In 2014, Ubisoft released what would go on to be considered one of the greatest licensed video games in South Park: The Stick of Truth. With the assistance of the South Park creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the developers at Obsidian Entertainment proved they understood the source material and built a classic, faithful game. Most fans of the franchise could agree Stick of Truth was rude, crude, but everything we wanted from a South Park game. They had struck gold.
It didn’t take long for Ubisoft to reveal the game's sequel, which was met with excitement but also caution. For one, Ubisoft was handling the game on its own, attempting to build on the framework made by Obsidian, and there was also concern whether Stick of Truth was a one-hit wonder. After playing through The Fractured But Whole, it’s safe to say that the game is great fun but never tops the work of the original.
The Fractured But Whole may have taken three years to arrive, but in the land of South Park it has been about a day since the last game. The sequel starts with the remnants of the fantasy adventure from Stick of Truth and introduces us to the new combat system when Cartman, dressed as his superhero persona, The Coon, calls it quits with the fantasy adventure and declares they are now playing superheroes. Their objective: find a missing cat to receive a $100 reward.
The general story plays out as a war between the two superhero factions Coon and Friends and The Freedom Pals. These two groups are at war over making a billion-dollar superhero franchise. In typical South Park fashion, the story goes much deeper. With the adults in town being useless, the boys are left to stop the rise of a powerful crime syndicate that is threatening to change South Park.
While playing through this game it was hard not to compare it with Stick of Truth. The similar premise of an almost town-wide game of make-believe still works really well, and playing superheroes opens the town up to new story potential. While the story never reaches the same memorable high points of Stick of Truth and its over the top humour, it tells an enjoyable tale with many twists and turns. There are moments where the story will shock or surprise you, and make you laugh with how awkward things may get.
There are weaker elements in the story, such as the war between Coon and Friends and the Freedom Pals. It’s disappointing that the game does not allow you to choose a side in this civil war. Overall the story is too linear and forces you to follow a path rather than make a choice.
As for the main game, you explore South Park and take varying quests from residents. Most missions come from the superheroes who tie in with the main story, though side missions also crop up, some with a greater connection to the main story and some that are throwaway. These include assisting the police with taking down a “drug kingpin," or helping Cartman's mother with her “tutoring” business. Other quests in the game involve searching the town for certain reference items, akin to the previous game's Chinpokomon. In this game you search for yaoi art from the "Tweek X Craig" episode of the show, some of which can get pretty disturbing considering they are children.
The most important change in Fractured But Whole is the combat system. This is where at least half the game takes place and it changes dramatically from the style of Stick of Truth. It makes sense within the story: the boys of South Park decided to change the rules of combat, moving the game from a traditional form of stationary turn-based JRPG to a grid-based system. In combat characters move around the battlefield and launch attacks based on enemy distance and attack style.
Most battles feature four characters under your control with you working out the best position to place each character in to deal damage to the enemies while avoiding harm as much as possible. This is where Fractured But Whole thrives. While the change in the battle system is a shock, the more thoughtful and involved approach grows on you. Each battle feels like a puzzle that needs to be solved. Bad character placement will lose the fight. You need to pay attention to the enemy's positioning to keep your characters out of harm's way that may come in the next turn or three turns later.
With this battle system you need to be aware of every character on the field, learning your enemy's varying tactics and how each of the playable characters can harness their skills to win. At times you can lose a fight because you entered with a team that wasn't fit for a battle's goal, or the characters didn’t quite match the moves you had planned.
In fact battles really change based on your team make-up. Through the game you unlock access to many key characters from the show and their superhero persona, and each character offers different skills that change the way you approach a fight. Where some characters need to be right in front of an enemy for their attacks, others rely on distance, and so before most fights (unless otherwise told) you need to determine the characters that will fit best for the situation.
This brings us to Fractured But Whole’s class system. Akin to classic RPGs or Stick of Truth, there are variety of classes you can choose from which will affect battles. Unlike Stick of Truth, you won’t spend the game relegated to the class you chose at the start of the game. Instead you are granted new classes throughout the game. This follows common archetypes such as Blaster and Brawler as well as a variety of similar superhero types such as an Elementalist, Psychic, or Speedster. There is a wide variety available which can change how you fight in battles with more being added over the course of the game. Which do you prefer? Vulnerable close combat? Long-distance attacks? Or perhaps a more protective approach? With the additional classes you pick through the game you are able to blend attacks from the classes to choose your particular style. Three attacks are available on a general basis with one ultimate move ready when a bar fills up.
