada, you’ll also have to overcome various puzzles by utilizing four tools and four types of shouts, in addition to your companions’ special abilities. These problems aren’t particularly challenging, but they add variety to gameplay while never feeling like a chore and offer a nice change of pace from running around, facing enemies, and looking for collectables like Facebook friends and Chinpokomon, though the latter is sometimes closely connected to puzzles. On a semi-related note, the encounters in The Stick of Truth aren’t random and you’ll be able to see your enemies before engaging them. This not only gives you the option of evading them or scoring a preemptive hit that will ensure you get to attack first once the actual battle starts, but also grants you the ability to stun them with a ranged attack, poison them with a fart, or incapacitate them completely using your surroundings.
For instance, why fight four ginger hall monitors if you can shoot a school bell and make it drop on one of them, fart on an open flame to blow up the other two, and then stun the last one with a dart? You’ll be fighting only one disoriented opponent instead of four able ones and still get awarded with the same amount of experience points. The Stick of Truth does a good job of providing you with plenty of such opportunities for environmental attacks and awarding you for thinking before acting.
WHY WON’T YOU LET ME LEVEL UP?!
Defeating enemies is the only method of acquiring experience points necessary for leveling up. Depending on whether your main character is a fighter, mage, thief, or – wait for it – jew, he’ll have five out of twenty special abilities at his disposal. A couple of them will already be available at the start of the game, and you’ll have to unlock the rest using upgrade points. Each ability has five levels of efficiency, which means that you theoretically need to reach level 24 to max out all of them. Now, here’s the catch that also happens to be my biggest complaint regarding The Stick of Truth: there’s a level cap, and it’s placed at level 15, or 10,000 XP. Now, that may not sound like the most restricting limitation in any RPG ever, but it’s pretty bad.
Let me put that number in perspective: doing a completionist playthrough of The Stick of Truth takes a little over 20 hours, maybe a bit more if you really get stuck somewhere and assuming you don’t skip through any cutscenes. I reached level 15 after approximately 12 hours of in-game time. You see where I’m coming from? To make matters worse, the “Downloadable Content” option in the game’s main menu makes me almost certain that Obsidian will increase the said level cap with future DLC, as the studio has already done many times before. Now, while that may be a viable option in a game like Fallout: New Vegas which allows for dozens of radically different character builds and where reaching a level cap requires 30 hours of dedicated playing time, doing so in a title which has significantly less depth and is much poorer in content makes no sense whatsoever; it doesn’t increase replay value, it doesn’t really force you to weigh your choices when leveling… it’s just an asshole decision completely driven by greed for money.
Speaking of leveling, I was kind of disappointed that The Stick of Truth doesn’t give you the option of choosing the upgrade path of your companions, nor does it allow you to equip them with armor and weapons of your own choosing. The same goes for perks, i.e. 20 passive abilities that only affect the main character and are unlocked in a non-linear way by making friends on Facebook.
Is this South Park? Is this just fantasy?
As far as the visuals go, The Stick of Truth does a good job of mimicking the look of the animated series and is almost indistinguishable from it. Make that “almost” a “completely” when it comes to cutscenes, even though they aren’t pre-rendered. Low system requirements and excellent optimization are also commendable, and in overall, the game is much more polished than your average Obsidian creation. Much like the visuals, the voice acting is authentic, which isn’t surprising considering that it was handled by Stone and Parker themselves. The soundtrack isn’t particularly lengthy, but it’s varied enough to always complement the game’s vastly different set pieces, and even manages to be as offensive as the writing on some occasions. For example, the city exploration theme features Cartman singing “dumb… jews… dumb jews!”
Caught in streaming to Nvidia Shield
I played a bigger portion of South Park: The Stick of Truth on my Nvidia Shield, and I have to say I’m more than pleased with how well the game behaves while being streamed to the said Android-powered portable console. Save for the fact that I was unable to type my name without a keyboard at the beginning and an occasional “aim lock” that required me to enter and exit any one of the game’s menus in order to continue moving, The Stick of Truth ran impeccably on my Shield. I even managed to get a pretty good experience while streaming via one of the non-certified routers, though I presume that can’t be attributed to the game itself.
As The Stick of Truth has official support for X360 gamepad, playing it with Shield’s controller doesn’t require any kind of setup, and even though I was relatively pleased with the original control scheme, the lack of a native option of changing the button command layout may bother some people.
