The hero Colorado deserves.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4
Ubisoft’s partnership with Trey Parker and Matt Stone is a match made in Heaven. The first collaboration, South Park: The Stick of Truth was a surprise hit when it released back in 2014, providing an incredibly well-executed 12-hour storyline that looked and sounded just like the television series. The game felt like a genuine season of South Park starring you, the player. Looking back on those fond memories of wandering through South Park and experiencing everything I know and love from the series through the eyes of “The New Kid”, I couldn’t help but get excited for a brand new story in The Fractured But Whole. After years of hard work, including two delays, Parker and Stone’s latest game lives up to the hype its predecessor instilled within me, however, a noticeable lack of detail and random gameplay errors definitely hindered my experience along the way.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole follows the lovable band of miscreants from South Park, Colorado, as they swap their after school game from The Stick of Truth’s Game of Thrones-inspired medieval storyline to a cinematic superhero story. Following the Season 21 episode “Franchise Prequel”, Cartman’s superhero group known as Coon & Friends has split up, after decisions were made about their supposed cinematic universe which caused a rift among the friends. Caught up in the shuffle of this feud is “The New Kid”. Most commonly referred to as “Douchebag” and “Buttlord”, the newest kid in town continues to remain silent and emotionless, all the while maintaining a neutral stance on any decision made by the people around him. Much like in The Stick of Truth, The New Kid has the strongest power out of all the kids, controlled farts, and it’s this gift that makes him the talk of the whole town as the story progresses. While it may seem like he doesn’t want to be involved in the goings-on of South Park, he just goes with the flow to get out of his abusive household and make some friends.
Friends in South Park can be hard to find, but with the new Coonstagram tool at Buttlord’s disposal, he can befriend anyone in town, though some may come at a price. The overarching goal of The Fractured But Whole is to gain a large online following to promote the Coon & Friends by taking selfies with everyone in South Park, and getting them to follow you on Coonstagram. While some people may just be willing to help out and take pictures with you, others require a small fee (or a large fee, depending on who you’re asking). These favors can vary in difficulty and price. Some followers demand a mission item, which can be bought at a vendor – like the D-Mobil cashier who won’t selfie with you until you buy a phone plan, or the strip club DJ who needs a drink. Others will be unlocked through story missions. Randy Marsh, for example, will only selfie with you once you figure out who keys his wife’s car every night. When it turns out to be him later on in the game, you must fight a drunk and enraged Randy to bring him back to reality and gain a follower.
The Coonstagram aspect of the game was really unique. Yes, in some ways it seems mundane to have to wander around the whole town and ask everyone for a selfie but I never grew tired of doing this, as it’s such a delight to explore the town of South Park. The scenery has changed a lot since 2014, as the television series has changed its appearance over time. Season 20 saw the introduction of SoDoSoPa, a high-class shopping district brought about by the opening of a Whole Foods in South Park. After a rival district called Shi Tpa Town appeared to oppose the town’s gentrification, SoDoSoPa was destroyed and its flaming ruins still remain in The Fractured But Whole. On top of the settings from the show, new locations have popped up as well, like Medicinal Fried Chicken, a marijuana shop run by a newly drug-free Towelie. It’s businesses and characters like these that show up in-game and bring a smile to my face. It feels like the story is full of Easter eggs and callbacks that grab my attention as a long-time fan, and suck me into the experience.
It’s such a delight to explore the town of South Park.
Unfortunately, The Fractured But Whole simply didn’t include enough references as I would like from a South Park game, considering that The Stick of Truth just got everything right. It felt like every single aspect of South Park was touched upon, and it felt like an all-encompassing love letter to the show and its die-hard fans. I’ll never forget entering the sewers and confronting Crab People with the help of Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo, or the insanely difficult fight with ManBearPig at the storage facility. My favorite moment of all was going to Canada and having the entire game world go top-down, completely changing the game and just blowing my mind. I can’t help but wonder, though, if perhaps it’s that breath of fresh air that captivated me so much. The sheer bewilderment I felt that Ubisoft successfully made a South Park game, to scale, with the living, breathing world I know so well from the show. Three years later, it’s the same world I know, but it feels old hat. It’s still magnificent to walk around in South Park Elementary or City Wok, and see all the people I know and love. But it feels like old news at this point, like the world somehow got smaller.