Each of these types fit in with one of the game's characters and leads to a big decision of how each character will affect the battle. You can never get too comfortable with a team as different situations call for different allies. More importantly certain characters are forced into battles for story missions, making it so you need to learn characters' move sets to assist you in battle. Sometimes you need a focus on characters with knockback, other times it is helpful to have characters who can provide status effects such as bleed or burning.
The enemies you face in the game fit with the idea of the show. Among the main enemy types are sixth grade bullies or the Raisins girls, who are essentially the child version of the Hooters restaurant. You also face Rednecks who hate you for your self-identification, Chaos minions who work for Butters’ alter ego, Professor Chaos, and even Crab People. There are a lot of enemy types throughout the game that bring plenty of difference to how each battle plays out, keeping you on your toes with their varied techniques.
Outside of battle you improve your character's capabilities through an artifacts system. As you play through the game you find varying artifacts (a variety of show references) which can be equipped, and you pick one that will adjust your base skills such as power or movement ability. Other bonuses occur through this system that benefit your battle team with health boosts across the board, better knockback damage, or even status effect damage. Artifact slots are unlocked as you level up, and you need to constantly change the ones you use as you progress to even stand a chance in the later game. They build up your general statistics as well as your team's Might (a point that is directly related to your power for taking on missions in South Park).
Returning to the town of South Park is welcome, even being back in this universe is great. Much like playing Stick of Truth, it was fun to wander the town and see many of the iconic locations, and this game does this well with all the new inclusions. Many South Park areas were added for the sake of the story that failed to be included in the original game, and many of the new areas from the show's more recent run also appear.
While not all references will hit some players, especially those who have not watched the more recent episodes, it was still great to see some of the changes made to the town that fit with the show's changes. The developers could have kept the same town from Stick of Truth, but it would have been a disservice to the show. These changed areas were among the most interesting to explore.
A point of contention is that the town never thrives in the same manner. Because we already did it, South Park is not as exciting to explore, and the characters within the original locations aren't as alive.
A point which will also annoy players is the lack of freedom in the town. It takes a while before the entire town becomes open, and though it is explained through story means it is annoying not being able to explore everywhere. You are at the mercy of having to do so much before you can finally explore everything that open-world South Park allows.
Another point to make against the game is the terrible load time. To continue referencing Stick of Truth, there were load times in the game, but any you came across were barely noticeable. In this game you come across load times much more - you can barely walk a couple of screens before having to sit through a lengthy load screen. This completely slows the pace of the game.
On a lighter note, The Fractured But Whole thrives with humour. While not every joke lands, for reasons of key references or just being bad, most are pretty funny. Jokes such as your backstory are so stupid it’s funny, like the bizarre line that closes out the game, or the goal of genetic manipulation and how it is used for pointless reasons. At least ninety percent of the game will have you laughing its sheer randomness. You will laugh at combat with the mechanic of macroaggressions (a show reference), where someone will say something offensive to a race or that has generally rude implications allowing you to freely hit them. Every time this popped up in combat it was hilarious, especially with the sound clip that accompanies it.
Your powers of gassy proportion also return. While exploring South Park and doing major story quests, you regularly find a problem that your powerful flatulence can solve. Some of this involves working with other characters to solve problems such as removing “lava” or getting to high-up places with the Human Kite. The greater power from your powerful gas is the ability to affect time, and one ability allows you to briefly rewind time to restore key items or remove objects from your path which you helped to move initially. This power can also affect battles by allowing you to skip one character's turn every so often. You can also stop time to solve puzzles which allowed the developers to create many interesting scenarios.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a solid game that continues on the adventures of the South Park children and The New Kid in great stride. Its combat changes make battles much more enjoyable with better options for strategy, and, with a great range of superhero classes, the play-styles are varied. However, the game never reaches the high points of Stick of Truth with its story, design or general world. Fans of South Park will still be happy, and although a lot of the references will go over people’s heads if they haven’t watched the show in recent years, they will still spend the majority of the game giggling with a stupid smile on their face.