Love it or hate it, creators Trey Stone and Matt Parker’s South Park is over twenty years old at this point. Let that sit in for a moment. Second only to The Simpsons as the longest running animated series in the world, it has earned its way into popular culture. Earning a number of questionable quality games ever since the first PlayStation, South Park finally saw an incredibly decent, if not great, release with 2014’s South Park: The Stick of Truth, which saw the franchise become a turn-based RPG. It played and looked like an actual episode of the show, chock full of references to the many seasons’ gags and characters. It was a surprisingly enjoyable game that didn’t have any right to be as good as it was.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole sees the town’s kids dropping the fantasy attires from The Stick of Truth in favor of super heroes and their incredible powers. Having Cartman and crew don colorful costumes isn’t anything new to anyone that’s been following the actual show over the years, but it’s a part of South Park that had yet to be seen in game form. The Fractured But Whole looks as faithful to the visual style of the show as the previous game, and plays relatively similar as you once again step into the shoes of the new kid in town shortly after the events of The Stick of Truth.
Exploring South Park is still one of the cornerstones of this second RPG outing. Moving around is still a little slow, thanks to the plodding pacing of the main character’s stick figure movement, but there’s an added warp function that comes in handy when running back and forth between errands. ‘Fractured has a bunch of exploration sidequests that will have you thoroughly exploring every corner of town, and similarly to ‘Stick, you won’t be able to see everything from the very start, since some spots are only accessible after you acquire certain powers.
In fact, the entire game is centered around superpowers. Cartman’s and Butter’s own questionably named groups of costumed heroes (spawned from the aforementioned superhero episodes from the show) are at war with each other, and the resulting make believe conflict eventually takes over all of South Park, as it’s wont to do. At the beginning of the game, you’re given the choice of a handful of class archetypes, but even if you start off with a less than ideal preset of abilities to your playstyle, you’ll eventually become able to cherry pick and combine powers to your liking after only a few hours into the game. Every kid has their own unique powers, and the further you get in, the more of them you’re able to call upon to join you in battle, which now takes place in grids.
Each attack and ability is tied to a number of squares it can effect, with some that can even knock opponents back and damage anyone behind them. The same can be said for your enemies, and in that regard, The Fractured But Whole is much more fun to play than Stick of Truth. While ‘Stick’s combat eventually boiled down to just spamming powerful magic over and over until everyone on the other side of the battlefield was dead, ‘Fractured is much more strategic and chaotic, thanks to some smartly-designed encounters that really put an emphasis on creative team assembly and careful use of ‘area of effect’ powers, which helps keep encounters somewhat varied.
Character development is also slightly deeper than in The Stick of Truth. You’re now able to equip bonus items that help boost your stats, and the further you level up, the more of them you’ll eventually be able to equip. There are basically two types of items you can put into these special slots, and early on in the game, you’ll unlock the ability to use even more powerful artifacts that can help raise skill points even further, to the sometimes detriment of others. Balancing these while keeping an eye for new upgrades is probably the busiest aspect of keeping track of your character, aside from dual and triple-speccing them to your leisure.
There’s no weapon equipment customization outside of those artifacts, but you’re freely able to change your costume to fit whatever hero look you want to go for. There’s even the ability to craft your own costumes using the many bits of junk you’ll find as you explore town, and they’re full of references and pokes to the pantheon of DC and Marvel Comics heroes and villains, unsurprisingly. You can also craft consumables that can be used during fights to raise fallen team members, heal them, buff and nerf friend and enemy alike, as well as some specific quest items that come into play from time to time. You unlock more recipes the more people you talk to and eventually friend on Constagram, the game’s take of Instagram, similarly to The Stick of Truth’s own jab on Facebook. Adding everyone eventually proves to be quite difficult, as some folks have some involved demands before you can snap a selfie with them.
While the combat is definitely the highlight of the game, the aforementioned slow pacing of the exploration might prove annoying to you in the long run. Quests take you back and forth around South Park, and frankly, there’s not a whole lot of variety to speak of. Yeah, it’s fun to be able to walk into City Wok and other buildings that are seen on the show, but it would’ve helped if there was more to do in the world of the game outside of picking up collectibles, fighting in respawning combat encounters and zip around checkpoints. It’s something that was also an issue in The Stick of Truth and will hopefully be looked into if there’s ever a sequel.
The main thing that might keep you away from South Park: The Fractured But Whole is pretty much the entire conceit of the game, starting with the punny title, down to the subject matters approached in jokingly fashion. By now, the difficulty slider being tied to the skin color of your character joke has already become public, while it could’ve actually been made into a much deeper form of political criticism as it seemed to be doing at the outset, it only merely changes some dialogue lines for other characters, leaving the game difficulty unchanged.
You probably know if you’re into South Park at this point, and the game won’t help change your mind. It’s expectedly as full of the same type of dirty, curse-heavy humor that’s trademark to the Comedy Central show, and in that regard, if you’re remotely into watching that, the transition to the game is quite smooth. South Park has a lot of baggage when it comes to its cast and the crazy things they’ve gotten involved with over the years, and like The Stick of Truth, A Fractured But Whole brims with references, to the point of even having Morgan Freeman in it — whose role should go unspoiled.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is easily one of the best South Park products outside of the TV show. Even with some issues that are hard to be overlooked, it’s a remarkably entertaining RPG that has enough depth to keep your attention and hopefully get more than a few laughs out of you along the way.