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South Park: The Stick of Truth – Review

The Stick of Truth is a special game. No, not like that guy who’s dream car is a forklift and showers in his socks. And not necessarily special in the endearing way that Mario 64 or any Zelda is to so many gamers. Nah, it’s special in that it is the only game that has allowed me to fling human fecal matter at Al Gore, and where doing so was actually a viable strategy at winning that boss battle. The game is laden with these sorts of crude, lewd, and otherwise unthinkable acts, often to the point that it gave me that feeling many probably did when watching Bigger, Longer, and Uncut so long ago – that there would be no way in hell this wouldn’t get an Adults Only ESRB rating if it wasn’t just a bunch of cartoons. There is a gratuitous amount of, ahem, “rectal exploration” throughout the game, and in more ways than one. In fact, South Park’s typically satirical commentary is kind of cluttered away under the grade school poop and sex jokes, as well as a lot of references to the show that are somewhat hit and miss. There were plenty of times I found myself laughing out loud, especially at the hilarious character reveals toward the end, as well as by the Mister Hanky cameo and David Hasselhoff easter egg, but don’t expect too much high brow shit here. Rehashed gags and referential humor aside, South Park: The Stick of Truth is an entertaining, if somewhat slow starting, RPG that will appease both fans of the show and those who enjoy shock humor. Stick of Truth behaves like a D and D parody right from the start. The game establishes the initial fantasy plot of elves vs humans through an expository, and realistically drawn, opening cutscene (narrated by Cartman, of course). The two factions are at war over whom should rightly control the titular stick, which endows whomever wields it with the ability to basically have whatever they say, go. From there, you create your mute fourth grader and then battle with yourself on whether or not you want to play the Jew character class. Because you know you want to, but you’re not sure since you made your fourth grader look like you in the fourth grade, and since of course you’re not Jewish, (because why would you do that to yourself?), you kinda don’t want to be a Jew, but then you tell yourself it’s just a game, and the idea of having Jew power sounds hilarious to you, though in the end you just decide to go ahead and pick Thief and resolve to play as Jew in your second playthrough… (If your experience wasn’t word-for-word like this, then you did it wrong, try again) From there, you’re free to roam through pretty much all of South Park, picking up quests and adding all the characters as Facebook friends. Facebook is the all-in-one menu that you’ll be spending a lot of time in, further upgrading and customizing your character. You’d think Matt Stone and Trey Parker were actually just trying to make 2D Skyrim, considering all the time you’ll spend going through all the minutia in those menu screens. 2014-03-01_00010You’ll also come to meet the true villain of the game despairingly early in the game. No, not Clyde. I’m talking about slow-down and load screens. This game’s subtitle should be Load Screens Galore, it’s so bad. At least in Skyrim you could play around a dozen or more hours before the load times started to creep up. The Stick of Truth goes in to Waiting Room mode nearly every time you go in or out of a building. Adding to that, the game also stutters like it’s trying to imitate Jimmy’s speech impediment whenever it autosaves in the town. Again unlike Skyrim, there was no way to turn off the unnecessarily constant stream of game saves, which meant I would have to just not move for 10 some odd seconds every now and then lest I risk the game looking like the original stop motion pilot of the show. How a game this graphically simple could be that hard to run is beyond me. This potentially could have been because the copy I played for this review was the downloadable version, but even then, it’s still poorly optimized. If the Stick of Truth’s experience could be compared to the experience of an episode, then this is like trying to stream “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe” over a  dial-up internet connection, complete with all the buffering that brings. It eventually came to the point where I was more surprised when there WASN’T a loading screen between rooms, and because of that, real immersion was something I never ascertained. If that sounds sad in this day and age, that’s because it is. (If it sounds “chad,” invest in a Q-tip)One nice thing about The Stick of Truth is that, aside from those times you’re forced to just twiddle your thumbs and play the waiting game, is that the time spent in the 15 to 20 hour campaign never feels wasted. The game isn’t padded with dozens of fetch