South Park The Stick of Truth had been in development for quite some time. First announced in 2011, it had great promise being written and directed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The minds behind the wildly successful TV series featuring the incredibly offensive and oft times hilarious adventures of four young boys living in South Park Colorado. Of course, I'm assuming if you have interest in this game you'll know all of this. The TV series has spanned season after season and shows no sign of stopping any time soon. It spawned a full length feature movie, which did very well both commercially and critically. It seemed to be perfect for TV and movie adaptations, so why not games right? All of the games released under the South Park name have been everywhere from bad to mediocre. Now, with the promise of having the creators writing the script, as well as voicing the characters it seemed as though South Park The Stick of Truth was all set to be the game the series deserved. So, how did it turn out? Well, that's up to you to decide. However, I will give you an account of what I experienced without spoilers and possibly help you decide if a purchase is right for you.
I'm a long time fan of the South Park series, and had very high hopes for this game. I tend not to get ahead of myself in getting caught up with hype. It's rare to get me excited to the point The Stick of Truth was able to. It promised that South Park humor fans of the series love, it promised old-school turn-based combat, as well as an open world to explore around the town as you wish. All of these things seemed to be the perfect formula for something truly magical. From the very first moment of making your character and being dropped into the quiet little mountain town, you'll feel right at home. The art is, of course spot-on. Aside from some slight aliasing in the console versions, it looks just like it would if you were watching an episode on the television. This is probably the most important part, and they got it down just right. In terms of looks, it's phenomenal.
Let's start off by talking about the open world. The town of South Park is there in its entirety for you to explore. You can visit the boys' school, check out Stark's Pond, swing by Token's house or visit Kenny's family across the railroad tracks. The areas of town are sectioned off between screens, but loading is practically non-existent unless you go into someone's house. I'd like to point out, that on the PS3 version which I was playing. There would often times be some pretty severe frame rate drops between screens outside. This primarily happened when the game would auto-save. I did not notice this on the PC version, and have yet to see how the 360 version performed. Everything about the town is pretty detailed, and you'll find a TON of charming and often amusing nods to episodes from the series' lifetime. I would give examples of what you can expect to find, but it's much more rewarding if you find these things yourself. This is definitely a game you'll want to take your time going through. As it's not very long unfortunately.
Now, onto the combat system. It's both fairly simple and slightly complex. I can't say it was anything too special, but it certainly was entertaining and that's what is important. You'll have enemies in various places on the battle screen, depending on where they are you'll have different attacks that can hit one or more enemies. For instance, some attacks can hit a column of enemies. One in the middle, one above, and one below. Others can hit a line, and some can hit all of them. It depends on what weapon or abilities you use. All of it is interactive, meaning you'll have to physically press a button or do something for blocking or attacking. It all makes battles interesting and engaging. As a side note, I'd like to praise the status effects as well. It's pretty funny to see an enemy running around on fire and throwing up from status effects you put on them. With how entertaining battles were, I never really felt opposed to getting into them until making it to the very end of the game after reaching max level. Which brings us to an issue I have with the game's mechanics. You are allowed an ability point each time you level up. There are a certain number of locked abilities you can upgrade several times. The problem is, the game never specifically tells you that you won't have enough levels to unlock them all. Which was a little frustrating to me personally when I realized I was at max level and couldn't progress with them any longer. I thought I'd made it to my max level a little too soon, but as it turned out I was simply nearing the end of the game. Which was quite disappointing. Let me be clear, I was loving my journey up to the end. By the time the credits began to roll though, I felt a little unsatisfied. As if there should have been more to it. Doing a good portion of the side quests, I was able to finish the game in just over 11 hours. For most games that would be a decent amount of time, but for an RPG to be finished so quickly. It's a little disheartening, especially when you pay $60 dollars for the game.
The customization of the game is something it should certainly be praised for. You're able to get a lot of special costumes that you can equip onto your character to change up their look. Everything from wigs to glasses and face paint. You're also able to dye your armor any colors you want. Some of which can be found as you explore the world. Weapons and armor are even further customizable because of patches and strap-ons. Some weapons and armor will have sockets that you can equip these into. Giving them bonus effects. Things like bleed damage, absorbing health or even being able to break through defenses. It's a great system and it makes the combat that much more enjoyable.
One last little section here before I get into my actual verdict of everything. Bugs and technical issues. As I mentioned above, the PS3 version had really bad frame rate issues when auto-saving between screens. It would drop to what I would believe to be around 5-10 frames per second for about 3-5 seconds whenever it auto-saved between screens outside. There were also several times where the audio didn't match up with the screen. During 3 different cutscenes I noticed their mouths didn't match their voices at all. (Such as hearing them talking after their mouths had stopped moving altogether, and in one case gunshots firing before the gun even started to shoot.) There were also a lot of times where you'd see the camera change from your character to another and back again. In these cases, you could see your character popping into the game for a fraction of a second. As in, your character not being there and quickly appearing. This wasn't really too noticeable, but it did happen frequently. It's just something I thought should be brought up. Last, but certainly not least. I did have a rather annoying bug crop up in the middle of my game. One where all the text was messed up and not displaying correctly. I had to actually completely quit the game and restart it to get it normal again. These seem like issues that should have been fixed, considering they had around 4 years to do so.
In closing, I will say that all of the issues I have with the game still couldn't put a damper on my experience. If you're a fan of the series, you absolutely NEED to play this game (whether through buying or renting.) If you just like role-playing games, and don't care much for South Park, you're definitely better off renting than buying. I can't recommend it on just that aspect alone. I will say that I was laughing pretty much the entire way through. Every little detail and nod to episodes from the series' past was incredible. They put so much attention and focus on that though, I fear they didn't put enough time into making a lengthy story. South Park The Stick of Truth is an experience more than anything. It's something that you'll absolutely be happy going through, but I'm not sure I'd pay full price for it unless you're okay with shorter campaigns and some buggy moments. You're allowed to wander around the town after you've beaten the game, but it seems like it's just there to finish up any remaining side quests and finding collectibles you might have missed.
At the end of the day, Stick of Truth is a wonderful experience marred primarily by its length. Regardless, it's a game that I'm happy to have in my collection and I'm sure I'll replay it again at some point in the future. Any way you slice it though, it's the absolute best South Park game you're going to get, buddy. "Screw you guys, I'm going home..."