South Park: The Fractured but Whole had the monumental task of following up one of the best licensed video games in recent memory, South Park: The Stick of Truth. While the newest entry in Ubisoft’s South Park series takes the majority of what made The Stick of Truth so special and quality, it changes a few things and adds some new mechanics that are sure to keep fans busy and interested. Still hilarious to those who find South Park’s raunchy humor their cup of tea, this worthy successor to 2014’s intial title is a triumph from the developers at Ubisoft San Francisco. Despite a few flaws and technical issues, The Fractured but Whole serves as another testament to what can be done with a license when proper care is taken.
Upon starting the game, players create their character, who is, again, the New Kid in South Park. The Fractured but Whole features many more customization options than its predecessor, including hairstyles, scars, clothing, and even race. Cartman mentions the game will get more difficult the darker your skin is, but thankfully, this is mostly a joke. Skin color options do not affect combat difficulty, but instead affect the way your character is interacted with by others in the world, as well as having influence on how much money your New Kid can make. Aside from cosmetic differences, many different classes can be chosen and utilized in tons of combinations for battle. From the start, only a few are available, but as players progress, a whole slew become unlocked, ultimately allowing your character to wield powers from up to four classes at once.
To fill out your character sheet with all of your chosen personal info, minor quests task players with meeting up with different characters to do so. Mr. Mackey counsels students on their gender identity and sexual orientation, while P.C. Principal is given the job of assigning a race to players. These two examples hold weight in gameplay, but there is another that does not whatsoever. Benny at the South Park Bank (the “Annnnnnnd it’s gone!” guy) will engage players in a mini-game that fills out the Economic Class space on your sheet, but it does absolutely nothing except awarding players with an Achievement or Trophy upon reaching the highest class. I would have liked to see that expanded on, with maybe monetary rewards receiving a multiplier depending on how “wealthy” your character is. Further customization is gained by loot rewards in the form of new costume pieces (which are purely cosmetic), makeup options, and hairstyles. Leveling up stats are assigned to the Artifact system, which are modifications that can be gained through fights or found in chests. Artifacts may boost your attack or defense, while also powering up certain classes of moves.
As players begin and progress through the story, a large amount of characters both new and from the television show’s illustrious history appear. Perhaps one of the funniest, the New Kid’s mentor and taco shop owner, Morgan Freeman, teaches the New Kid how to bend and distort time through various types of farts. Many of these farts can be used either in battle or while patrolling the town of South Park itself to solve puzzles and gain access to rewards. Flatulence powers include pausing time, rewinding time, and creating a past version of your own character to use in combat. Along with farts, the New Kid may call upon many of the other children in both Coon and Friends and Freedom Pals to perform various tasks outside of battle in order to reach and open up new areas. For example, Scott Malkison, a.k.a. Captain Diabetes, can use his Diabetic Rage, triggered by sitting on and farting in his face, to lift or move heavy objects out of the way. These many options add a sense of size to the hub world, invoking a Legend of Zelda or Metroid feel, where players must come back after earning new abilities or party members. Aside from the main story, The Fractured but Whole features many side quests, ranging from obtaining collectibles to defeating certain enemies. While being tasked with the mundane act of putting up fliers promoting an up-and-coming comedian’s event around the town, players are also given quests from the local police station. Surprisingly, these police station quests tie into the main quest later into the game, which is a nice touch and made that particular string of tasks feel more meaningful in the long run.
While the story isn’t anything complicated, it is immensely funny and filled to the brim with jokes and prods at the superhero genre and society itself. Children of South Park are divided into two “franchises”, Coon and Friends, led by The Coon a.k.a. Cartman, and Freedom Pals, which is helmed by Timmy, a.k.a. Doctor Timothy, a hilarious parody of Professor Xavier of the X-Men franchise. Cats have come up missing all around South Park, and after a $100 reward is offered for the return of one such kitty, Coon and Friends leap into action in order to gain the reward which kick starts their superhero franchise of films, shows, and Netflix series. Surprises, twists, and turns all happen throughout the game’s story. Once the main villain was revealed, I was at first a little bummed as it seemed too simple. Then I realized, the major threat actually being this character was a VERY South Park move to pull, and I ended up being much more happy with the writers’ decision.
