It was three years ago when South Park finally had itself a good video game. There were some before but 2013’s The Stick of Truth was a fantastic take on RPGs that was distinctly South Park. For the first time, fans of the show had a game that hit all the right notes. Originally taking on Game of Thrones and other fantasy tropes, the game was a love letter to fans.
Now publisher Ubisoft is bringing players back to South Park to meet some friends of theirs. South Park: The Fractured but Whole (which is a phenomenal name) is shaking things up in nearly all aspects. This time around, prolific developer Obsidian (who developed the first game) stepped away to let the internal studio of Ubisoft San Francisco take the reins. So does a second trip to the drug-fuelled, sex-crazed, violent and depraved town match the greatness of the first game? Does a tonal shift from fantasy warfare to superhero civil war serve up the goods? Most of all, is it funny? Simply enough: the answer to all of these is a big old yes.
With great farts comes stupid responsibility
Fractured but Whole takes place almost immediately after the events of the first game. The kids of the small Colorado town are still knee deep in fantasy war. After taking the throne as the king, you must continue to fight for your kingdom. Yet everybody’s worst buddy Eric Cartman has decided to shake things up by changing the genre. With a rising crime rate and a city on edge, Cartman takes up the mantle of his superhero alter ego of “The Coon”. Cartman cannot build his superhero franchise alone so he enlists his fellow fourth graders to join.
With the kids suddenly hopping into a new game, this leaves the player character at a loss. No longer the king, it is back to square one. Cartman allows Butthole (formally Lord Douchebag) to join “The Coon and Friends”. After your tragic origin story is established, Butthole chooses their super powers and must start their quest to make Coon and friends the best super hero team around. Unbeknownst to your super pals, Butthole has incredible fart power, well beyond human reason.
This is post season 20 of South Park meaning that the town has undergone a lot of changes since the last game. As such, the more prominent references are recent examples as opposed to the Stick of Truth‘s more classic fan focused ones. Despite being a lapsed South Park fan, I was still able to get a kick out of the new look of the town. While it could have been easy to ignore all the recent story lines, it is nice that there is consistency. It feels like this could be a part of the show instead of some side story and thus it becomes engaging.
The Fractured but Whole plot thrives on lunacy and nonsense. If the kids in South Park are anything, it is committed to role play. While it takes some time before the real madness unfolds, early on players will get a taste of wackiness. By about a dozen hours in, the shackles are off and it has gone mental. You will have social commentary mixed with incredibe stupidity serving up a delightful ride with the super team.
The actual story itself is nothing all that special. Most of the investment comes from just witnessing how wild it is going to get. No matter where you believe it is heading, the game will mess with your expectations. At points shocking and almost awe-inspiring in how batsh!t crazy it becomes, Fractured but Whole is a tale you won’t soon forget.
If you ain’t laughing, it ain’t working
Fractured but Whole is first and foremost a comedy game. The entire point is to make the player laugh through that very South Park sense of humour. From story to visuals, the only real thing Fractured but Whole wants to player to do is have a fun time playing. With this in mind, there is one crucial question to answer if FBW is right for you: Do you like South Park? If you are a fan, then Fractured but Whole becomes an instant buy. The game is a very crude, rude and an absolutely nutty 20-hour endeavour. If you find South Park to be a juvenile, cringe inducing mess, stay far away.
This is South Park unchained and it is roaring to be an unbridled frolic.
Knowing that South Park is meant to make you laugh, does the game succeed? It absolutely does becoming one of if not the funniest game of 2017. It can even be said to be the funniest game of the generation. Fractured but Whole had me laughing from the get-go and never let up. While some jokes can fall flat, these are the exception and by no means the rule. No joke lingers too long and if it is extended then it will go beyond expectations. You can never fully read where the game is heading with the punchline. At times shocking, even when they dance across the line of decency it is with wondrous hilarity.
The game is not afraid to break the rules. We even get a minigame about taking a dump.
Writer and co-creator Trey Parker uses the medium of video games once again to give the kids their biggest adventure. Everything, and I mean everything, is done for a laugh. Whether it be in combat, exploration or just in character building, it is all done for the purposes of humour. It even breaks video game taboos by outwardly referencing other video games by name. In terms of scale, it resembles what Stick of Truth presented. This is South Park unchained and it is roaring to be an unbridled frolic. While it is impossible to go into specifics without spoiling the joke, this is not a game for the prudish by any means. FBW will be treading to some dark and disturbing places while being able to deliver howling laughter. Despite the game having a laugh, it can all come crumbling down if it is a slog to play.
