Title: South Park: The Fractured but Whole
Developers: Ubisoft San Francisco
Release Date: 10/17/2017
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One (Reviewed), PC
Time Played: 18 Hours
In 2014, the acclaimed South Park: The Stick of Truth made a milestone achievement. With a little love for the franchise and the right creative team, a television show could transform into an engaging video game, regardless of setbacks. Boy, there were setbacks…years of delays and a company dissolution gave them plenty of time to perfect the product before its final release. Now, with Ubisoft taking more command, South Park: The Fractured but Whole takes its place among the franchise’s repertoire. How does it fare? Come on, Kyel, sit back, grab some fish sticks, and enjoy the following critique of living towels, Satanic woodland animals, and enough fart jokes to last a lifetime.
Note: This review will attempt to avoid any major plot spoilers, but read at your own risk.
Concept and Execution:
The boys of South Park are done playing medieval fantasy. A mysterious time traveler dressed as a ring-tailed bandit comes from the future to inform them that the age of superheroes needs to come again. A neighborhood cat, Scrambles, has gone missing, and The Coon and Friends and the Freedom Pals battle it out to see which team can find the feline friend, collect the reward money, and kickstart the ultimate superhero film series. Players take control of the New Kid, a silent warrior forced down from his throne to fight crime on the streets. They can customize their power set as the game progresses, gain statistical improvements, pick up consumable items, and even learn abilities that can bend time and space. The New Kid and the iconic South Park characters make their way to victory through a blend of combat, platforming, and puzzle-solving.
The story begins on a small scale, starting with a simple role-playing game. As per the franchise’s usual style, the stakes raise dramatically as the story unfolds. Crime waves surge. Cults are formed. Genetic experiments are being conducted on the local sixth graders. You know, the average South Park stuff. While the plot does expand, it does so quite late in the story, perhaps around the tenth hour of gameplay. Before that mark, the overall story doesn’t quite find its groove. The plot is a slow burn, and anyone unfamiliar with the typical South Park formula might lose interest before the turning point.
While the pace can drag, the actual quality of the plot is substantial. While The Stick of Truth was more a culmination of every South Park storyline, dealing up references left and right for fan service, the 15-hour RPG campaign in The Fractured but Whole is a new chapter in the never-ending story. It incorporates character arcs and pushes them forward, formulating a plot that’s unique and engaging. There’s even a rather serious thread about The New Kid’s personal life. It stayed intriguing until its conclusion, which was frustratingly familiar. Otherwise, the plotlines were productive, and fans of the franchise get updates on Tweak and Craig’s yaoi relationship, Morgan Freeman’s taco shop, and a certain homosexual fish. I found myself fully invested in the main story by its end, and I was totally hooked by the trademark tone developed through raunchy humor and biting satire. The side quests, minigames, and collectibles were all enjoyable enough in their own right, adding key moments to the experience that hardcore fans can’t afford to miss. Yet, the game wasn’t perfect, mmkay?
South Park: The Fractured but Whole was developed much faster than its predecessor, and these issues are most impactful on the game’s humor. While many of the jokes were clever and provocative, one topic is beaten to death: flatulence. Farts are funny in specific circumstances, but the game decides to apply them to every circumstance. The game spends more time on farts than Kyle’s dad spends on Yelp. I’d even go so far to say that it’s an obsession, and this hamartia drags The Fractured but Whole to the ground. Many players will enjoy it. For others, it’ll get old. That’s the last kind of experience that a game should deliver—especially a comedy.
Concept and Execution Score: 20/25
The flesh and blood (or shall we say, construction paper?) of The Fractured but Whole is its combat. Exploration still serves a role, and there are a fair amount of platforming puzzles, but anyone that played Stick of Truth has already seen most of what the town has to offer. In fact, there’s less to do; with fewer character-changing powers and fewer special zones, there’s a significant lack of variety in the gameplay. However, combat sees an improvement this time around, picking up the slack. Whereas the first game had static turn-based combat—a la Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door—this entry features time, space, and situational modifiers. These new attributes make combat much less repetitive and much more enjoyable than it was in the first title.