There are some fun references in The Fractured But Whole, but overall it feels like the game may have been made too early. Most of the memorable television moments appear in side quests, and even those are few and far between. Craig’s dad, for example, sends The New Kid out to collect Yaoi drawings of Craig and Tweak. Exploration is key to finding all of the art hidden around South Park, which you are then rewarded for finding at certain intervals, with cash and crafting materials. I would’ve liked to see more side quests, as this game is an RPG and exploring the world is so much fun to do. Secret side quests exist, like finding Member Berries around town or using every toilet in South Park (which prompts a super fun minigame that tests your hand-eye coordination). These activities are always good for a chuckle, but in the end, you can’t help but wonder why they weren’t utilized for something bigger and more impactful to the plot. I found myself longing for a change of scenery like an alien spaceship or meeting an old friend like Chef or the Woodland Critters. The Stick of Truth had so much to offer, being the first-ever open-world South Park RPG whereas The Fractured But Whole feels like a rushed sequel with too few details to remind me “this is a South Park game”. I will say, though, the inclusion of PC Principal brought a smile to my face, as did Kanye West’s ”Gay Fish” song being featured over D-Mobil’s Muzak.
While The Fractured But Whole is nearly identical to the gameplay of its predecessor, the combat system has been completely revamped. Fights are still played out through turn-based combat, however, the battles are a bit more tactical this time around. Instead of just highlighting an enemy and attacking them with physical or magic attacks, like in The Stick of Truth, each character now has to factor range into each attack. Every character can move around the playing field, and every superpower has its own range and direction in which an enemy must be positioned to be affected. This method of gameplay provides a much more tactical approach, forcing the player to think about where to position every fighter before attacking. Compared to The Stick of Truth’s plethora of physical and magic attacks, The Fractured But Whole does not include as many fighting styles. All attacks come in the form of superpowers, which are granted to The New Kid at the start of the game. The player can pick from one of three different classes and are then taken through a tutorial level that not only introduces The New Kid to his new powers – as well as his devastating ultimate move – but also sets up his superhero origin story. As time goes on, The New Kid will be allowed to stack classes and gain new superpowers which can be swapped out for future battles. Creating a multiclass hero is the only way to be the best superhero in South Park.
It’s a blast experimenting with…every individual superhero’s powers.
Fighting, in essence, is fairly simple to do; a combination of timed button presses according to the onscreen prompts. These attacks may cause status effects, such as bleeding or burning, which injures the enemy over time, or freezing, which makes the enemy lose a turn. Furthermore, some attacks are strictly physical, causing knockback damage for enemies behind the one being punched. Defense comes in the form of “ultimate recovery”, which in layman’s terms means hitting “X” directly after an enemy hits an ally. This will build up the ultimate meter, which is shared for the entire friendly team. Once full, any ally can use their ultimate ability (which will then drain the meter again). These abilities are hugely destructive super attacks that deliver a massive blow to enemies. Every character’s ultimate is unique; for example, my New Kid has an elemental ultimate that delivers status effects, rather than massive destruction all at once, inflicting damage, shock, and chill to everyone in its (fairly wide) path. It’s a blast experimenting with these ultimate abilities and every individual superhero’s powers. Other things can shake up scuffles like the ability to point out microagressions in characters’ dialogue, thanks to PC Principal, which allows The New Kid to jump in and throw a hefty punch at the bully. Summons also return in The Fractured But Whole. These can be earned through side quests, like obtaining a macaroni Star of David that can summon Moses to heal all allies, or making friends with Uncle Jimbo and Ned so they can unleash hell on enemies in combat. These summons are where the South Park callbacks really shine, and it’s super fun to see them implemented in the gameplay.
