South Park has never been one for holding back, in fact it’s arguably for that very reason that the series is held in such high regard – boasting an impressively large fan-base in the process. When Ubisoft unleashed The Stick of Truth it instantly became a crowd pleasing hit, mixing that trademark below the belt comedy with some excellently crafted gameplay mechanics that were tied together by a solid story. It came as no surprise that Ubisoft moved focus onto the cleverly titled sequel, The Fractured but Whole. Ubisoft are not the first developers to try and take gamers down to the iconic town of South Park, that honour rests with the Nintendo 64 adaption back in 1998. Ubisoft are however the first developers to create such a compelling and memorable experience with the source material, and The Fractured but Whole is yet another shining example of what talented teams can achieve with the right mindset and tools. Unlike the first game, the RPG elements are much more refined which ultimately dishes up a more robust experience, but does the rest of the game follow suit?
If you didn’t get a chance to watch the recently aired episode of South Park that served as a prequel to the events in The Fractured but Whole, don’t worry about, the game does a good enough job at explaining the premise. The game takes place almost immediately after the conclusion of The Stick of Truth, and after playing knights and wizards the gang decide to turn to the ever expanding world of superheroes. Pitting you up against rival gang Freedom Pals, Cartman enlists your help via Coon and Friends to track down a missing cat – something Cartman plans to use the reward money to fund a movie franchise for his band of wannabe heroes. Keeping in mind the source material, the game goes far beyond the realms of saving a pussy (hey, I’m allowed that one – it’s South Park) with your adventure taking you on a vast 15 – 20 hour journey that pokes fun at pop culture, big named stars and just about anything else that’s relevant today. I haven’t watched South Park for quite some time, but I never felt like I was “out of the loop” so to say, which is a notion that borrows well from the brilliant writing within.
Much like any bog standard RPG, classes play a significant role as far as gameplay is concerned. Each of which come with unique powers and modifiers that aid you by offering up a decent amount of freedom and variation. The Fractured but Whole does a wonderful job at ensuring that you’re constantly being hit with new abilities and functions every step of the way, ultimately ensuring that the gameplay doesn’t outstay its welcome or become stale. One complaint about the first game is that it began to feel a bit too easy towards the second half of the adventure, but the difficulty curve here is much more refined and notable. The Fractured but Whole doesn’t hold your hand to begin with either, giving you the basics of play before slamming you on the beaten path and sending you on your way. You’ll be crafting and looting to improve your character in no time at all as well as selecting from a massive pool of costumes and set pieces to customise your appearance – something you can enjoy from everyday household items.
The most obvious breakaway from the first game is the switch from traditional turn-based combat to the new grid-based combat system. I have to admit I wasn’t too fond of this when Ubisoft first announced it due to some irritating experiences I had with FF Tactics, but I was pleasantly surprised by the end result nevertheless. Using the grid you’re able to freely move your party around (depending on your Move stats) as you judge the pros and cons of the tactical battle at hand. Do you get in close for a beefier attack and risk being smashed? Or do you play it safe and casually attack from a distance? You’re able to select your party before each fight begins, but there’ll be some fights that only the New Kid can take to, which typically falls to the plot of the game. You’ll also at times get to enjoy some interactions using the environment which can turn the tides of a fight in the blink of an eye. It’s a very simple approach to combat in regards to RPG gameplay, but the developers have certainly worked hard to ensure that the simplicity is matched by an impressive pool of commands as well as thick blanket layer of difficulty.
This is especially apparent when you’re neck deep in a boss battle and you witness pieces of the grid being obstructed, forcing you to think and act with strategy, it’s truly exhilarating to say the least. South Park is also much more enjoyable to explore this time, with plenty of places of interest to check out on top of a meaty portion of side missions and secrets to seek out and engage with. You wont freely just be able to approach many of these extras, instead you’ll need to execute party-specific movesets such as reaching new heights with the power of your flatulence. It’s important to keep on top of your stats if you’re looking for a somewhat easy trouble-free ride in The Fractured but Whole, something you’ll appreciate when taking the Might into account – with every objective housing a recommended pre-set Might level. On the flip-side XP is forked out by the bucket-load and as you level-up you’ll obtain a new slot known as Artefact slots. Artefacts allow you to up your Might, stats and abilities by equipping them (they’re easy to achieve and are littered throughout South Park) and runs inline with the DNA strands that you can utilise to configure your stats.
It’s here where the emphasis on looting and crafting makes itself known. Looting is one of the most vital aspects of the game and you’ll do well to loot everything you come across to obtain useful items. Crafting will enable you to build a heap of helpful tools such as Artefacts and Summons, many of which are gated until you up your craft-level. My favourite part was crafting new costumes to outfit my character in Marvel-esque attire. Speaking of customisation and flexibility, there’s no shortage of that within. Each hero and ally offers distinct aid, ranging from heavy damage to mass healing. The best move however is the ability to manipulate time, but I wont ruin exactly how you go about doing this either in or outside of battle. Take my word for it, this mechanic is easily one of the most standout features in The Fractured but Whole, and certainly proves to come in handy throughout the entirety of play.
Sadly not everything is perfect in the wonderful and gritty world of South Park. Despite the game being hilarious for the most part, I found that the material used in some of the jokes to be pretty dated. South Park stands out as a franchise because it takes current, fresh and relevant situations in the world and seamlessly pokes fun at it. This works well on the show because episodes typically air in rapid succession, but in a game that’s taken a few years to craft, the material of some jokes just feel lacklustre. Don’t get me wrong The Fractured but Whole can be as funny as any given episode from the TV series, but stretched that to over 15 – 20 hours and the giggle-formula does fade in certain places. On top of that I have also witnessed a couple of bugs, such as getting stuck in the environment and having one instance of the game crashing. In the grand scheme of things these are small issues to complain about for a game that outdoes its wonderful predecessor, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least point them out.
South Park The Fractured but Whole is a step up from the acclaimed predecessor and manages to achieve everything that a sequel should. The RPG system is refined and is tethered to a solid combat system that comes with heaps of interesting mechanics and functionality. The looting and crafting is wonderfully in-depth and encourages you to explore the vast town of South Park. The longevity of the game is well set and never outstays its welcome, even when you’re off the proverbial beaten path engaging in the several secrets and side quests that you can take on. Despite some hit and miss humour and a small bundle of bugs, The Fractured but Whole is well worth your time and attention, regardless to if (like me) you’ve lost touch with the show. This game will grab your attention, captivate you and often have you laughing out loud from the onset. There’s no denying whatsoever that this has been worth the wait. It’s engaging, it’s clever and it’s thoroughly immersive.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.