‘member when South Park games were nowhere near this good?
Game: South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
Matt Stone and Trey Parker said they were done. They said they’d had enough and were never going to do another video game again. 2013’s Stick of Truth took more out of them than they could have imagined; multiple delays, a change in publisher, and the weight of expectation for a half-decent game based on everyone’s favourite mature cartoon seemed to have taken its toll. This was even referenced in the 3-episode arc leading up to the game’s release, with Butters making a somewhat sarcastic comment at the end of an episode in relation to how long the project had taken.
Skip forward 4 years; we’ve got a new generation of consoles, and The Stick of Truth defied the odds to be a surprisingly competent game with enough nods to the TV show to make a whole host of people misty-eyed with nostalgia. The Fractured But Whole (named as such because publisher Ubisoft allegedly told them that they couldn’t have the word “butthole” in the title) takes a lot of what the first game did right, and applies enough tweaks and twists to make it a much more enjoyable title, whether you’re a South Park fan or not.
Picking up where the first game left off, TFBW lands you in the oval-shaped shoes of The New Kid once more. The kids of South Park are still playing in the fantasy land crafted in The Stick of Truth, until Cartman decides to travel ‘back in time’ as his superhero alter ego The Coon to inform the wizards, knights and bards that in the dark and distant future, there will be an alarming number of cats that are being kidnapped. Let’s not forget, they’re still 8 years old. Of course, the real reason Cartman, and the rest of the gang, are obsessed with superheroes is to start up a multimedia-filled franchise with a ton of money being made for them in the process with the ‘Coon and Friends’ franchise. Of course, not everyone’s on board, and a civil war is brewing between Coon and Friends and Freedom Pals, a rival faction set up by Token and Timmy. If you think this all sounds remarkably silly, then you’d be right. It’s typical South Park.
TFBW, for all intents and purposes, plays pretty much the same as its predecessor, with one major improvement. Combat in the game has been radically overhauled, with a much more tactical approach to beating the crap out of your opponents being brought into play. Of course, it’s not going to compete with the likes of Skyrim or XCOM in terms of depth and nuance, but the addition of a grid-based arena for your turn based combat is one that works wonders for the game, and actually highlights just how limiting the first game’s systems were. The difficulty ramps up substantially as you go on, and there is one (optional) boss fight in particular that is astonishingly difficult, and I don’t think I’m ever going to get the trophy awarded for their successful vanquishing.
Outside of the combat, the rest of the 20 or so hours spent with the game consists of fetch quests, amusing subplots and the overarching story. My main criticism of Stick of Truth was that it felt a little slight in some areas, but TFBW manages to alleviate that problem with a great deal of humour. It’s tricky for games to be consistently funny, and TFBW definitely has a few moments where the jokes don’t quite stick the landing, but for the most part it does a bang up job of being as amusing as it sets out to be. One thing that is missing though, is South Park’s typically barbed and hyper-relevant social commentary. It’s to be expected, with an episode of the show turned around in 6 days, and a video game taking multiple years, but it’s something that’s definitely lacking. Where it shines, though, is the series of evergreen gags that make you giggle, regardless of who the President is, or which celebrity has had a car crash of a week to get into the headlines. There will always be a special place in my heart for a well-crafted fart joke, and TFBW, as the name implies, has them in abundance. The New Kid’s powers emanate primarily from his or her anus (yes, you can now play as a girl), and some of these powers had me tittering well after the 20th time of being used.
In between missions, you will undoubtedly find yourself in the school, talking to Mr Mackey, or in the micro-brewery talking to PC Principal, and it’s with these characters in particular where some of the more controversial elements of the game arise. As mentioned, you can now choose your gender after a conversation with Mr Mackey, and you can choose your race (prefaced with it being a “difficulty slider” the darker your skin gets) with PC Principal. I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be an expert on transgender rights or the intricacies of the racial prejudices on display in society, but if I’m brutally honest, this implementation feels a little ham-fisted, and almost slipped into the game with the exclusive means of creating a bit of a talking point. At the end of the day though, these are two small elements of a game that will, without question, piss off multiple people across a whole spectrum of society. After all, it is South Park.
Overall, The Fractured but Whole is an enjoyable follow up to one of the more silly and fun games of the past few years. The first major complaint I have is that the pacing of the story could possibly have been tightened up in a few places, as it did start to drag around three quarters of the way through, but it still stuck the landing in my opinion. I found that a smile was almost constantly on my face throughout, and whilst the story did have a couple of misfires in terms of the jokes, the game will find its audience with fans of the show first and foremost. Just keep your eyes open for Professor Chaos and General Disarray!