Combat serves as the most significant change from The Stick of Truth, where combat in the first game was turn-based and extremely similar in design to Nintendo’s Paper Mario games. This time around, the combat system works on a grid-based mechanic, where players move around the field to seek and gain tactical positions against foes. Up to three party members join the New Kid at any given time, and each come equipped with their own attacks and abilities. Attacks range from simple damage infliction to healing maneuvers, and certain moves can knock back enemies further away from players on the grid. A wide range of status effects, such as Bleeding or Gross out, add to the many ways players can be successful in combat. Included, as well, are Ultimate moves unique to each character that do massive amounts of damage or provide a wealth of healing or buffs for your team. While this new system is intriguing and signifies the developer’s willingness to change up aspects of the game in order to not be a simple re-skin with a new story, it can be pretty tough to the uninitiated. Getting the hang of this system may take a while, but it is quickly gotten used to and mastered. A major problem gamers will encounter is seriously long fights that truly feel manufactured to keep players busy and give off the illusion that the game is longer than it actually is. Boredom during these fights is sure to manifest, but finally completing them and moving the story along releases a sense of triumph.
As in The Stick of Truth, The Fractured but Whole is designed from the ground up to look and feel like an episode of the television series. Moments come where, had a glancing third party not been aware, they could mistake the game for the show itself. Coupled with the fact that Matt Stone and Trey Parker voice most of the characters as they do on the show, The Fractured but Whole feels like an authentic addition to South Park’s history. Jokes are often over the top and taken way too far (particularly the entire scene in the strip club VIP room), but it completely works in true South Park fashion. If this kind of humor isn’t for you, don’t expect to enjoy this game. Fan service is at an all-time high, with many callbacks taking place. Appearances from Crab People, Jesus, Member Berries, and even a purposefully uncomfortable boss fight with a character I will not mention as to avoid spoiling it, all add to the feeling that this truly is South Park.
My one complaint in this area lies with the portrayal of a certain character being portrayed much differently from the show: the character of Gayfish. In the show, Kanye West was Gayfish, whereas in the The Fractured but Whole, the character is an actual fish. It’s clear that Gayfish is meant to be Kanye West, as his attitude and social media activity is a mirror of Kanye in real life, as well as the fact that the term “gayfish” was so prominent in the show’s episode surrounding him. Also, the section in which he appears is a blatant rip on West’s foray into the game development world, being a parody of his game Only One that never released. Only One was meant to be a mobile game that saw players helping Kanye’s deceased mother reach the gates of Heaven, and this is exactly what is done in the The Fractured but Whole… but with fish. Kanye himself not being in the game is strange, as many other celebrities are featured in spoof versions of themselves, and it makes me wonder if perhaps using Kanye West was maybe a tad bit too far for the developers, given the content surrounding Gayfish is very touchy concerning Kanye West’s mother’s death. But then, it is extremely clear what is being parodied in the sequence, so if that is the case, why include it at all?
Unfortunately, The Fractured but Whole is rife with glitches and technical issues. Pauses and stalls during combat was perhaps the most prominent issue in my playthrough, and added to the frustration already experienced by lengthy combat scenarios. Visual glitches are plentiful, with duplicate characters being in the same room at times, most notably with Cartman’s mom. Freezing glitches and the game running on constant loops during battle when fart powers were used occurred sometimes, forcing me to restart the game, losing some progress. The biggest issue I faced was a broken side quest, that upon completion, would not allow me to turn it in. As of this writing, this issue has still not been addressed or patched, and is hindering my ability to complete the game to 100%.
While The Fractured but Whole suffers a bit on the technical side and from a seemingly purposefully lengthy combat system, the game is damn near a masterpiece. Despite not being quite as fun or memorable as its predecessor, The Fractured but Whole is a more than worthy entry into what I hope remains a continuing franchise from South Park and Ubisoft. Filled to the brim with trademark South Park raunchiness, fan service, and superhero clichés and tropes, Ubisoft San Francisco has created a game fans will be discussing and talking about for years to come.