After a long time in development, South Park: the Stick of Truth has finally been released by Ubisoft and it does an exceptional job of recreating the look and feel of South Park. The physical layout of the city is layered in such a way to truly bring the player into the fictional town of South Park, Colorado. Obsidian Entertainment takes the license for all its worth, constructing a world that any South Park fan is sure to fall in love with, but will still be highly entertaining for casual fans. True to the classic nature of the series, the Stick of Truth treads down avenues very few other franchises would be willing to take. All told, South Park: the Stick of Truth is highly polished old-fashioned escapism at its finest, an action RPG slyly constructed as a Tolkien-esque fantasy takeoff, and placed within the context of a backyard game being played imaginatively between the kids of South Park as humans, wizards, and elves on the quest for the Stick of Truth. It's enough to make one yearn for the good old days.
As a game, Stick of Truth is well-paced, split across three days. Players are charged with recruiting various characters and factions to their cause, such as the emo kids and girls of South Park with classic side missions involving aliens, gnomes, and a hilarious 8-bit journey to the fabled land of Canada sprinkled in-between. Side missions can also be undertaken for various characters and these are often hilarious as well, such as a certain vice-President's insistence on preparing for the wrath of Manbearpig. In total there is about three episodes worth of original South Park content here, and much of the writing is far superior to recent seasons of South Park. The entire plot takes place within the children's collective imaginations, and consequently items are charmingly homemade, shop prices are kept at the scale of Elementary school students, and adults constantly make meta comments. Of course, things quickly escalate as the town becomes threatened by hilariously offensive Nazi zombies, and the government intervenes to cover up the otherworld UFO source of contamination.
The playable character is custom designed at the start of the game, and then perfectly integrated into cutscenes, selecting between the Thief, Mage, Fighter, and "Jew" character types to be upgraded through experience points. Throughout the campaign the player's appearance can be further modified within the game using unlockable haircuts, rhinoplasty, makeup, glasses, and so on. RPG elements mean that players can equip various combinations of armor, helmets, melee weapons, projectile weapons, skill augmenting badges, and unlock special abilities and “magic” attacks along the way. The game also comments on the popularity of social media as the player must friend South Park inhabitants to upgrade various perks. Outside of combat, Stick of Truth is very reminiscent of an adventure game, with lots of puzzles and environmental manipulation possible throughout the about ten hour campaign. Because this game was made as a collaboration between Obsidian and South Park studios, the writing and plot are top-notch.
Make no mistake, this is definitely still an Obsidian game. Combat is a based on the active turn-based RPG style popularized by games such as Paper Mario, in which offensive and defensive actions are input using a radial wheel, and then augmented using perfectly timed button presses. Additionally, the environment can be cleverly manipulated to KO bad guys before battle begins. Almost everything about the gameplay is fun and efficiently designed. Menus are kept to a minimum outside of combat so that the player can better appreciate every detail of the world's construction. Combat is top-notch as players can gain various advantages depending on how they enter a battle, use abilities and items to buff allies or debuff enemies, inflict massive damage with character specific attacks (Butter's Professor Chaos ability is particularly enjoyable, as well as Jimmy's repertoire), and summon the help of ally characters like the proprietor of City Wok, Mr. Slave, and Jesus. Elves, aliens, rats, zombies, gnomes, and unborn fetuses all collide to make trouble for the player. Enemies often have shields and armor that must be worn down before real damage can be inflicted.
In addition to the main character, players will join forces with various characters from the South Park universe in order to take down enemies. Butters works great as the initial companion character, equipped with the unique ability of being able to heal the player each turn. There is an excellent sense of scale to this game as past moments get revisited for comedic effect, new abilities allow the player to interact with the environment in different ways, or full access is gained to the classic South Park gang of Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny, with Jimmy and Butters filling out the roster. All the characters can be used in interesting ways, providing unique offensive and defensive capabilities as the situation allows. Frustrating enemy encounters can often be overcome by trying a different character's skillset.
It's hard to judge the graphics on a traditional scale, other than to say they flawlessly replicate the classic papercut 2D look of the series. The appearance of the game in itself is a major achievement, surmounting concerns from fans burned by previous South Park games. Also impressive are the magnified environments that come into play once the player unlocks the gnomish ability to shrink in stature. In addition to the impressively realized graphics, the audio side perfectly replicates the sound of South Park, with all classic characters voiced by Matt and Trey, or their traditional voice actors. The music is also insanely catchy, with expertly integrated and still hilarious aural references to several past episodes.
However, if the Stick of Truth succeeds at all it is thanks primarily to the embarrassment of references Obsidian Entertainment has been given license to work with, from episode specific junk items, collectible Chinpokomon, and on and on. One specific example worth highlighting is how visiting Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny's closets will reveal years worth of affectionately littered artifacts, and of course, Tom Cruise. The game is packed to the gills with references, in-jokes, call backs, and hilariously stacking gags. Environments are littered with destructible items, all modeled in the appropriate cartoony style. Matt Stone and Trey Parker take full advantage of the videogame medium to deliver multiple parodies of standard videogame cliches, like the strangely silent protagonist, quick time events, audiologs, and more (a certain green-clad elfboy is referenced in multiple ways).
Despite all doubts, Obsidian and South Park Studios have accomplished something near miraculous, crafting a game that is as fun as it is a loving tribute to the South Park universe, that is as hilarious as it is compelling, and that never once loses sight of its primary objective: to have the player come on down to South Park, and meet some friends of mine.