The only possible way to describe my reaction when I heard a South Park RPG was in the works, would be to call it cautious optimism. Obviously, combining two of my favorite things is a recipe for success in most situations (Zelda and gore makes Darksiders, an incredible series) so I had good reason to get optimistic. However, I know how licensed games can go terribly, horrifically wrong. Not to mention the fact that South Park hasn't had the best of track record in the game industry and that optimism just got cautious. Not to mention the fact that THQ died before the game even had a solid release date - the writing was more or less on the wall for South Park: The Stick of Truth. Going against all odds though, with Obsidian, Trey Parker, and Matt Stone leading the way thanks to the saving grace of Ubisoft, not only is South Park: The Stick of Truth a reality, it turned out pretty damn amazing.
The game begins with you, the new kid in town, attempting to make friends. At the behest of your parents, you head out into the wide world of South Park to begin your Facebook conquest and befriend everyone in town as quickly as possible - it's your quest to become cool. Along the way you'll run into aliens, give abortions, fight the ManBearPig, find Jesus, and do all other sorts of absolutely ridiculous and probably offensive things and it's absolutely hilarious.
In my review of Saints Row IV, I called it "the funniest game I have ever played," and while that was true at the time, it's now false. South Park: The Stick of Truth is undoubtedly the most absolutely hilarious game I have ever played in my life. From the moment the intro cinematic graced my screen with Cartman valiantly riding his steed into battle, to the moment I sat down to recollect the experience, I've had a smile on my face. Anyone that loves the show will agree that it's not any single factor that makes it so funny - the jokes usually aren't as good out of context, the animations are perfectly crude and sharp when they have to be, and most of all, the voice acting and delivery are impeccable. Parker and Stone have been doing this for a very long time and in more ways than not, Stick of Truth is basically the most epic and amazing episode of South Park I've ever experienced.
Early on in the game, it's pretty obvious it's going to parody the very genre that it exists within the entire time. Your character never speaks - something that is constantly mocked in consistently clever ways - and the fact that all the kids know that they're roleplaying adds a 4th-wall breaking meta humor that's truly superb. Cartman refers to Token as a blacksmith, one particular battle you are warned to just skip because you will be captured anyways, there is a top-down retro 2D area, and constant jokes mocking the very subject material.
Interestingly enough, for a game that doesn't take itself all that seriously, it packs some of the most solid and engaging turn-based RPG mechanics I've seen in a long time. Instead of reinventing the well-polished wheel that is turn-based fighting, Obsidian instead opted for a combination of features that work incredibly well together. The majority of the battle system functions much like the Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi combat systems - fully turn-based, but with real-time button prompts for your actions. For example, instead of just selecting "Attack with Sword" you will select the enemy, followed by timed button presses for increased damage and combo possibilities. All melee weapons and ranged weapons have unique features such as three attacks, or chaining between enemies, or making them throw up - you know, standard RPG stuff.
Going a step further, all of your armor pieces have similar features. That Fighter headband might have an ability on it that increases your attack when your party member dies, or maybe your tunic gives you +10% damage with bows. The game is absolutely littered with weapons and gear that not only look entirely unique, but also function in entirely unique ways. Add onto this the fact that you collect dyes to freely change your colors and find stickers to enchant your gear - all of which can be freely removed and re-purposed as much as you want. Throughout my 20+ hours with the game, I don't think I ever went more than 30 minutes without tweaking some part of my gear in some way.
In addition to the standard fighting, the environment is also full of small areas to explore, environmental puzzles to solve, and even enemies to fight - all in real-time. Attacking an enemy with a projectile before engaging stuns them at the start of the battle and in several instances, your farts are magical and lethal weapons to be feared. Once again, I cannot overstate how surprising the breadth of content and small references there are in Stick of Truth. If you're a long-time fan of the show, you'll find little things here and there throughout the entire game. Even after 20 hours of playing, I was still finding new things.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a testament to the fact that any topic can be made into a great game with the right combination of artistic insight, developer talent, and motivation. I never would have guessed that South Park would so perfectly fit into the turn based RPG mold, but I can't imagine it any other way now. Even if you were to strip away all of the source material and put the game mechanics into a brand new setting, this game would retain its charm and sheer entertainment value. Obsidian has crafted a great game and deserves recognition - I hope they continue to iterate on this accomplishment and give us more games in a similar turn based style.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is available on March 4th for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. Let us know your thoughts and if you are picking up the game down in the comment section below!
This review is based on a digitally downloaded version of the game for PC provided by Ubisoft.