Typically, when one thinks of licensed games, awful titles like The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct or Aliens: Colonial Marines come to mind. It is seldom that a diamond in the rough can be found akin to the insanely good Walking Dead episodic adventure from Telltale. I really hadn't thought much of South Park: The Stick of Truth until I had heard that the game launched. Being a fan of the show, I went and checked out a gameplay trailer that showcased the tutorial section at the beginning and I was hooked. I was surprised to see that it was a full AAA $60 release and not a $20 digital title, so I hoped the tutorial did not disappoint. Disappoint, it did not. You are the new kid, having just recently moved to the small mountain town of South Park, Colorado. You jump in right as your parents are moving the last of the boxes into the house and proclaiming that they are happy to have moved here and that they hope that you are okay due to a noodle incident involving your last residence. Your folks head up to your room to check on you and tell you to head outside and meet some of the neighborhood kids.
As you step out of the house, you encounter South Park regular and main cast character Leopold "Butters" Stotch mock fighting in a live-action roleplay-type fight. You walk up and slug the kid Butters is fighting and he thanks you and introduces himself as Butters the Merciful, a Paladin. He then takes you to meet the Grand Wizard of the Kingdom of Kupa Keep and as you meet the Grand Wizard, Eric Cartman, your journey begins.
While the graphics aren't stunning next-gen (or even last-gen) knock your socks off awesome, they don't really have to be. The game looks exactly like the show. It is like you are actually playing an interactive episode of South Park. The map is now official canon as stated by the creators themselves. Before the game, the layout of South Park was pretty loose. A painstaking amount of detail went into the graphics and layout to keep the game true to the feel of the show.
The gameplay amounts to a competent turn-based RPG and the exploration of the town of South Park works well as far as being "open world". There aren't a lot of invisible walls or obstacles you can't traverse, and those that are there, are lampshaded by the characters onscreen.
The biggest drawback to the movement was a bug I encountered playing on the PlayStation 3, in that movement would not transition well from cutscenes/conversations to free movement, or from combat to free movement. If I were holding down to move to the right on the left analog stick right after combat or a cutscene I would frequently be unable to move. The same held true of one of the powers you obtain as the game progresses (no disclosure of what it is, I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free). Though a minor annoyance, it happened so frequently, it became grating after a while to have to release all buttons and let the game "reset" itself. I can't say if this holds true for the Xbox 360 or PC versions. Every once in a while the open world can be a bit difficult to navigate being that you are a 2D character on a 3D plain but any side-scroller beat-em-up suffers from similar issues.
Combat is fun, if a bit easy most of the time. For any old schoolers that played Final Fantasy VIII or Mario RPG, it has a hit system similar to these in combat. When your weapon glows, you hit a button for extra damage. As the new kid, you get to pick either your melee attack or a ranged attack and you get a 2-3 light hit combo or a heavy hit that damages enemy armor. In addition to this, you also get class-specific abilities that can be used. Many of the world encounters are pretty easy on normal mode but some bosses will kick your anus out through your throat if you don't keep an eye on your HP. In my first playthrough, I died a total of about 3 times, 2 of which were on one boss.
You also have the ability to use "magic," taught to you by various people throughout the world. In true South Park fashion, magic is farting. There's no classy way to put that. Though, the magic you use along with abilities acquired along the way can give the game a bit of an adventure feel at times since you can use magic or abilities to kill on-screen enemies before combat is initiated.
The class system is a standard fighter/mage/thief, with the Jew class thrown in, because South Park. From what I've read elsewhere, there isn't too much variation between the four classes. There is no stat progression aside from your Hit Points and Power (ability) Points increasing as your level increases and getting to buff your class-specific abilities. Any class can equip any weapons, so I'd imagine that most people would go with the Jew class as their first playthrough to fall in line with the trademark South Park humor.
Speaking of, this game is slathered in South Park humor all over. This game does it's show justice and crosses the line twice all throughout. I'm certain that over the past near two decades, the South Park name is synonymous with vulgar humor and it is on full display. If you are not a fan of jokes involving religion, pedophilia, abortion, fecal matter, homosexuality, anal probes or drugs then this game isn't for you. Chances are, if you aren't a fan of the show, you already knew that.
Which brings us to the big Merlot Williams selling point, the story. The overarching plot of the main cast member of South Park engaging in a city-wide LARP game is charming as hell and will harken any young adult geek back to the days before smartphones and tablets when we would go outside and sword fight with branches we found in the park. A war between two medieval races is timeless, and to be able to fuse that element in the South Park universe was genius and done exquisitely. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have to be gamers to have the ability to merge all these elements together to make a damn good game and do their property justice. Very few people could pull off telling a good medieval tale while parodying the absolute shit out of the entire genre of fantasy.
Overall, I give this game a 9/10. I'm currently working on my second playthrough as a Jew (my first time through was my standard go-to, the fighter) and between the voicework done by Parker and Stone, the amount of characters from the show who play major all the way down to minor roles, the musical score, fun combat, and challenging boss battles the game is worth full retail price in my opinion. Some people might be turned off by the "short" length (12-15 hours I'm hearing from most places). I wasn't, but the biggest turn-off for me was the buggy movement and, at times, the hit cues for attacks and abilities can be a bit off. All in all, once this goes live, I'm heading back down to South Park to have myself a time!
Game – South Park: The Stick of Truth
Developer – Obsidian Games
Publisher – Ubisoft