SOUTH PARK: THE FRACTURED BUT WHOLE Review
So . . . THE STICK OF TRUTH was pretty good, right? Maybe not a masterpiece in design, but it was definitely a comical endeavor that had a lot of heart put into its creation, and was a lot better than what you’d typically expect out of a TV-licensed game. The title managed to pull off an entertaining homage to old school turn-based RPGs and a very funny (if off-putting) tribute to its source material. The fact that the game had most of its writing input from SOUTH PARK creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker definitely helped make the game look, and more importantly, flow and feel like a 10-hour episode of the duo’s irreverent comedy show. And really, that’s all that game needed to make it a success. Whether you love it or hate it, SOUTH PARK has proved to be a series with massive contemporary staying power in no small part thanks to its excellent, evolving writing, and has had just about 20 years to age and refine itself from being nothing but shock and fart humor to becoming smart, biting satire and well-constructed narrative commentary . . . and also plenty of fart jokes and shock humor.
Like a fine wine. Or an inner-city prostitute.
With THE STICK OF TRUTH being the unexpected smash hit that it was, the bar was immediately raised for its long-awaited sequel, SOUTH PARK: THE FRACTURED BUT WHOLE, in the hopes that it would be even more surprising, more funny, have a more fleshed-out combat system than its predecessor. In short, to be even more . . . SOUTH PARK-ier. The good news is that, for the most part, lightning does strike twice: the game delivers on those lofty expectations. But as good as it is, THE FRACTURED BUT WHOLE struggles to escape the shadow of its predecessor.
The story of THE FRACTURED BUT WHOLE follows up immediately after the events of THE STICK OF TRUTH, with you reprising your role as the New Kid. After you become King of the communal fantasy-LARP session, the kids of South Park all ditch the lame LORD OF THE RINGS garb and shift gears to play Superheroes instead, with the intent of finding a lost cat with a $100 reward so they may start building their own blockbusting cinematic universe. But of course, nothing is simple in the Colorado town, and the missing cat story becomes linked with so many convoluted threads and absurd happenstances that it’s not even worth attempting to explain further. Which honestly is just par for the course, given that it’s SOUTH PARK.
Mhm. Sounds about right.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that THE FRACTURED BUT WHOLE’s strongest suite is its writing and humor. Around the time the game first started development, the series was experiencing a shift from an episodic, standalone episodes to a more serialized, overarching narrative, all while getting a lot smarter. The added layers of commentary propelled the show forward all while leaving room for the stupid jokes we all know and love(?). This evidently rubbed off on the game, as the story flows much better than in THE STICK OF TRUTH and actually functions well as a narrative, as opposed to a slew of segmented vignettes. That being said, it should be noted that despite being stronger in central narrative and consistently ramping up in absurdity to the same degree as the last installment, this one takes longer to start and ends much more abruptly. These unfortunate bookends don’t soil the package, but they leave a sour taste regardless.
THE FRACTURED BUT WHOLE’s humor covers a lot of the same ground as THE STICK OF TRUTH, with tons of in-jokes and references to the show’s history for long-time SOUTH PARK viewers up the wazoo. However, the most focus is given to the post-serialized material, which basically consists of the past three seasons of the series. As such, Memberberries and social justice policing courtesy of PC Principal are featured center stage, often factoring into gameplay as well. (My personal favorite thing is being able to get a free punch at people because of “microaggressions.”)
This works rather successfully and delivers an even stronger punch than the show itself, considering the reputation for modern gaming culture and its “toxicity.” The writers’ focus to detail is also evident and stands to hold up a lot longer than the more dated material in STICK OF TRUTH. Of course, the game still lacks any sort of filter when it comes to the gross, shocking, or just plain stupid, and there’s plenty of it to suit your tastes (or lack thereof.) Does it get to giant-Nazi-zombie-fetus levels of nonsense like in THE STICK OF TRUTH? Not quite, but the ride is laughably enjoyable, nonetheless.
*Dramatic mariachi music*
As far as the actual game is concerned, the combat unfortunately falls mostly in line with the game’s predecessor, namely by taking a back seat to the jokes. THE STICK OF TRUTH was rather rudimentary already, so it’s somewhat disappointing that the sequel fails to make major innovations. The most noticeable shift in THE FRACTURED BUT WHOLE is the more tactical approach to combat. You control a squad of kids and move them around a grid in order to engage enemies, evade incoming attacks, set up combos with your teammates, and so on. Your various abilities can change up your position on the grid, allowing you to set up advantageous strategies. In addition, combat also comes with the added factor of “special objectives,” which can help mix things up and provide alternative ways to complete battles, most of which require much more planning than the basic brawls. Though the battles have seen some improvement, they’re still tedious, especially when playing at a higher difficulty where everyone becomes a damage sponge.
I recognize that criticizing the combat is ultimately a fool’s errand, since nobody is going to pick up this game for a robust RPG experience. SOUTH PARK: THE FRACTURED BUT WHOLE delivers yet another amusing diversion that manages to feel like a massively-extended episode of its source material. While it can and will be compared heavily to its predecessor, this game is a completely capable production by its own merits. If you’re a long time fan of SOUTH PARK, chances are you’ll love it, and in the off-chance that you have somehow avoided the series for 20-odd years, it’s still worth a shot. Chances are, you’ll like it too.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on Xbox One and PC