South Park Tactics Adfarts
Where Stick of Truth was taking the piss of the classic turn-based JRPG formula, the switch to super heroes means a new gameplay system to make fun of. Fractured but Whole is a strategy RPG where combat takes place on a grid. Characters can move around to each different block and use moves that function within a certain area. If you have ever played a Final Fantasy Tactics game, it is very similar in structure albeit with a different camera angle and a lot simpler.
The player can only take four characters to the field with one slot always being the player character. Each party member has four moves including an Ultimate move. While still turn based, combat essentially works by having character move to a free block and select a move on the face buttons. All the usual furnishings are there with status effects, items and summons. The ultimate move acts similarly to Final Fantasy’s Limit Break with damage taken adding to the bar at the top. This bar is shared for the team meaning that only one character can use it until the next charge.
Within combat are some really fun character interactions making it worth swapping party members.
Yet the game is by no means passive. When attacking and taking damage, the player will need to hit a button prompt at the right moment. In offence it adds some bonus damage while on defence it diminishes damage taken and gives a boost to the ultimate meter. While some can get tricky for characters these will soon become second nature with muscle memory carrying out the moves. Combat becomes more involved, forcing the player to pay attention at all times.
While this is the basics of combat more gameplay functions will be unlocked as the story progresses. Some of these can have massive affects and give some new considerations in the heat of a fight. It is hard to go into details as these not only serve as story spoilers but will ruin some jokes. Without going into specifics, these can be make or break moves with significant support. While simple in base design, this does not mean strategy has no place. From character and enemy positioning to status effects, there is a lot to take into consideration making battles at times thought provoking.
“Call Girl” has a triple and fast attack prompt which leads to big bonus damage.
Although most battles will be of the “kill everything” variety, when it comes to story events the game isn’t afraid to play up with new mechanics. Boss fights might feature new objectives for completion and special actions to progress. These require new strategies and will definitely keep players on their toes. The spectacle of certain scenarios is gratifyingly matched with the gameplay adapting to the scene.
Great power comes from all this enchanted junk lying around
The role-playing in FBW takes a very different turn away from the traditional level-based systems. Butthole’s power (and thus the teams) is determined by Might. Might serves as the character’s overall power level and an indication of the character’s strength compared to the enemies. Might is based on the equipment (or “Artifacts” as the game calls them) attached to the main character. Each piece of equipment has a certain power rating with higher levels having greater stat boosts. The strength of moves is based on its typing and Butthole’s relevant stats. They also have in-battle boosts which can have quite the shakeup.
While equipment adds bonuses to effects and does change stats, Might will serve as your power indicator.
This is not to say that Experience doesn’t play a role in FBW. After successfully completing a battle or a mission, experience is rewarded for the character’s “Heroic Level”. Heroic level only serves for opening more equipment slots, raising the Might threshold. Experience can also be earned by doing smaller objectives for the players “Character Sheet”. These are just checklists of things to do but they can provide some good exp.
Costumes which the player picks up piece by piece do not affect the stats. They are purely cosmetic meaning you won’t have to wear ugly clothes just for the bonuses. The player character has huge levels of customisation with all the costume pieces allowing colour changes. With no stats to care about, the player can dress to their hearts content making their Butthole whatever they want them to be.
There is a lot to play with in character customisation so you can let your freak flag fly high!
Another big feature of the roleplay comes from the crafting system. Most of the items players will be picking up are scrap pieces from item boxes. These serve as crafting material alongside named items for players to build recovery items, costumes and artifacts. This means the player won’t have to rely too heavily on cash which trickles in. Also, it is recommended that players keep their eye on the scrap they pick up. These feature a lot of small references to very early parts of the series.
South Park: the Yaoi loving social media hotspot
Outside of combat, players will be exploring the humble rocky town of South Park. Besides just acting as another avenue for treating the player to some gags, there is actually quite a bit for completionists. The majority of structures are explorable allowing every building to be ransacked for loot. While the novelty of exploring South Park doesn’t quite hold the same weight as it did in the Stick of Truth, it is still charming to stroll through. Looking through rooms leaves ample references for keen-eyed players.
Besides just acting as a world to move through, the town also treats players to some sweet loot. Boxes, cupboards and anything else that can be opened often provides crafting parts, costumes and Artifacts. While exploring the town, not everything will be available from the outset. FBW features many little puzzles that will require a super friend’s special ability to overcome. None are really brain busters but focus on memory and a keen eye.
