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21st of March 2014

South Park: The Stick of Truth

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South Park just wrapped up its 17th season featuring such typical South Park moments as Cartman shooting a black kid in "self defense", a kids' idol turning into a whore, sibling incest, and Kyle suffering Cartman's farts for the sake of world peace. The season's Black Friday trilogy serves as a kind of a springboard for The Stick of Truth, but the game's roots lie all the way back in a classic 6th season episode, The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers. The Stick of Truth is an RPG but at the same time it's a parody of the fantasy genre and, while at it, everything else under the sun. It's also one of the best games I've ever played. A bit of a disclaimer here: I have seen every episode of the show many times, some as many as ten times, so this is a fanboy review of the game.

The premise is simple enough: a new kid (that's you) moves into South Park, makes a few friends upon leaving his new house and gets dragged into an epic struggle for the control of a stick whose possessor has the ability to control the universe. The main story reaches absurd heights all the time, featuring such memorable scenes as going up a gay man's ass, visiting the "Kingdom of Canada" and performing abortions - on a man. While fighting evil, you get to explore every nook and cranny of South Park. And therein lies a huge chunk of the game's appeal: The world is not just some generic Middle-earth but a 2D cartoon world full of recognizable locations and characters. Exploring "dungeons" gets a new meaning when everything around you is oddly but comfortably familiar.

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Beneath the theme lies an RPG with experience points, extensive customization options, turn-based battles and tons of loot to look for. Somehow all the dildo swords and special fart attacks feel less ridiculous (but funnier!) than their counterparts in more "serious" RPGs, and the very lack of conventions allows a rich selection of equipment where other RPGs would have to rely on more generic selections. Combat is turn-based but with QTEs (for successful attacks, combos and blocks) and key mashing which make the battles feel more interactive and involving. Your party consists of six characters and you get to bring one of them to fight by your side. The characters' specialities are of course true to the spirit: Kenny has a hard time staying dead, Butters can turn to his evil alter ego, Professor Chaos, etc. You have no control over their customization but I liked this emphasis on one character - this is a role-playing game after all. Even though I found combat highly enjoyable, it was not very challenging, and that is the game's biggest problem: Even on the hardest skill setting there were only a few tough spots.

Outside battles, the game's environments are filled with little details and routes that open up as you develop new skills. At specific points you can even make battles easier by using environmental tricks to knock out foes prior to facing them in battle. Navigating the 2D world is easy (there are plenty of secrets though so keep those eyes open) and Timmy has set up a cab service to transport you from one end of the town to another. If the lack of challenge was one criticism, the game's length is another. The game took me 22 hours and that was a pretty complete playthrough: The main story is at or below 15 hours and there aren't that many sidequests. (You can probably add a few hours to that total if you intend to go for the tedious "collect every item" type of achievements.) Still, that was 22 hours of pure awesomeness: Many games are hard-pressed to come up with just one such hour, and I sure as hell would rather spend an hour making Facebook friends in this game than waste a second playing Metro 2033 again.

Conclusion: I can't remember the last time I had this much fun with a single-player game. The Stick of Truth looks, sounds and feels like an episode of the TV show; a 20-hour long episode, that is. That's a huge part of the game's appeal but beneath all that is a professionally made game that's fun to play. So, here's to hoping for at least another 17 years of South Park (and zero more years of The Simpsons, which has been bad since the mid '90s and embarrassingly bad since the movie) and that we don't have to wait that long for another good South Park game.

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