“How come everything today has involved things either coming in or going out of my ass?“
– Eric Cartman “Cartman Get’s an Anal Probe” South Park Season 1
I couldn’t help but echo Cartman’s sentiment during my playthrough of “The Fractured but Whole” the newly released follow up to the “The Stick of Truth”. Once again strange things are afoot in the quiet mountain town of South Park Colorado and once again it is up to you as the New Kid with the power of your gaseous bowels to save the day. This time, however, you will put away the wooden swords and fantasy outfits of the first game to take on the trappings of a superhero just trying to get your franchise on Netflix.
The setup and intro to the new game are amazing and not only ties into the recent episode of the show “Franchise Prequel” but also bridges the plot from “The Stick of Truth” quite nicely. Within a few moments, you go from being a major player in the children’s fantasy RPG to a nobody once more and must earn your way up the superhero social ladder on “Coonstagram” while developing your super persona and finding out who is stealing all of South Parks cats.
The town of South Park is realized just as beautifully from the previous game albeit with all the changes and additions from the show in the preceding seasons. While I could almost navigate the map from my knowledge of the first game, seeing places like Shi Tpa and Sodo Sopa reinforced that much as happened in South Park since we last visited. The game for its part does an amazing job of not only referencing the newest material from the show but also has fun with the long history of the shows 21 seasons.
I do not want to get into the “The Fractured but Whole’s” story too much for obvious reasons, but rest assured fans of South Park will be very happy. There are references and inside jokes abound, and it was always rewarding to recognize a call back to the show. Throughout my playtime, I sat with a grin, chuckling at the social commentary the show is known for and, being a fan of the current superhero movie trend, it was fun to see that skewered in a way that was whimsical if a little truthfully cutting.
The largest change from “The Stick of Truth”, other than the genre swap to superheroes, is the combat system. “The Fractured but Whole” no longer plays out like an old school JRPG and instead has transformed into a turn-based strategy game that plays out over a grid. Through the game’s early encounters I worried that, much like the first game, combat would become repetitive and overly simplistic. While I imagine no one will struggle with the difficulty, the grid-based tactics does much to open the strategy up in new directions. This combat is even more fleshed out as the game draws on, featuring fights in which you must chase enemies on the grid, reach a certain section of the grid, or even avoid real-time and telegraphed attacks.
All in all, the changes result in combat that while still being accessible, is far more engaging than the first game. The grid-based combat also seems to fit the superhero genre like a glove, as it felt natural to position my allies to make the best use of our powers combined to defeat the enemies. Throughout the battle you will also be building up your ultimate meter, through fighting and blocking, that is shared among all the heroes you bring into the fray. When it fills you can unleash one of your heroes ultimate abilities which function much like Final Fantasy summons, most of them are short vignettes and that helps to prevent the fatigue of seeing them over and over again.
As the New Kid you will also have access to your powers of flatulence much like in the first game, however this time around they are much more integral to combat as you will be able to do things like rewind time to make an enemy miss a turn. Paying attention to when you need to use this power can make or break the more difficult or strategic encounters and it also pulls the New Kid’s singular feature to the forefront in a more dynamic way than the previous game.
Speaking of farting, you will once again navigate most of the game’s puzzles with your ass gas and the help of one of your super pals. The environmental puzzles are not so much head-scratchers as they are waiting until you have unlocked the right hero companion to help you progress.
This serves to keep the long walks through the town of South Park fresh and exciting as I always found new areas that were previously inaccessible. Though navigating the town of South Park is seldom boring as the banter from other characters can be some of the best sources of humor. I found myself at times eschewing the fast travel system in favor of a stroll just to take in the atmosphere of the town.
That’s really the bottom line with “The Fractured but Whole”, few licensed games can connect with a franchise’s audience in the way that a South Park game can. From the very first moment, you can tell that Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s hands are guiding the project.
Even the game’s title is from Trey’s unwillingness to accept that a game with Butthole in the title would not be stocked by retailers. Many compared “The Stick of Truth” to a video game sized episode, and will likely do the same with “The Fractured but Whole” and I respectfully disagree with that analogy.
These games are far more than a bigger, longer, uncut video game version of the show. No, they, in fact, allow you to experience South Park by being a part of it, by immersing yourself in this world, and through the childish humor, the game encourages you and allows you to be a kid again.
* A copy of “The Fractured but Whole” was provided to Stack-Up by Ubisoft for purposes of this review.