Posted: November 7, 2014
Fantastic game. The whole way through, the experience feels like watching a really good South Park episode or South Park movie, and the game is a *really* solid RPG, to boot.
But the game isn't without its flaws. I want to spend a few paragraphs on some criticisms of the game, and then we'll talk about what makes the game awesome.
The game feels heavily "consolized." Loading screens are far more frequent than they should be and the controls often don't make much sense. Throughout the game your character will be taught "magic spells" from various NPCs. Each time you learn a spell, you are taught a series of controls to use that spell. However, these spells can be used both in and out of combat, and in both situations the controls are different from one another—and in neither situation is the spell invoked the same way the game inititally taught you!
Your out-of-combat utilities (like firing a ranged weapon at something in the environment or sending a buddy to perform a task) are equally awkward to select and use.
Now, here I should note that I played with a controller attached to a PC. I started the game with a keyboard/mouse but changed very, very early on to give my normal gaming posture a rest (I play games a lot with the keyboard/mouse), and also because South Park: The Stick of Truth seemed to be tailored more toward a controller. Perhaps the controls are better with a keyboard/mouse, but using a controller felt awkward in many parts of the game. But not in combat. In combat the controls felt great. More on that later, though.
On top of that, the game's humor can be off-putting in some parts. This isn't a real criticism so much as it is a warning—it IS South Park, after all! The show has a reputation of making comedy material out of even the most sensitive of topics, and this game also doesn't hold back. I like to think of myself as a fairly easy-going guy and I try not to take many things too seriously, but there were parts in this game that I felt myself somewhat rushing through or avoiding just to get away from an uncomfortable topic.
There's a lot of back-and-forth running around the map in this game, and loading screens are absolutely everywhere. The loading screens are a real slowdown.
So let's see. The loading screens, the really iffy controls in much of the game, and the warning about how the game remains very South Park in its humor are all the things I wanted to make sure to mention. So, now we can talk about the stuff that makes this game a fantastic one!
While moving on the map and navigating menus is often awkward with the game's controls, combat is something the game gets very, very right. As I mentioned earlier, this game is a very solid RPG, and The Stick of Truth's turn-based combat is airtight. This isn't your typical "select an ability and watch what happens" kind of turn-based combat. Here, you'll select an ability, and then you'll influence the outcome of the ability with some simple, but fun controls.
For example, Butters the Paladin has a "Hammer of Justice" ability. To use it, you select it and then choose a target. The game then has you rotate the left control stick in circles to make Butters spin (think Olympic discus tossing), and at just the right instant, press the A button. Succeed, and you'll deal bonus damage to the enemy! If you mess up, Butters will still deal damage, but not as much. Again, this is coming from the perspective of using a gamepad to control the game; I'm sure this is different for a mouse/keyboard, but the principle is the same.
Combat is filled with awesome stuff like this. When you are attacked, most of the time you are given the chance to block some of the enemy's damage by pressing A at just the right time. Some enemy attacks strike multiple times, requiring multiple well-timed blocks! Different enemy attacks have different timings as well, so you'll always need to be on your guard.
These combat mechanics make even turn-based combat a very active affair. The action is fast and challenging, so you'll need to be spot on with your controls. Thankfully, controls in combat are responsive and intuitive, and anytime there's some ambiguity about what to do in battle, there are useful tooltips and pop-ups to remind you of how to use an ability.
While combat is great fun, the game also very often presents you with multiple ways of dealing with foes. Sometimes you can distract them and sneak by. Other times you can use the environment to defeat your foes without having to confront them. Keen awareness of your surroundings and appropriate use of your abilities out of combat can speed up your progress and yield satisfying results.
It should be noted that if you sneak by enemies, you probably won't get experience for dealing with them. But in the cases where you can use the environment to defeat them, you'll be awarded experience as if you had battled them!
There are many quests to accomplish throughout the game, and a few side quests can be completed as you progress. As far as questing is concerned, it's your typical RPG fare—pick up a quest, complete the objectives, turn the quest in. The game does nothing to revolutionize questing, but it handles questing very well.
The story-based quests, however, are always greatly satisfying to accomplish because you are awarded not only with experience and often loot/money, but also with story exposition done in only the way South Park can. It really does feel like you're earning a little piece of a South Park episode or South Park movie when you complete a story quest.
The writing in the game is spot on. You'll get to watch the South Park characters you're so familiar with do the things they do, in the way they do them, while interacting with one another and with your character. I found the story largely fun and interesting.
I was often quite pleased with the developers' efforts to include as many South Park characters as they could in the game. This could not have been an easy task to accomplish, but the game is solid through-and-through with the show's characters, and because the show has been running so long, these characters bring with them their histories, backdrops, and references that the South Park fan should thoroughly enjoy.
Character customization is very in-depth for a game with such a simplistic visual style. You'll begin the game by choosing a class, and then customizing your looks. As the game progresses, you will find, like, a bajillion different ways to customize your charcter's costume ("gear"), hair, facial features, makeup, and accessories. You'll even find "strap-ons" (for weapons) and "patches" (for armor) that let you add significant bonuses to your gear, letting you really specialize or round out your character and playstyle.
I did make a warning above about the game's humor, but for South Park fans, that (most of the time) means you're in for more of what you enjoy about the show. There were plenty of times I found myself actually laughing out loud at the characters' antics; or at the writing; or at the timing of a joke; or just at South Park being South Park. It's a funny game.
There is also a difficulty slider bar. Early in the game I cranked the difficulty to max and didn't look back, and for me, it was quite rewarding. The window of opportunity to block enemy attacks seemed drastically smaller, necessitating more precise timing, and enemies often didn't go down without a fight. I had to stay on top of my gear choices and customize appropriately. Which buddy to bring into battle with me was also a serious consideration, and more than once I had to stock up on potions.
Overall, it's just a really solid RPG, and I'd strongly recommend it to any South Park fan. I could go on about it, but I feel I've covered most of the relevant aspects of the game, and apparently Steam has a character limit for reviews. :)