No escape from nitpicking
The restrictive level cap and the lack of control over your companions’ upgrade paths may be my two biggest gripes with South Park: The Stick of Truth, but there are also some other things that bothered me. Here they are, in no particular order: some dragon shout mechanics are explained in a somewhat confusing manner and actually work differently during the game than what’s demonstrated in short tutorials; when using Kenny’s Furry Friends ability, the game instructs you to repeatedly push the left analog stick from left to right to left, etc., but you’re actually supposed to do circles with it; there’s about a dozen of typos present in subtitles throughout the game; the entire world is fragmented into dozens of smaller locations and while loading times aren’t usually long, there’s still a whole lot of them; the mechanic of using your companions’ unique abilities to solve puzzles isn’t developed enough, as there are too few occasions for utilizing it.
None of these things diminish the overall playing experience in a significant manner, and truth be told – most will probably be fixed with a pre-launch update that’s going live between March 1st and 3rd, but I still wanted to make you aware of them.
Brilliant. Hilarious. Memorable. Disgusting.
For those who didn’t have enough willpower (n)or time to read through this review, let me summarize my thoughts in a few sentences: South Park: The Stick of Truth is not a perfect game. In the context of an RPG genre, it’s also not an incredibly content-filled title and not many people will find enough incentive to replay it more than once, if that. Now, enough about what it isn’t, let’s reiterate what it is.
It’s (disgustingly) hilarious, brilliantly written, intelligently designed, and masterfully executed piece of interactive entertainment. It’s an enormous and grotesque parody of everyone and everything that will leave absolutely no one who plays it indifferent. It’s the only game in existence that will let you collect “Brad Pitt survival kits”, cherokee hair tampons, Afghani goats (“Is that Stevie Nicks?”), Antonio Banderas love dolls, and pubes; it’s also the one and only game that allows its players to beat up homeless people, politicians, little kids, and physically handicapped with magically enhanced sexual toys; indulge in medieval politics, indulge in drug trafficking, indulge in middle school drama, perform abortions, resist abortions, role-play as a transvestite, spy on people having sex with other people, spy on people having sex with horses, become “more popular than Jesus”, fight off a military invasion, fight off an alien invasion, fight off a zombie invasion… all of that in only 20 hours of in-game time; 20 hours of crazy action, insane encounters, absurdly caricatured personas, and ridiculous set pieces; 20 unforgettable hours that will leave you laughing in tears and crying that it had to end.
That may not be the best description of South Park: The Stick of Truth ever, but it’s the one that would sell me, a huge South Park fan, on buying the game. Hopefully, the same applies to you, too, because if you have the stomach for it, missing out on this title would be nothing short of a crime against gaming.
Score: 9.2 – South Park: The Stick of Truth is not perfect, but it’s disgustingly hilarious, brilliantly written, intelligently designed, and masterfully executed piece of interactive entertainment that also happens to be perfectly streamable to Shield handheld console
- hilarious and brilliantly written
- a lot of customization freedom
- gameplay variety
- authentic look and feel
- great performance on Nvidia Shield
- restrictive level cap
- relatively short with little replay value for an RPG
- inability to affect companions’ upgrade paths
- underdeveloped mechanic of utilizing companions’ special abilities to solve puzzles
- a few mildly confusing tutorials
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Platform: PC (Windows), PS3, X360
Release date: March 4th (North America), March 6th (Australia), March 7th, 2014 (Europe)
Price: $49.99 to $59.99, depending on the platform
In-game purchases: At least 4 DLC packs planned for releases throughout 2014, one of which will be an Xbox 360 exclusive (probably until the GOTY edition, that is)
Operating System: Windows XP SP3, Vista SP2, 7 SP1, 8 (both 32/64bit versions)
Processor: Intel Core2Duo E2180 @ 2.0 GHz or AMD Athlon X2 3800+ @ 2.0 GHz
Video card: nVidia GeForce 7900GT or AMD Radeon 2900 (512MB VRAM with Shader Model 3.0 or higher)
DirectX: DirectX June 2010 Redistributable (included on disc)
Sound: DirectX Compatible Sound Card with latest drivers
Peripherals: Windows-compatible keyboard and mouse required, optional controller
Operating System: Windows XP SP3, Vista SP2, 7 SP1, 8 (both 32/64bit versions)
Processor: Intel Core2Duo E4400 @ 2.0 GHz or better OR AMD Athlon X2 4400+ @ 2.3 GHz or better
RAM: 4GB or more
Video card: nVidia GeForce 8800GT or AMD Radeon HD3870 (512MB VRAM with Shader Model 4.0) or better
Supported gamepad: Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller
Supported Video Cards at Time of Release: nVidia GeForce 8800GT or better, GeForce 9, GT200, GT400, GT500, GT600, GT700 series
AMD Radeon 2600 or better, HD3000, HD4000, HD5000, HD6000, HD7000, R7 and R9 series
Note: Laptop versions of these cards may work but are NOT officially supported.
Latest GeForce drivers tested: 320.49 for all series
Latest Radeon drivers tested: 13.1 for Radeon HD2600, 13.9 for Radeon HD5000 and above.