Obsidian has developed the ultimate South Park fan experience with their hilarious roleplaying game South Park: The Stick of Truth. Those who are familiar with the show will not be surprised to know that the title has been classified R18 for its themes and language and has also been censored accordingly. This is an adventure for adults.
The paper cut-out visual style of the show is mirrored in the game. Prepare to immerse yourself in, what at times, feels like an interactive movie.
New kid on the block
Welcome to the small mountain town of South Park. You play the role of a young boy who has just moved in. Your parents encourage you to explore and make new friends on Facebook. The first buddy you meet is the innocent and likeable Butters. He introduces you to the boys at Kupa Keep Kingdom, which is Cartman's backyard (everybody's favourite spoilt and obese bully).
Most of the kids in town partake in live action roleplay. You find yourself entering the fray at a crucial time to help protect the coveted Stick of Truth for he who wields the Stick has control over all of space and time.
As a willing participant in the LARP you get to choose your special class that grants a buff to a particular statistic (fighter, mage, thief or Jew).
As you complete quests and find items you can equip armour, gloves and a hat and also choose a melee and ranged weapon.
It is worth checking your inventory regularly because just the slightest disadvantage can set you back in battle. You may even need to wear the right apparel to disguise yourself.
Toilet humour, specifically farting, is a running gag throughout the story. There is a button dedicated to letting it rip when you are walking around. Bystanders will comment on your manners while your buddy (a friend following you) will most likely laugh about it.
Cartman teaches you 'dragonshout', which is a neat parody of the thu'ums in Skyrim. Farting is a major plot point and introduces magic to combat and is at times crucial to solving puzzles. Cup a 'spell' near an open flame and boom.
Let's fighting love!
While gameplay is real-time when you encounter a baddie you enter turn-based combat. First phase allows the use of unique powers, items and summons. Second phase is your attack (melee or ranged). At first it can take some time to adjust to the 'click right mouse button when you see the flash' quick time mechanic. To score a hit or a perfect attack you need to press certain keys at the right moment. Also, you need to pay attention to what your opponents are doing as you can also soften the blow by blocking.
Fortunately the animations/moves become predictable and can make it easier to beat the other players up. The downside of repetitive attacks, however, is when you have Jimmy the Bard stuttering the same lines over and over just to cast an enchantment ('there once was a maiden from Stoneberry Hollow …').
At least you can swap out your buddies when you get bored with one. Butters is consistently the most useful and hilarious of the group you can enlist to help you. Unleash Butters' Professor Chaos persona and pick a randomised attack. Sometimes he smites his foes with a lightning strike and sometimes he drains health.
The enemies you will skirmish with range from angry hobos to nazi zombie fetuses. Some enemy attacks are so bizarre they are just outrageous. Al Gore will literally bore you to death with a presentation on climate change.
Towards the end of the game combat goes from being frustrating and difficult to predictable and easy. This is due to the amount of items you can acquire. So long as you are fully stocked on health, revive and cure potions you can survive almost every encounter if you fumble an attack. The most useful potion is speed (coffee) which grants the player with a second attack in the same phase (best thing to use against bosses as they are usually immune to status effects).
There are many status effects to experience. Bleeding is caused from some abilities and attacks whereas 'gross out' forces the affected character to take additional damage over time and prevents them from consuming edible items. To list them all would spoil the surprises the game has in store.
For the fans
South Park currently has 17 seasons worth of source material to draw from. Stick of Truth is packed with so many references from the devious underpants gnomes thieving from drawers to Al Gore desperately hunting the elusive Manbearpig.
The joy of this game is finding the little things that tease a smirk or have you laughing at your computer screen. Obviously this is an adventure for the fans. Every key location has some pleasant surprise for those who take the time to look. Cartman has his cardboard robot AWESOM-O stashed away while the Photo Dojo shop features pictures of Stan's dad, Randy, posing.
Speaking of hidden things there are collectibles to find too. Chinpokomon, the parody of a popular pocket monster Japanese cartoon, are waiting to be found. Collect all 30. That sound bite when you pick one up is the best.
Once per day some special individuals can offer the player a unique summon during combat to absolutely thrash the opposition in a single combat round. These overpowered attacks do not work against bosses though. Find Jesus in the church and he can descend the heavens to blast baddies with his M16 automatic rifles. Help the manager at City Wok reclaim his restaurant from the Mongolians and he will aid you in battle with his 'war dance'. Reunite Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo with his lost children and ... it's best you witness that one yourself.
Australia has the censored R18 version that omits several 'unsavoury' scenes. Ironically each deleted scene shows a placeholder image of a weeping koala with a caption below that describes what would be happening in the uncut release.
Fortunately, though, we are not missing out on much.
It would not be a South Park game if it didn't satirise games themselves. Stick of Truth pokes fun at the concept of audio logs and weaves into the narrative meta jokes that comment on the tropes of a typical quest. Randy Marsh, for example, ponders loudly about who can possibly shrink themselves and disarm the thermonuclear device in Mr Slave's bottom. Obviously the player has the skills necessary to step up to the challenge.
The trip to the North is a treat for players. The change of scenery contrasts with that of Colorado. You briefly involve yourself in the political struggles of the foreign land and you also meet two famous monks ...
South Park is littered with junk that you can sell for better gear. This might be patched eventually but at the moment it is possible to purchase the best loot for your current level from start to finish because it is so easy to make money. Sadly there is no need to stress over financial decisions.
The 'sweet katana', like most weapons, are level capped. Some items have slots for add-ons and patches to improve your chances of winning battles. As soon as you reach the level to wield the sweet katana, and you buy it, you won't need to worry about combat because that blade is powerful. Maybe even overpowered ...
Once you reach the end of the adventure there is no real motivation to revisit it, which is a shame because it is fun to roam the world that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have created. It is important to note that Trey and Matt come up with the most hilarious songs. Sparrow Prince has his own little signature tune that captures how brilliant and absurd that particular quest is. Again, once you've experienced the joke you can't really justify doing it all again.
The finale features an epic confrontation and some surprise 'cameos' however the ending feels a little rushed and before you know it the end credits roll.
Overall the experience is consistently fantastic. Everything from the comedy to the combat is polished well aside from a few minor issues. No doubt South Park fans will love this title with a passion although it won't be long until the masses plead for downloadable content and a sequel. It is possible to clock the story in a day so if you want the game to last you are better off taking your time.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is available on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.