Adam infrequently reviews games weeks after they are released because he has a job and can’t complete them fast enough. Potential very minor spoilers included.
South Park: The Stick of Truth was released in the EU on March 7th, developed by Obsidian and published by Ubisoft. It is PEGI 18 rated for swearing, violence and sex. The most notable thing about SOT, as a licensed game based on a beloved TV series, is the direct involvement of the show’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Putting aside how badly other licensed games often turn out without this, I remember (in the before time, in the long, long ago) playing the N64 game slinging snowballs made with yellow snow at turkeys, or trying to drive through Spooky Vision on South Park Rally on the Playstation. Both of those games were pretty terrible, and had very little involvement from Parker and Stone other than voice acting. SOT however, feels like a labour of love.
It is very much like playing a 10 hour episode of the series, and the game is a sort of mash up between parodies of Lord of the Rings, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and Game of Thrones. Character creation is fairly standard, choosing your basic look (which changes almost immediately so doesn’t really matter) and your character class (Fighter, Mage, Thief and Jew. Yep). You are the new kid in town, amidst some vague mystery surrounding your mute character, and your first quest is to start making friends, keeping track of them using a mock Facebook that acts as your various menus. Here you are recruited by the human faction (led by the Wizard Cartman) to defend the Stick of Truth from the elves (led by Kyle). You are taught magic, which is entirely based on different types of fart, and sent on various quests to gain loyalty from other factions and investigate the deeper story that begins to unfold. In typical South Park fashion it becomes hilariously over the top, the stakes manage to get higher but everyone in the town actively dismiss it, leaving the kids as always to sort the mess out.
I said this game was a labour of love. It is also a love letter to the 17 seasons (over nearly 20 god damn years, there’s terrible ‘old’ feeling again). The story covers so many moments and characters from the entire run, from Professor Chaos to ManBearPig, anal probes to underpants gnomes (who shrink you and fight you underneath your parents while they are having jerky, unsettling cartoon sex). Even every item you pick up is some form of callback to a random episode of the show. By the end of the game I had, amongst other things: 4 Alabama Man figures, 6 Nazi armbands, the Biggest Douche Award, a driedel, a torn condom, a Guinea Pig Costume, Mr. Twig, a used syringe, lice, a Stupid Spoiled Whore doll and 9 copies of The Poop that Took a Pee. They all serve zero function other than to sell for cash, but they are fun all the same.
In the spirit of the show, Stick of Truth is predictably offensive. So offensive in fact, that over here in the EU we got a censored version off the game. What this meant was that at several points in the game, when Ubisoft decided the game went too far, we got a censored screen poking fun at the censorship and us for not being able to play this particular segment. Here is an example:
This happens at two major points in the game, and several times at each. The first involves anal probing (the image above was taken from one of those scenes), and the second involves a visit to the abortion clinic. The latter involves your character, in disguise as a girl, trying to access records at the clinic. But to gain access, you end up being seen by Dr. Poonlover, who offers you a booster seat, and then apparently performs an abortion on you. Not that that makes any sense, but as I didn’t see the scene I can’t tell you how graphic it is. This is shortly followed by a scene where you perform an abortion on Randy (also dressed as a woman) in what the censor screen called a fun mini game. I assume it is the same as a moment very late in the game where you carry out a short mini game on a machine, which seemed really weird and out of context without the earlier go at it.
I’m going to be honest, while the language used in the censor screens was funny, the fact that censoring had occurred at all bothered me a great deal and took me out of the game experience somewhat. First, I don’t understand why the EU version was censored, (and on consoles only, the PC version remained intact) while in the US it was fine to ship in its entirety. It seems so arbitrary. Second, in my mind there is plenty left in the game that is just as bad as what is censored. In the same abortion clinic level, you fight Nazi zombie foetuses. You fight crawling, biting foetuses which spout random authoritative German, and explode like a balloon full of blood when you defeat them. You see an old man’s dick near the end of the game. You miniaturise yourself and crawl up someone’s arse, chopping down semen and broken condoms, passing pool balls, flash lights, bats and using a dildo to clear a path through shit. These things aren’t censored at all, and I find it really odd that anything is. I’m not defending the content, but my issue is censoring at all. This is an 18 rated game. That alone should mean the title ships intact, especially if it was fine to sell in America. It wasn’t the ratings board who censored it, it was the publisher and I just think that makes no sense to me. And censoring some offensive stuff and not others makes even less sense. I found this to be a real shame, because any of it would have been fine in an episode. I can only assume that being interactive makes the player more complicit in the action, maybe they thought it would make people uncomfortable. What would have been a better way to handle it would be like that infamous Call of Duty level, just whacking up a screen saying ‘your character is about to perform (insert obscene act here). If you would like to skip it, press O. If you would like to play it, press X’.
The game itself is very satisfying, if a little short. Quests do get a little bit repetitive and fetchy, but continue to be thematically entertaining. The gameplay is pretty easy, and if any fights give you any trouble you are probably trying them too early. This happened to me once on a side quest, but its unlikely to happen in the main quest as you level up pretty appropriately. The visuals are probably the best part, looking exactly like the show without trying to do anything flashy. I did experience the odd glitch in the game, but nothing game-breaking. Overall I would definitely recommend this game, despite the censorship and length, although if you aren’t a South Park fan a lot of what makes the game so fun will likely be lost on you. Hands down my favourite part is the mission to Canada, entirely because of the way the mission and the location are presented. I won’t spoil it though, but I think anyone would agree that it is perfect and makes total sense for the South Park take on ‘the land in the north’.
Score – 7 Anal Probes out of 10