Wednesday, March 19, 2014

South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS3) Review

Many people, including myself, were looking forward to South Park: The Stick of Truth when it was announced.  Written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, it was to be an RPG crafted by veteran studio Obsidian.  Once THQ went bankrupt, people were worried about the game's future.  Thankfully, Ubisoft picked it up, and after some delays, the game is finally ready for the masses to enjoy.

First off, this game looks exactly like the show.  Granted the animation on the show isn't the apex of all cartoons, but the fact that the game got it down perfectly is worth mentioning.  The characters move, talk and act all how they should.  They also sound the way they should, since everybody is voiced by their show counterpart.  There are lots of details in the environment, many of which can be interacted with.  It's a nice touch that interactive elements have gold on them, such as doorknobs, cabinet handles and such, so it's easy to tell what you can and can't loot.  Overall, the whole sights and sounds package is amazing.  Old school RPG players like myself should get a kick out of Canada, as it was probably my favorite area in the game.

The story of The Stick of Truth is undeniably very South Park.  It starts off innocent enough, with the children split into two groups, the humans and the elves (drow), each fighting to control the stick of truth, which grants the power of the universe to its holder.  It quickly gets crazier and crazier and involves aliens and nazi zombies.  I don't want to give any spoilers, but it somehow manages to stay coherent, despite being strange.  The game is funny, but is very raunchy and explicit, so I was careful not to play it around my kids.  I'm not that irresponsible.  The game itself is also a satire on RPGs and games in general, and does it very well.  Then again, raunchy humor with good satire is something to be expected from the writers of South Park, so it's not a big surprise.  I'd also quickly like to mention the menu interface.  Since it's meant to be the new kid's phone, the menu looks like Facebook.  It's a nice touch that really fits the game well.

Battles are turn-based (like the Middle Ages, according to Cartman), but have many active elements to them.  If you have played any of the Super Mario RPGs, then you have some idea what to expect.  Attacks and skill can be powered up by timing button presses or by using commands during them.  Enemy attacks can have their power diminished by a well-timed block.  Mastering these is crucial to success, since otherwise the battles are very unforgiving.

Enemies usually have one of two kinds of resistances, shields and armor.  Shields will completely block a certain number of hits, so attacks and skills that hit multiple times will easily break them down.  Thankfully, they rarely come back, so eliminate them quickly.  Armor is much harder to deal with, as it takes its value off of every attack.  Multiple weak attacks will do minuscule damage, so use your heavy hits to deal with them.  Towards the end of the game, enemies will have ridiculously high armor values, so using status effects like burning and bleeding will really help out.  Burn is probably my favorite, since in addition to extra damage each turn, the affected enemy will run around in a panic because THEY ARE ON FIRE.

There are other things to help in battle, like the different skills of each class and of your partner.  I played the thief class, so I would frequently use the "mug" skill to stun my opponent (and gain an item), and then combo that with my backstab, which did extra damage to stunned enemies.  Using an item did not use up your turn, so you can easily heal before attacking, which helped alleviate some of the stress of battles.  Many times the environment can be used to either completely skip a fight, or at least cut down the opposition.  This is a nice thing to put in the game.  Using your fart magic could explode nearby flame sources to wipe out a group, or you could shoot an electrical cord and fry an enemy, making the group they were in easier to defeat.  You can also shoot your ranged weapon at an enemy, and they will start the battle stunned.  That made them easy pickings for my backstabbing theif!

One downside to The Stick of Truth is the playtime.  Completing the game takes about 10-15 hours.  This might not be as bad as it sounds, since the game felt like the proper length.  It wasn't too short, but didn't drag on.  There are four different classes to be, so there is some replay there, and even more if you are going for achievements or trophies.  Since a good chunk are completely missable, as is some equipment and collectibles, you may have to go through the game multiple times if you want to catch them all.  The achievement/trophy list is actually really good, with a few for progression, a few for completion, and a smattering of ones that can be obtained at certain points throughout the game.  Even the trophy list is very South Park, as there is one for crapping your pants (among other crazy ones).

If you like RPGs, I'd easily recommend South Park: The Stick of Truth.  Even if you are not a fan of turn-based fights, there is enough action to keep you on your toes through each encounter.  The only real downsides are the long list of missable things and the short (for an RPG) playtime.  Fans of the show will get a lot out of the game, as there are many, many references crammed into each area.  Even if you don't know much about the show, you'll still get a kick out of the game (unless you are really uptight).  Definitely worth playing!

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