The biggest joke in any South Park
game released before 2014 may be the integrity of the game itself. From the Turok
with turkeys first-person shooter debut to the recent platformer abomination, past South Park
developers made the mistake of believing fans want to play an uninspired genre entry featuring show characters and references. With the show creators at the helm, The Stick of Truth
approaches monitors and TVs with an unlikely confidence for a licensed game; one that doesn't live or die by genre restrictions. It gives fans what they want: An adventure in a world they know and love re-imagined through clever interactions and game references.
The best and worst things about The Stick of Truth
are a result of its choice to be an RPG. In combat, it closely resembles Paper Mario [マリオストーリー]
s low-stress tactics and button-timed attacks, but The Stick of Truth
is more of an adventure game than anything. Battles exist as filler or a way to set-up and deliver a joke. In a lot of ways, it resembles the old PC adventure Quest for Glory
where the RPG design was there mostly for thematic consistency and distractions from puzzle-solving. Thankfully, The Stick of Truth
's battle system isn't one of frustration but simple satisfaction -- at least, for the majority of the game. By its end, it becomes increasingly clear Obsidian Entertainment
never planned to offer much depth which makes the longer boss battles awkward. Even on hard, there was never a moment where I broke a sweat. The equipment and spells are so over-powered that you can easily wear armor from three character levels ago in most encounters and not face any trouble.
The best parts of game design come from avoiding combat. This may seem like a jab against the game, but its not. Obsidian realized the combat can be boring if prolonged in a section -- thus self-aware jokes from the characters about exhaustion from repetitive fights -- so they give environmental puzzles to defeat most enemies outside combat. Not only do you save time, you collect the same rewards and experience. This would be an unforgivably lazy move from Obsidian if these puzzles weren't so clever and fun to solve in themselves. It's not exactly Portal
(not to mention a classic Sierra Entertainment
adventure) but I was always happy to solve them -- maybe this says more about the lackluster combat. The better result would be for Obsidian to make a deeper RPG that offers increasing challenge and depth, or to fully commit to an action-puzzle adventure that made greater use of character abilities. The most important thing I can say about all this is that combat rarely gets in the way of story and, more often than not, increases enjoyment of it through contextual button prompts in unique quest battles.
You probably know by now that The Stick of Truth
is funny by the generally high review scores. Comedy is always subjective and always boring to critique, so I'll just say I enjoyed the story in The Stick of Truth
more than anything South Park
since the glorious Bigger Longer and Uncut
. The problem I have with most South Park
episodes is that they drive a funny concept or joke into the ground due to episode length constraints. The Stick of Truth
's quest format gives the story room to go in different directions every 20-30 minutes so no joke outstays its welcome. The story may be nostalgic to longtime South Park
fans, as it pays homage to nearly every revered episode and character in the show's lengthy history. However, this also results in a story that lacks momentum or the genuine surprise of the South Park
film that introduced new characters and told its own unique plot. I remained entertained and laughing throughout the game's shockingly crude scenes, which is more than I can say of most South Park
episodes or games (in general).
It took me four months to complete The Stick of Truth
, despite its brief playtime (for an RPG at least) -- less than 10 hours with most sidequests completed. This was entirely due to the slow start that left me cold. The open world nature of the game is leaned into a little too hard, as the opening quests task you with going to all different sides of the map. Fans of the show should find amusement in exploring the world but it lacks a strong hook to keep most RPG fans going. Once you get past the first hour, the quests offer more structure and the fast-travel system adds momentum. I still found myself flustered with how much time I spent in menus, partly due to bad UI but mostly because the abundance of equipment you find. This would be good in most RPGs, adding incentive to questing and room for character customization, but it feels like excessive filler in a game where combat means so little -- I chock it up to being the result of developer busy work during months of prolonged release delays.
Even with these stumbling blocks, Obsidian and South Park
creators' love of RPGs and commitment to the genre results in a game that should delight fans of the show and crude humor. It doesn't transcend the show, entering the realm of classic RPGs, but that was never part of the plan. The game works due to its irrelevance toward the genre by making fun of the tropes it plays into while side-stepping most others. With this approach, one can almost imagine how past South Park
games weren't innately terrible but simply had the wrong mindset behind them. Whoever buys this game isn't buying it for a great RPG. They are buying it for a laugh and an adventure in a world they know and love. And if its battle system is merely okay, one won't mind when the laughs and clever player interactions are so great.