Game Review: South Park: The Fractured but Whole – Vulgar, Hilarious Fun
2014’s South Park: The Stick of Truth came about because South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were unhappy with the few games that were made about the franchise. They wanted an RPG that looked like an episode of South Park, and fans and critics agreed that The Stick of Truth pulled it off. Ubisoft San Francisco replaced Obsidian Entertainment as the developer when Ubisoft acquired the rights to the game years ago, and Matt Stone and Trey Parker worked as closely with Ubisoft San Francisco as they had done with Obsidian during the development of The Stick of Truth. The result?South Park: The Fractured but Whole is a decent turn-based roleplaying game with a hilarious South Park story that can be as clever as it is vulgar.
As in the previous game, you play as the “New Kid,” a nameless, voiceless kid who worked his way into the hearts of the South Park gang with his gastro-intestinal prowess. Once again, the New Kid must call upon their incredible flatulence to fuel their superhero powers. The kids aren’t playing Game of Thrones/Lord of the Rings games of swords and sorcery any longer, instead donning their superhero personas and trying their hand at turn-based vigilante justice. And I do mean “playing,” as they don homemade costumes in lairs adorned with machines made out of toys and cardboard.
Eric Cartman as “The Coon” leads his Coon and Friends group to find a missing cat and claim a $100 reward in an attempt to kickstart their superhero franchise’s popularity. Much like an episode of South Park, this simple plan leads down a rabbit hole of craziness. From racist cops appeasing an elder god to multi-assed mutants, the gang finds out there are many cogs in the evil machine turning under South Park. Many, many familiar faces, old foes, and TV show references are packed into The Fractured but Whole, which isn’t surprising for a game based on a show that was already so self-referential. The humor itself is as vulgar and controversial as any episode of South Park, while tackling a number of social issues and poking fun at fun videogame tropes. If you aren’t a fan of South Park’s humor, being in a video game format does little to change it. But if you are a fan, The Fractured but Whole itself is like an entire season of South Park with an over-arching story.
The Fractured but Whole is a turn-based strategy game where you control a team of four or so heroes as they battle the various foes around South Park. While The Stick of Truth had simple turn-based combat, The Fractured but Whole’s combat is more strategic and meaty – but still relatively simple. There are several superhero archetypes that the characters you encounter can have, and your character will eventually be able to mix and match between all of the available archetypes –initially only being able to select from a few. There are the speedsters that move fast, superhuman brawlers, chi-channeling martial artists and so forth. Each archetype has an “ultimate” power that is activated after a power gauge shared by all of your characters is full. Characters can only perform two actions on a turn: move, and then use ability or item. Battles take place on small grids that are often clear, but sometimes contain hazards or obstacles. The AI itself is predictable, often performing the same moves if you present it with the same set of characters. It can provide enough of a challenge, but don’t go in expecting a super in-depth strategy game. Despite its turn-based nature, there are some encounters that will punish you for not making decisions fast enough, or take away your turn, making for some intensity in a combat system that can be just “okay.”
South Park: The Fractured but Whole handles character levels a little more like Destiny than a traditional RPG. Through exploration or crafting you can find artifacts that bestow skill points and give you an item score, called “might.” This might score handily tells you if you’re capable of taking on a combat challenge, much like a character level would. This system does away with attributing skill points or messing with talent trees. After you choose what type of hero you want to be, you can always change your mind, and eventually be able to swap superhero skills out at will. The only type of character management that is required is crafting materials and gathering collectibles like costume parts.
The entire town of South Park is explorable in South Park: The Fractured but Whole, just as it was in The Stick of Truth. It is fun running around South Park, exploring homes, and looking for the multitude of collectibles and side quests. This affords you the opportunity to collect different costume parts to make your gaseous hero look like any type of superhero you desire. You can also collect selfies and increase your social media popularity. There are puzzles to solve scattered through the world, or to get past during missions, and some of these puzzles require partnering up and using your farts in combination with other heroes’ abilities to solve these puzzles or bypass obstacles. The New Kid’s farts even have the power to manipulate time itself.
South Park: The Fractured but Whole is a worthy sequel to The Stick of Truth. It’s essentially a playable episode of South Park. Unsurprisingly, it is packed with vulgar humor, but it even manages to be heartfelt at moments. While the turn-based combat is more strategic than its predecessor, it remains one of the weaker aspects of the game. If you like South Park, playing The Fractured but Whole is a no-brainer. If you’re not a fan, there’s nothing unique here that will convince you otherwise. South Park: The Fractured but Whole is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows.
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