The other thing that players should keep a look out for are all the collectables scattered around town. The two key ones are Coonstagram followers and Yaoi pictures. Like the first game, there is a social media element to take into account. Now players will sign up for “Coonstagram” and try to get more fans for the franchise. Around town will be people who the player can get a selfie with which leads to more followers. The other collectable are Yaoi pictures of South Park’s favourite gay couple Tweek and Craig (sorry Big Gay Al and Mr Slave).
The people of South Park have eloquent taste when it comes to fine art.
What makes looking for items more bearable is “Inspection Mode”. By holding down a button, the screen will go into a Batman-like detective vision. With the reticle, players can find items and secrets in a level. Players will have to use this mode for certain puzzles but it is also a nice tool to get out when stuck.
The show comes to life (again)
Like its predecessor, FBW looks and feels exactly like the South Park television series. The game keeps the cardboard cutout aesthetic and it is for the best. It is a crisp looking product that perfectly captures the spirit of the show. While it doesn’t quite have the same novelty as the first game did with its recreation, it is still really charming that the look has been captured so perfectly.
One of the things that absolutely deserves praise is FBW’s use of colour. While the game is vibrant and colourful, the more impressive technique is how colours are used as indicators. Colours are symbolic with certain ones acting as signifiers within the game world. Gold indicates which objects are interactable while other will signify that a buddy’s ability can be used to progress. This use of colour allows for the game to never be bogged down with an overbearing HUD. If the player does need help they can switch to inspection mode but often this is not needed outside of summoning a friend.
When it comes to the voice acting, like the visuals there is little that falters here. Parker, Stone and the rest of the show’s cast come through to voice their characters. There are many times that the joke is completely nailed through the voice actor’s delivery. With the game featuring so many interactions between characters, the voice cast are the ones bringing them to life. Music is a very hit or miss factor within the game. While no song is outwardly bad, some might just stay on the side of boring. At best the music serves as a fun addition by following tropes of the respective enemy of a scene.
Whole lotta good with a Fractured execution
South Park: The Fractured but Whole presents a pretty fantastic product so far, but it doesn’t all quite come together well. The experience is hampered by a noticeable lack of polish and refinement. Over the games 20 hours, it is plagued with annoying visual and audio bugs. These are constant throughout the game meaning that it is not just one area or section that has it worse.
Fractured But Whole’s engine seems to get itself confused too often.
The visual bugs appear most often with the in-game notifications. The pop-ups for Coonstagram messages or even character sheet objectives can arrive well after they should. At certain points, it could take up to two minutes for an objective notification to pop up on screen. These usually happen when multiple objectives are required to appear but even the first can take much longer than it should. Beyond these are just other smaller issues that do start to pile as they pop up over time.
While double characters are not that common, it definitely adds to a growing list of issues.
The more egregious issue, however, comes from the audio bugs. While not as prevalent as the visual bugs, these are still too common to just write off. The visual bugs can be annoying but the missing and cut-off audio is absolutely frustrating. There are times when an entire joke can be missed due to the audio randomly cutting. Whether it be in combat, dialogue or just exploring the world, having the audio randomly cut out leaves a harsh sting. This is only made worse during big story events.
There are many other little bugs that pop outside of the two mentioned. From combat taking an odd pause while characters reposition to just clipping issues, Fractured But Whole’s engine seems to get itself confused too often. None of these are game breaking and at worst they serve as niggling little irritations. They don’t hurt the overall experience or joy FBW provides, yet they are impossible to ignore due to the frequency.
Bigger, longer and funnier
South Park: The Fractured but Whole is a wonderful and crazy ride. With solid gameplay mechanics, great story set pieces and a wonderful look it already presents a great package. What really knocks it out of the park is just how funny it is. If Fractured but Whole proves anything, the Stick of Truth was anything but a fluke. Parker has proven he understands the medium of video games and that the 20-year-old television series thrives in it.
If you are a fan of South Park you owe it to yourself to pick up The Fractured but Whole. Even if you might be a lapsed fan, the game still absolutely works in getting a laugh. It is the series cranked up to 11 with all the bells and whistles of a cat pheromone high. While the game could definitely use some more polish, this is a minor point when everything else is just so wonderful. Be forewarned though, Fractured but Whole will likely kill the prudes with just how far it is willing to go. It is not that Parker and Stone cross the line, they don’t even acknowledge its existence which just makes it funnier. And at the end of the day, that is all that matters.