By adding movement and timing into its turn-based system, the game’s combat feels less statistics-based and more strategy-based. Depending on which team members the New Kid selects, where they choose to position themselves, and how well they execute their moves, a fight can fluctuate in significant ways. Does one pick support characters like the Human Kite and Fastpass to prop up the New Kid’s damage? Does one select high-damage dealers like Mysterion and the Coon to aggressively annihilate the enemies before they can make a move? Which character’s ultimate should one use, and when? For the most part, each fight requires its own strategies to win. Each enemy type has strengths and weaknesses, and each ally has their time to shine. Only a few of my teammates saw little use (Give a buff to Toolshed, please! He’s not going to Stan his ground anytime soon), and I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of strategic battles.
As the New Kid gains experience, he/she/it levels up and gains new powers along the way. Players pick an initial class of superhero, and then can multi-class as the story continues. Each of the ten classes has its own unique set of useful powers, and they can be mixed and matched as the New Kid learns to multi-class (much to Cartman’s jealousy). Classes are typical superhero archetypes, including the psychic, the speedster, the cyborg, and the martial artist. Combat is as customizable as the game gets. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the game’s gear system, which receives a major downgrade from the last entry. Character costumes are purely aesthetic, and items don’t have stats. While costumes can yet again be painted to the player’s liking, there appear to be fewer options in this entry. As a result, I found myself rarely fiddling with the gear. I found a style that would make Bebe proud, and then I let it be.
Statistics are instead controlled by “artifacts” that constitute another frustratingly simple system. Each artifact has a power rating. Some have passive perks, like damage boosts or fire resistance. And…that’s it. That’s the gist of it. All combat statistics are determined by one set of items. All one has to do to master the system is know that two is a larger quantity than one. Compared to the original game, or compared any RPG of this nature, the system is lazy.
Along the same line of criticism, this game could actually be retitled South Park: Frustrating Simplicity. I don’t claim to be an excellent gamer; I’m average on a good day. I’m definitely not the awesome PC guy from Make Love, Not Warcraft. Thus, I can say without a doubt that The Fractured but Whole is far too easy. I didn’t lose a single fight for the first half of the game, so I turned the difficulty up to “Mastermind.” Still, I only lost standard fights once or twice. A handful of losses came from special event battles that I hadn’t figured out yet, or auto-fails that sneaked up on me. Otherwise, the game was a breeze. Opponents fell before they could even make turns. Puzzles usually consisted of pressing a single button in the right place. Even some of the mini-games reused quicktime events. The game is one the easiest I’ve played in a while. Though the combat is much stronger in this sequel, it’s hard to get invested in the gameplay when the stakes are so low.
Mechanics Score: 19/25
The town of South Park is just as well-realized as it was in the first title. Though the developers’ options were limited, considering it was a necessity for them to reuse the same location, they managed to mix up some of the areas. As I mentioned, the familiarity does limit the wonder players could enjoy, but there were still some surprises in store. Sadly, Canada’s wall is still keeping the New Kid down south, but there is still plenty to see within the town itself.
The Fractured but Whole fully embraces its superhero theme. The streets may look ordinary by day, but they’re swamped with crime at night. Each of the main children has their own superhero persona, complete with a collectible character sheet that fills in their backstory. Only a few wandering character models are generic extras, so most of the residents can be engaged in conversation. Other than side quests and a few politically-charged jokes, the residents also offer their friendship over social media. Thanks to Coonstagram, South Park’s newest networking website, the New Kid can gain follows for perks, challenges, and experience rewards, but only once they’ve proved themselves cool enough for certain friends with a specific quest or achievement.
The physical locations of the game look flawless, and they’re surprisingly nuanced for being modeled after construction paper. The animations look smooth, and their simplicity is endearing. The bright and snappy color scheme, too, serves as a great reminder that less can be more. One may as well be watching an episode of the show, since the visuals match up beautifully. Again, with less character powers, there aren’t as many nooks and crannies to explore, and there are fewer special zones. However, there still manage to be enough platforming challenges and superhero-related design choices that make the environment feel moderately refreshed. It undeniably could’ve been done better, because it’s all familiar, but not a second spent in the town of South Park is a bad time.
