Welcome to South Park, new kid – now pick a side. With the regular assortment of profanity-spewing nine-year olds waging an epic Dungeons and Dragons-style campaign, you’ll be torn between siding with King Kyle of the woodland elves, and Grand Wizard Cartman, ruler of the human Kingdom of Kupa Keep.
Yep, The Stick of Truth starts off with a KKK joke, eliminating any worries that the game might pull its punches, at least so far as taste goes. That it then escalates into a typically bizarre escapade involving downed UFOs, government cover-ups, and Nazi zombies only cements it as the sort of unrestrained farce the TV show excels at.
As a game, this is essentially ‘South Park does Final Fantasy’. Battles are a snappy twist on genre-standard turn-based combat, where each action requires a specific input to successfully pull off. While you’ll only have two party members – your own custom character and one of six partners: Stan, Kyle, Kenny, Cartman, Butters, or Jimmy – there’s considerable strategy and customisation thanks to unique skills and dozens of ‘strap on’ modifiers that affect stats and bonuses. Each character’s abilities can be called on out of combat too, helping you navigate South Park itself, or manipulate the environment to take out enemies before combat begins.
Less impressive are farts, used in place of magic. In or out of battle, these are annoyingly fiddly to use, largely because the clouds of explosive waste gas are near-invisible on-screen. One ‘spell’ in particular also suffers from an immensely frustrating and imprecise tutorial, almost enough to send controllers flying through screens in rage. It would be forgivable if these attacks were eventually helpful, but they’re so ineffectual that you’ll likely never use them except when prompted.
However, as an adaptation of Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s work goes, this is something of a mixed bag. On the positive side, it boasts excellent dialogue – Cartman comes across as wonderfully hateful as ever, Randy as brilliantly stupid, Butters as endearingly naive. Visually, it can’t be faulted – playing Stick of Truth is like watching a South Park marathon, indistinguishable from the weekly series. Even the humour hits the mark, for the most part, with summons of supporting characters being a particularly hilarious delight – Mr Hanky washing away enemies with a tide of effluence in an homage to Fantasia’s The Sorceror’s Apprentice sequence, or Jesus descending from on high to dispense heavenly justice from the business end of an assault rifle.
What’s missing though is any sense of satire. There’s no edge to the script, nothing being lampooned. Peel back the veneer of South Park’s obscenities and it’s a very intelligent show. In comparison, this feels more like it’s playing to the cheap seats, with little beyond a few gags at the expense of video games as a medium to even hint at the wit the writers are capable of. It’s funny, but there’s nothing beneath the humour.
Saddest of all is that the European console release is censored, omitting scenes of alien anal probes and an over-the-top abortion, amongst others. Given Parker and Stone’s stance against censorship, it’s an odd choice – especially when material such as dodging flailing testicles mid-coitus remain untouched. Even stranger, the text screens used in place of the scenes are graphically descriptive, and the PC release is remains uncut.
The Stick Of Truth remains an enjoyable game though, with a wealth of bonus content for series devotees to uncover. It’s just not as sharp or challenging as the source material can be, and anyone wanting the unexpurgated take will have to stick to the PC version.