quests, and there’s none of that JRPG “dude, you gotta wait til the 50 hour mark for it to get good hurr durr” bullshit to give nerds a falsely inflated sense of value for their dollar. The game packs in as much politically incorrect shenanigans as it can within its play time. From the first tutorials, it’s made clear that a lot of the action you’ll be engaged in is turn-based combat. These instances usually pits you and one interchangeable ally against 1-5 enemies whom you must vanquish using your repetoire of melee and ranged attacks, Power moves, “Magic” spells, and one-use-per-day Summon abilities. A few fights against boss characters can prove challenging if you’re unaware of their weaknesses,  but most battles were easy enough to be won on the first try simply by relying on a few favorite Power moves to clear your path.  Magic spells (i.e.: farts) were something i used rarely outside what i needed to do with them to get Trophies. To keep things interesting, your attacks and blocks are determined by your ability to perform timed button presses. Precision timing is required for the most effective strikes and to reduce damage. Comparisons to Paper Mario have been made regarding the combat, so at least they’re ripping off a lesser known, quality game. South Park: The Stick of Truth - Ass of FireWhat I ended up doing more often than not though, is trying to limit the amount of time you’ll spend in combat at all. Opportunities to do this are represented by obvious glinting in the environment. Before engaging in combat, by interacting with objects near certain enemies, like dropping something that was precariously dangling over their head on to them, you can eliminate multiple enemies from a fight or the fight altogether. It’s not necessarily that the combat isn’t fun or that it’s boring, it’s that in a game where the big draw is the jokes, you want to get back to them fairly quickly. The combat is serviceable and not broken in any way, and often times enemies (like ManBearPig) will be the joke themselves, but you’ll generally want to dispatch foes quickly. There’s tons of weapons and equipment to experiment with to help you do this, as well as stat-buffing Badges that can quickly turn you into an overpowered god amongst mortals given the right setup. For instance, equipping the new ninja stars you bought with the Ginger Pubes badge for Gross-Out effect, is a good way to make yourself OP AF OMG WTF BBQ. Being thorough in scouring the game world, and returning to previously unreachable areas because you didn’t have the right Dragonshout (i.e.: fart) for the job, is rewarded and recommended. If deriving laughter from jokes about abortion, rape, pedophilia, and AIDS is something you’re uncomfortable with, or you can’t appreciate a massive “Nagasaki” fart power simply “for teh lolz” alone, then South Park: The Stick of Truth should probably not be the next game you play with your grandma, who just wanted to do a little Wii bowling but is now crying for having let you expose her to this. If you don’t like the show, then this isn’t going to change anything. It’s weird, really. The game is so dense with shit that any parent with half a brain wouldn’t let their kid play (like all the atrocious slow down, oooh burn), yet at the same time, I feel like I would have enjoyed this game 10x more if I was still a 13 year old with an incredibly immature sense of humor. Its most receptive audience is that tween demographic who can’t even purchase the game without a parent there with them. As I said before, a lot of the satire is rehashed. A bit of it is unoriginal or isn’t timely anymore (seriously, a Matrix reference?), while other portions are exchanged wholesale in favor of “easy” comedy (i.e.: farts). It wasn’t particularly all that clever or surprising for instance, that after so many characters  have told you no less than 76,831 times throughout the game to “never ever fart on another man’s balls,” that lo and behold, you defeat the final boss by releasing pootchus gas on their crotch region. In fact, it was more anti-climactic than epic. The phrase, “Sooo… was that it?” best sums up the ending of SoT. (why they would tell you to not do this one thing when it solved every problem all at once doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense, either) That being said, without the South Park coating, this game would seriously be in need of some work. The gameplay is decent enough, but really only serves as a means to an end. It’s the videogames equivalent of Saltine Crackers; eat it with a soup or salad, you cretin. If you can put up with that, and with a purgatory of loading screens so draining you’ll need to pull your phone out to save you from losing your soul to boredom, then Stick of Truth is well worth playing. To quote the late, great Rosa Parks: “Go now, and embrace your farts.” Obligatory Number at the End: 7.25/10

Remember: Nagasaki.