I think during my brief adventure with the Underpants Gnomes, after I had come into contact with Aliens and Nazi Zombies I remember thinking to myself the weird thing is I actually understand what’s going on. So there’s nothing in the plot that’s going to challenge your perceptions or tax your brain to it’s limits but I felt disturbingly comfortable deep in what is probably (and hopefully) the most ridiculous plot gaming has ever seen. I couldn’t help but feel somehow the ludicrous nature of The Stick of Truth made more sense to me than a lot of other games. Then again maybe I just need help.
Attacking, using an ability or blocking will require you to press certain buttons at the right time according to visual prompts. For example when attacking your weapon will glint and you can either press ‘square’ once for a power attack for armoured foes or ‘x’ a few times for a standard combo against normal enemies. When blocking, pressing ‘x’ when a shield icon appears at your character’s feet allows you to take about 50% damage and avoid any potential status effects. The buttons and timings for abilities vary depending on the ability being used but essentially it comes down to timing.
It’s actually not that easy and it took me quite a while before I felt comfortable performing actions consistently. It makes sure you’re playing a turn-based RPG but still have something to do. It’s not easy enough that it becomes second nature but not difficult enough that the entire game becomes frustrating or irritating.
All your health and PP is returned at the end of a battle. Yes PP. Power points. You can liberally use your abilities without long term consequences. If you need PP badly you can always use an item once per turn anyway, which doesn’t end your turn. There’s enough going on that you can’t become complacent but The Stick of Truth never forgets that it’s turn-based. It never tries to be a third person action game but instead confidently relies on solid turn-based battle mechanics.
Outside of battle your time is usually divided between finding some of the huge amount of secrets and collectables, buying new items and scouring your way through the menus to customize your appearance and maximize your battle efficiency. The only thing that hinders your exploration are the substandard loading times. Scrolling from one screen to another takes the frame rate down to a grinding halt for a noticeable amount of time and more than enough areas have full loading screens. They’re not that long but you’re always aware that it won’t be long until you see another one. It’s a shame to break the pace of what would otherwise have been an excellent bit of exploration. Luckily it’s well worth enduring the loading.
From the weapons and their associated ‘strap-ons’ to the most unnoticeable of loot everything is a reference to something that happened in South Park. If there’s a single episode that doesn’t have at least one reference or item to pick up I’d be surprised. The constant reminders of past South Park episodes keeps the laughter flowing even when you’re just exploring, collecting loot or even looking through a menu.
They’re clever too, avoiding the temptation to make every reference totally obvious. It’s great to find something and get the reference without having your face shoved in it. And the references don’t stop at South Park. Matt and Trey have shown before some knowledge into the world of gaming, particularly with episodes like ‘Make Love, Not Warcraft’. There’s a constant barrage of gaming references and jokes that show The Stick of Truth actually gets its audience.
For instance one of the final weapons in the game is a ‘Vibroblade’ and is in no way similar to its original appearance in what is probably considered Obsidian Entertainment’s greatest game. A certain loot item is a video game called ‘Shadow of the Cyclopsus’ with a cover we should all recognize. The references aren’t to Call of Duty, Mass Effect or other main stream titles so it doesn’t come off like the embarrassing parent who’s cool because they say the name of a popular video game.
Matt, Trey, Obsidian and Ubisoft know games and it shows in The Stick of Truth; both in the humour and the gameplay. It doesn’t embarrass or patronize and feels exactly as well written as any episode of South Park. If you can get through the entire of The Stick of Truth without at least once laughing and then feeling just a tiny bit disappointed with yourself you’re not human.
The only bit missing is the censored scenes to everywhere apart from America. The press release from Ubisoft claims “7 scenes of about 20 seconds each are censored in the EMEA console versions of South Park: The Stick of Truth. The decision to cut this content from the game was made by Ubisoft EMEA.”
It doesn’t really take anything away from the game and the comments in the replacement frames are genuinely funny. It really isn’t worth getting worked up about and I recommend just playing as if this is the original. Inevitably when something unbelievably horrific happens in the US with a kid mimicking the scenes, blaming the game and sparking a colossal political debate turning people against video games, I think Ubisoft (and many others) will be happy with their decision. I’m just not sure why they feel Europe should be any different from the US. And once you’ve played the game tell me that the final environment isn’t far worse than the censored scenes. And I mean far worse.
Where visuals and audio are concerned everything is top-notch. The audio is totally unconstrained by realism allowing for inexplicable fire and explosions to sound just like they would in any other ‘more serious’ RPG. And visually it looks like South Park. It looks exactly like South Park. But with the addition of the 3D effects that a video game allows there are some pretty epic moments. Probably most impressively you can totally customize your character but he/she doesn’t look even slightly out of place alongside the other characters.
But underpinning the visuals and the laughs is a solid battle mechanic and an environment absolutely packed with stuff to find and do. Weapons, upgrades and character customization items are everywhere. So too are Gnomes, Crab People, The Hankeys and just about everything I can think of from South Park in one form or another. It never feels like a diluted, watered-down version of South Park. And, other than irritating load screens, the entertainment doesn’t stop from square one right to the end. It’s absolutely hilarious to the point where the fact it’s the best turn-based RPG I’ve played in a long time is just icing on the cake. An absolute gem of a game. Encore!