In terms of role-playing games, The Fractured But Whole delivers in nearly every aspect. Combat is fluid and entertaining, dialogue is smart and never repetitive, and character creation is extensive and enjoyable. The game begins with basic things like skin color and outfit customization. The Fractured But Whole faced some criticism early on when it was revealed that the skin color slider would change the game’s difficulty. It was later revealed that this was just a joke and having a darker pigment would not actually make the game harder. Within the game, there are certain aspects that make life harder, though, like when I decided to make my New Kid pansexual and genderfluid, and a group of town bumpkins came to the school to kick my ass. It’s little satirical details like this that make South Park’s writing so brilliant. Throughout the course of the game, you can customize your New Kid with multiple outfits. These are merely cosmetic, even when every item of a particular suit is worn, so I tended to go with more goofy clothing items, like a bra on my head (because…South Park).
The most important part of customizing your character is through the use of relics. These jokey little objects found through boss battles and exploration can be equipped to boost statistics, like knockback damage and ultimate recovery speed, which will upgrade your overall “might”; think of it as assigning experience points to level up your character. In the relic menu, DNA alterations can also be applied, which can affect things like the overall damage of your superpowers, or the health of your party. Further customization can be found through crafting, although the crafting system as a whole was fairly dry. Here you can use materials found while exploring or purchased through vendors to create new items. These items range from new clothes, to consumables for battle (e.g. health, revives, antidotes), to brand new relics. Unfortunately, every time I could craft a new relic, it was either nearly identical or worse than ones I already had in my inventory. Furthermore, better relics can only be crafted once your crafting skill is raised, something that can only be done by crafting, which is pointless when you’d just be wasting materials to craft garbage relics; and so the cycle continues. All of the superhero customization is done through the iPad pause screen, and aside from a map that allows you to see your objectives and fast travel, there’s not much else to do with it (except continue taking selfies with everyone in town).
The last facet of The Fractured But Whole that surprised me by its constant usage was the ability to call on allies to solve puzzles. As in The Stick of Truth, “Douchebag” is best known for his superhuman farting abilities, and they shine even more so in the sequel with the help of friends. Over time, The New Kid learns how to call on his buddies to progress through areas. The first unlockable ally is Captain Diabetes, who tells you to fart on his face to spark a diabetic rage, allowing him to tear up structures and create new paths for The New Kid. Others, like The Human Kite, can take you to new heights with the help of Fartkour (that one’s pretty self explanatory). These abilities provide a deeper level of gameplay to The Fractured But Whole, and while they can get kind of repetitive as time goes on, it’s still a fun little thing they included to change things up. The New Kid also has the ability to fart and throw firecrackers at any time, which not only help knock down objects from hard to reach places, but they can also provide a unique advantage in combat (if you fart on an enemy before starting a combat sequence, they will start their turn with the “grossed out” status effect). There’s just such a level of depth to the combat of this game, and the fact that powers like “fart time manipulation” exist to cancel enemies’ turns just goes to show the level of lunacy that South Park can provide to a smart and highly entertaining RPG.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is almost everything I wanted it to be. While it’s a brilliant sequel to one of the greatest games I’ve ever played, it’s a real shame that despite countless delays the game still feels rushed. The world is vibrant and nails the show’s resemblance in an exceptional manner, but there just hasn’t been enough material in 4 years of the show, compared to the 18 that came before The Stick of Truth. I even missed the witty little descriptions next to every material I picked up, something the original game did that actually made the inventory entertaining, of all things! While a lot of thought definitely went into the combat system, and the story itself, there were just a lot of details overlooked that made this game feel so much less polished than its predecessor. On top of this, I did experience a major save glitch, in which the autosave function got stuck amidst a battle, and I did not notice. This caused me to lose over an hour of gameplay, as I could not save before quitting. Factor this janky save system in with the lack of fan service this game deserves and you’re left with a disappointing sequel to one of the best games based off a pre-existing IP. Fortunately, the game has enough depth in its combat and enough heart in its plot to deliver a fairly entertaining standalone RPG. Next time around, Parker and Stone should focus on the fans and the game, in order to replicate the joy we all felt when we first picked up The Stick of Truth four years ago. As much as it pains me to say, maybe the duo should take some more time off before making another installment in this hilarious franchise.