In the first hour of South Park: The Stick of Truth, I had five dildos in my inventory. Four of them from the bedroom of Cartman’s mother. Things went downhill from there, or uphill depending on your sense of humour. This is definitely not a game for children, it’s not even a game for some adults. If you can’t take a joke, stop reading now, you’re going to hate it. But if you’re one of the mythical few that can have a chuckle at fart jokes, anal probing and offensive stereotypes without taking to the internet in a righteous rage then read on fair maiden, for the realm of South Park needs your help.
I got the chance to sit down with the first hour of the game that many thought would never arrive. After five or so delays, which can sometimes signal trouble in development land, the game finally went gold last month to a resounding “for real this time?” from the collective internet. This is a perfect example of delays for quality control rather than scrambling to finish. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been notoriously insistent that Stick of Truth not be a rushed cash cow and rather a true RPG experience set in South Park. It shows.
The game’s opening sets the tone perfectly. As Cartman narrates, we’re introduced to the fantasy world the kids play in. Through an animated sequence we see Cartman as a legally-safe Gandalf, leading the humans in a bloody battle against the elves. The Stick of Truth controls the universe and the humans have been locked in a battle against the other kids to determine who controls it. After a character creation screen, you step into the world as “the new kid.” (or Douchebag as Cartman insists on calling you) There’s hints by your parents at something more sinister in your backstory but I didn’t see that come to fruition this early in the game.
You’re sent out into the world to make friends and quickly come upon Butters who takes you to Kupa Kamp, the realm of the Wizard King. Even the start of the game is jam-packed with sly references such as this. You arrive in Cartman’s backyard and are told to choose a class. Between Warrior, Mage, Thief and Jew (yep), I decided to pick Mage. (It’s like a Wizard but not as cool, says Cartman) After this you’re introduced to the combat.
All the combat is turn-based in Stick of Truth, though there are opportunities to attack and use abilities in real-time outside of combat. Turn-based is a system that needs to be done well, or not at all, and it feels very comfortable here. Many of the moves require specific movements on the controller and blocking is a timing-based button press depending on who is attacking you and how. I had some trouble at first but after getting the hang I found it made the combat feel more fast-paced and variable than something like Pokemon which can become a bit repetitive after several hours. It’s also interesting to note that there doesn’t seem to be a difficulty setting (at least that I saw) but the combat ranges between fairly easy to brutal if you’re not watching which abilities, effects and armour the enemy are using. All this adds up to the fact that by the end of my playthrough, the elements involved had been layered upon each other until the battles became more complex than the sum of their parts.
Before we go on it must be said. This game is funny. No, it’s really funny. Classic South Park humour abounds and there’s jokes for fans and non-fans alike. Though a fan might be better served as lots of the best bit from the show make appearances. Many of these jokes are purely visual but later in the game they come into play in the form of story lines, characters and abilities. For example, certain areas are not available until you meet the underpants gnomes or are anally probed. I laughed out loud frequently when playing but it was obvious some of these jokes will be contentious for some players. The mere fact that “Jew” is a playable class is just the tip of the iceberg but none of this will come as a surprise to fans of the show. What I’d really like to see is this game not cause a hubbub on the internet because it offends. If some people couldn’t handle the satire of GTA V then I’d hate (love) to see their reaction when Mr Slave banishes an enemy to his rectum.
Stick of Truth exists on the same 2D/3D plane as the show. You can move up and down the screen but it’s obvious that painstaking detail has been put into preserving the aesthetic. This means that the map might not seem large at first, you can look at most of the town from the start, but in reality it’s jam-packed with secret areas and buildings you have to return to once you’ve unlocked the right ability. In an hour and a half I saw a fraction of the map and a small portion of the side-quests. You even get to go up to Canada in search of Manbearpig, at the behest of Al Gore, obviously.
It’s interesting to note that while Australia will receive an edited version of the game, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Australian Classification Board, Europe will also be subject to a similar censoring. The contentious sequences in question involve anal probing, specifically Randy Marsh, Mr Slave and the player, and another involving an interactive abortion (on a male character). Though the sections are apparently short and not common, we’re treated to a graphic text version of the events imposed over a crying koala (no word on what Europe will see). It’s still funny but it’s also a shame that Australian adults are not deemed mature enough to interpret these scenes as the obvious joke they’re intended to be.
Though I can’t comment on the rest of the game, the first few quests of the Stick of Truth are great fun to play. One of the best aspects is how close to the show it feels because for the first time we’re given the whole of South Park to explore and interact with. While the greater story remains a mystery, though the trailers will give hints to eagle-eyed fans, all it really has to do it continue to be as fun as what I played. It’s a real treat to see how seriously Trey Parker and Matt Stone have taken their commitment to this game. There’s little more I can say than this: if you consider yourself a South Park fan, you’re going to have a good time. If you don’t know South Park at all but like a good laugh and are not easily offended, you’re going to have a good time. If you have no sense of humour and live in a bubble of sneers and internet vitriol, I thought I told you to stop reading nine paragraphs ago.
South Park: The Stick of Truth will finally be released on March 6th on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. I know we can’t beleve it as well.