As we get closer to the release of South Park: The Fractured but Whole I thought it might be fun to take a look back at The Stick of Truth, the 2014 video game. For the most part The Stick of Truth received great responses, and I would personally consider it one of my more well-loved games. It manages to stay true to what fans love about South Park while still bringing something unique to the table. That being said the rocky road the game took to release does show in various aspects, including an overall “incomplete feel”.
Stick of Truth started as an idea from Matt Stone and Trey Parker who wanted to create something true to South Park but still larger in scale than any other previous attempts at a South Park game. They contacted Obsidian to do this because they wanted the game to be an RPG and were fans of some of Obsidian’s works. They presented Obsidian with a massive script and animation to show the developers exactly what they were looking for. They also wanted to be directly involved, and have the South Park Digital Studios team involved as well. Obsidian agreed, and THQ signed on as publishers, and then the trouble began. During production, Obsidian faced massive layoffs that directly affected The Stick of Truth team, and then THQ filed for bankruptcy. THQ proceeded to auction off the right to The Stick of Truth much to the dismay of Obsidian and South Park Studios. They tried to halt the auction by saying that Matt and Trey owned the game as they owned South Park, but ultimately courts ruled with THQ. Ubisoft came along and bought the right to the game, and this turned out to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, they kept Obsidian on and allowed the South Park team to stay directly involved. On the other, they declared that Matt and Trey’s vision for the game was much too large and that massive overhauls needed to be made. While it’s never been made clear exactly what changed, people from Obsidian have admitted to being forced to work on changes they didn’t want to. Not only that but screenshots and gameplay exists from The Stick of Truth that never made it into the final game.
In spite of all the drama what was eventually produced is a solid RPG and one of the best tie-in games we’ve seen. You play as “the new kid” or “douchebag” as he helps the various kids in South Park try to gain control over The Stick of Truth. You first team up with Cartman and eventually discover that the kids are divided between Cartman and Kyle’s factions. While helping them battle over the stick a larger government conspiracy is revealed, and the battle for the stick takes a new turn.
While playing, you will get various side quests and are free to roam the map of South Park. It’s a rather excellent recreation of the map from the game, if not a little small. Regardless the quests and people you meet are a who’s who and what’s what of South Park jokes and references. There are callbacks to multiple seasons of the shows and plenty of jokes for the South Park fans to enjoy. Despite having all these references, it’s not completely unapproachable for people that are casual fans of the series. You might miss a joke or two, but for the most part, the experience is welcome for all. The only people that might be lost are people who have never seen South Park at all.
The animation is spot on and really does have the look of a South Park episode. This was one of Matt and Trey’s number one goals with the game, and it succeeds completely. It’s hard to overstate how spot on the art style is for the game. For the obvious reason of being directly involved with the South Park team the audio is also done well. Nothing looks or sounds like it doesn’t belong in the South Park universe.
The gameplay is solid, if not a little repetitive. The gameplay is turn-based with QTE events to help land skills and blocks. This allows gameplay to be more interactive than simply turn-based, while not leaving the turn-based roots. The problem is each character only has a few skills which you unlock quickly. Beyond that, you will likely max out your characters very early on in the game. This leads to a lot of battles that play out very similarly and start to get a touch stale. You can experiment with who is in your party, but even that will not help this problem. It’s not to say the gameplay is bad or boring, just very repetitive. By the end of the game, you will likely find yourself attempting to rush as many battles as possible instead of truly enjoying the experience. I’m not sure if this is the result of the limitations that Ubisoft set on the game or not, but it is part of what makes the game feel like it wasn’t entirely fleshed out.
On the reverse, roaming around and exploring the city is a treat. Not only that but you get various skills to help you explore and even avoid battles. Such as shrinking yourself down to reach new areas and your “magic” (farting) that can do things like attack or even take out enemies before you reach them. There is also thankfully no random battles.
As mentioned, the game does feel a little incomplete, and it’s something that hangs over the experience throughout. Parts of the story feel rushed, the map is (as mentioned a bit small), side quests and other elements don’t seem to reach a true conclusion, things like that pop-up and start to stand out. It doesn’t ruin the game entirely, as said I would still consider this one of my favorite games, but it is notable. Fans have never been told what exactly was cut and what wasn’t, but it starts to get easy to tell that the game went through difficulty with coming out. If there is any challenge facing The Fractured but Whole, it will be overcoming this. If Fractured also feels incomplete, it will be the sign of bad planning, as opposed to struggles with development.
It is also worth noting that like the show it’s based on, Stick of Truth is not for everyone. The game features a number of controversial issues and pulls no punches. Walking the line between offensive and funny (and often falling over to just plain offensive) is part of what makes South Park, South Park. The game is right there with the show.
In spite of everything I still love this game. It’s hilarious, it’s entertaining, despite the gameplay getting repetitive it is still fun. It’s a solid game. It struggles a little but manages to overcome that with everything it does right. I am very much looking forward to Fractured but Whole, and have high hopes for it. In the meantime, if you haven’t played Stick of Truth you might want to give it a chance, or if you have now’s a great time to revisit it.
Let me know if you played Stick of Truth and how you felt about the game!