There are very few modern television shows that have embedded themselves so deeply into a pop culture that it’s weird to imagine a time before they existed. One such show is adult animated series South Park, which first appeared in 1997 and has since taken the world by storm. Even though this program may have lost some of the shock value it once possessed, there is little doubt that South Park is still trying to push the limits of what you can put on television.
However, when it comes to video games South Park has been rathered reserved in its licensing and only recently has it aimed to truly break into the modern gaming scene. Thankfully, the first attempt, Stick of Truth, was a rather entertaining, yet limited RPG that thrust players into this zany animated world. Now, three years after its release, developer Ubisoft San Fransico aims to deepen almost every aspect of this RPG series with South Park: The Fractured But Whole. What finally emerges is a surprisingly complex, yet accessible title that oozes with the gross, twisted charm of the show it embodies.
Ditching the traditional fantasy concept for superheroes South Park: The Fractured But Whole is set after the events of the first game with the player assuming control of the “New Kid” in town. All of the children have taken up the moniker of custom crime fighters and are currently waging a civil war amongst themselves to prove whose franchise plan is superior. The New Kid is sadly stuck between the two factions and in typical South Park fashion, this simple story spirals wildly out of control.
It’s clear from the beginning this is a plot designed to completely cater to fans of the actual television show. While this can be seen as limiting, it actually frees up The Fractured But Whole to dive into a ton of insane circumstances that need no backstory or real explanation. Characters, creatures, and concepts are all introduced with very little and sometimes no context whatsoever. At times it feels like The Fractured But Whole is trying to consistently one-up itself with what ridiculous scenario it can force the player into.
Surprisingly, this mentality completely works here and it keeps the story engaging as you’ll want to see what absurd plot moment comes up next. A lot of this is thanks to the absolutely terrific voice acting across the board, with the cast reprising every major speaking role in the game. The writing is sharp and witty, with many of the jokes landing their mark, especially the ones that take shots as the comics industry. However, it should be noted that if you never really got into South Park’s brand of blunt, often gross-out style humor then you won’t find much to laugh about here. This is the closest we have ever come to faithfully recreating the look, feel, and design of this legendary show.
Yet, at the end of the day, this is a video game and not just a slightly interactive version of the television show. Pulling elements from both classic and modern RPGs, The Fractured But Whole features a turn-based combat system. Unlike the previous entry, users can actually move up to four heroes along a horizontal grid. Combat cycles through both player controlled heroes and enemies, with each one getting a turn to position themselves and attack. Every move has a designated range, so it’s vital that you understand the limits of each character.
Players will also have to deal with a variety of additional factors such as environmental hazards, reinforcements, various status effects, and special Ultimate moves that can wipe out an entire group of foes. Despite most fights ending when you defeat the last enemy, Ubisoft San Fransico has done a solid job of delivering a nice variety of scenarios that mix up traditional engagements. These typically end up being the most memorable since they force the user to adapt on the fly to an unfamiliar circumstance.
However, this is a double-edged sword and this focus on variety can sometimes create scenarios where it’s incredibly difficult to succeed. In one instance I was tasked with avoiding a specific area of the grid at all costs, but my party simply lacked the mobility to do so. Since there is no way to change your additional three teammates once a battle is started, you’ll have to back out and restart the fight. This can produce some frustrating moments as it feels like The Fractured But Whole is punishing you for playing a specific way. These moments aren’t frequent enough to ruin the core experience, but it would have been nice if specific sections didn’t feel contrived to only cater to certain characters.
As for the New Kid himself, there is a lot of customization options available to the player. Outside of changing the kid’s outfit, gender, sexuality, race, and physical appearance, players have 10 different superhero classes to pick from. Each class has three core skills along with an ultimate ability, most of which offer unique properties. When the game starts you are bound to just one superhero archetype, but eventually you’ll have all ten at your disposal. Even though the player is limited to a specific amount of powers, you are free to mix and match these skills across all ten classes. This gives an insane amount of freedom to how the player is able to customize and craft their ideal superhero.
You’ll be testing these powers throughout South Park: The Fractured But Whole’s roughly 30-hour long story, which is comprised of a night and day cycle. When the sun is out players are offered a handful of main quests to finish along with various side quests, some of which can be pretty lengthy. You’re free to explore the town, purchase supplies, take selfies, and generally enjoy the world. Sadly, the majority of the locations you fight in are rather bland, which is a shame given this show has offered up some truly imaginative environments.
Once night falls, you will be pushed into longer, more linear missions that are typically comprised of multiple boss battles and puzzles. These make up the backbone of The Fractured But Whole’s unique combat scenarios. Breaking into a strip club only to fight your way through a gauntlet of exotic dancers is a unique experience I won’t forget anytime soon. It’s pretty clear where most of the creativity was dumped into, which sadly only emphasizes how dull the main town can be.
As for puzzles, there are a number of special “Buddy Powers” you can obtain that allow you to interact with the world. These include pushing away lava, flying into the air, and short-circuiting powerboxes. Players will are also gifted with special reality bending farts (No, seriously) that can be used in and out of combat. The actual puzzles are rarely every challenging and many of them grow incredibly repetitive as you’re forced to play a lame mini-game for every activation of a Buddy Power. This can absolutely kill the pacing of a level and ultimately becomes more of a chore to deal with.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a genuinely entertaining and engaging experience from start to finish. Despite the puzzles usually falling flat, the rather deep combat and a surprising amount of customization more than makes up for this issue. The story is simply ridiculous in the best possible way and exploring the town of South Park can easily eat away hours of your time. I do wish the game offered more unique locations to visit, but the unique night time missions do briefly remedy this issue. South Park: The Fractured But Whole is not just a good adaptation of the source material, but a genuinely fun game to play.
- Great presentation
- Off the rails story
- Engaging combat
- Healthy customization options
- Night missions
- Tedious, repetitive puzzles
- Needs more unique environments
- Some combat sections are very limiting