The sounds of South Park are both nostalgic and hilarious, reminding fans why they love the franchise in the first place. Songs playing over the radio and through the soundtrack include classics hits like “Safe Space” and “Kyle’s Mom is a [Wonderful Lady].” TV sets play the less-terrible version of the Honey Boo-Boo show, and rumors of a farting vigilante drift through the streets. Even the scoring tracks are perfectly in-tune, mimicking grandiose superhero theme music to bolster your spirits. As much as I love the references, I’m a little bit annoyed that some of the audio wasn’t remixed or expanded. The audio pulled directly from the show’s previous episodes seems lazy. As I’ve stated before, I think this is yet another sign that the development of this game would’ve benefited from more time in the oven.
As always, show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone perform a majority of the voice acting for the game. They perform almost every major male character between the two of them, and they make it sound easy. The wide variety of personalities they manage to convey throughout each and every South Park outing never ceases to amaze me. I’m super cereal.
My favorite feature of the game’s atmosphere was the personal touch players can add to the New Kid. There are plenty of options to form your identity, as evidenced by the fact that I played a neutral Scientologist Latino Scandinavian polysexual gender-fluid person. Personally, I loved forming my individual identity with such a unique combination. Even though the impact upon the game was pretty negligible, its presence and inclusivity was welcoming. And of course, when the game does play upon your individualized personality, it brings the laughs.
Atmosphere Score: 22/25
South Park was a difficult game to judge. I wouldn’t say that it has a lot of problems, and I gleefully absorbed every bit of its content. Most of my worst criticisms were nitpicky, and if I ignore them, I’m happy to dive right into The Fractured but Whole any day of the week. However, what worries me most about this entry is that it’s full of warning signs that things could get worse.
While the game is an enjoyable chapter in an epically-ridiculous franchise, it’s less effective than The Stick of Truth. The comedy is good, but it’s weaker. The gameplay is good, but it’s weaker. The environment is good, yet again it’s weaker. The lessened substance is noticeable, and it’s a clear downgrade from the magnum opus that was The Stick of Truth. It’s still an excellent example of what a video game based on a television show should be, but without the charm of the brand holding it together, I’m not sure this entry would make above a “C” grade.
In addition, the franchise is fulfilling some bad stereotypes about Ubisoft’s game development. Certain outfits are exclusive to Ubisoft Club members (Uplay’s secret identity). Players can purchase an expansion pass for future DLC that’s already been announced (anyone who reads my work on this site knows how much I hate this). Most egregious of all, one of the most prominent characters from the South Park superhero episodes is being locked away for later DLC. Considering that many fans probably purchased the game after viewing the Mintberry Crunch arc, this feels deceitful. Without paying them extra money, how am I going to get the power of mint and berries, yet with a tasty, satisfying crunch? He’d be ashamed of you, Ubisoft.
These ominous signs pile atop the lower entertainment value and annoying simplicity, bogging down a game that comes from greatness. It feels less like a labor of love and more like a labor of labor. However, that doesn’t mean the product wasn’t hilariously entertaining. As I said, this game was hard to judge.
Overall, I still believe that South Park: The Fractured but Whole is good enough to warrant a sequel to round out the trilogy. After their masterful executions of medieval fantasy and superhero franchises, I’m eager to see what the New Kid plays next. Maybe players could travel to the far future, and meet AWESOM-O? Maybe they’ll go full anime, or parody some religious tales, or we’ll be seeing giant [expletive] and [expletive] sandwich face off in the 2020 presidential election. No matter what it is, it’s sure to be an enjoyable time, so long as the developers note their criticisms. All they need to do is cut the Ubisoft-isms, deepen the complexity, and remember that South Park is all about one thing: Killing Kenny.
Until we meet again, dear reader…SHABLAGOO!
Entertainment Value Score: 19/25
To read our review of South Park: The Stick of Truth, click here! For all your South Park video game news, stay tuned to NLGO.