In a follow up to the critically acclaimed South Park: The Stick of Truth, the new kid is back in the new South Park: The Fractured But Whole! This time the wizard hats have been hung up and the swords have been sheathed, because all the cool kids are playing superheros now.
The game starts you where you ended in the Stick of Truth, as the heroic and almighty King. Very quickly this is stripped away as the kids switch to their new game and you’re left to work your way back to your former glory. Your character sheet is reset but it’s fine because now you get to pick an awesome new superhero class with a host of badass powers. There’s also a whole new social media network (Coonstagram) to claw your way back to the top of, one selfie at a time.
Like the original game, The Fractured But Whole feels very much like being picked up and dropped in the world of the South Park tv show. In typical South Park style, the humour is very puerile. There’s literal toilet humour with a minigame where you aim to empty your bowels in every toilet in South Park through mimicking the controller commands on the screen. It’s actually pretty fun if a little gross. Also, like the TV show, the game doesn’t pull any punches, so if you’re easily offended this is not the game for you. For me and I’m sure many fans though, it’s this humour and refusal to adhere to social taboos that gives South Park its appeal.
I also feel compelled to mention that this game is definitely not for kids. I was surprised by how overt some of the sexual imagery is. For example, early on in the game – through following the main mission – you find Cartman’s journal which is filled with explicit cartoon porn. It certainly earns its R16 rating!
One thing that made me super happy is you can now play a female character, cis or transgendered. I couldn’t help but be pulled out of my immersion when I played the Stick of Truth and had to walk around looking like a dude and being called ‘he’. In The Fractured But Whole, you can start by simply making yourself look female with a variety of pretty hairstyles. Eventually you’ll be prompted to talk to the school counsellor Mr Mackey who will help you discover your sex and gender. I loved how they wove this into the story, with Mr Mackey being very concerned when I insisted I was female, even calling my parents to check as everyone in the previous game had been treating me like a boy! In order to not break canon, it seems like most characters in the world remain oblivious and continue to assume you’re a little boy. Cartman even announced to my amusement “You have pretty hair for a boy. Hope you’re not a hippy or something”. I really applaud the developers for both allowing people to play as girls, and for the clever way they integrated it into the story.
The world is a decent size, with new areas of the map unlocked as the game progresses. There’s a lot of subtle humour, and I’m sure plenty that I missed, for example there are comically customised items that can be picked up at each location. You can also walk around attacking the environment and will sometimes be rewarded with a satisfying response, like when you whack Cartman’s mom’s bedside table and her vibrator buzzers back and forth along it. Interactable areas in the environment are easy to spot as they have a bright yellow embellishment such as a door handle or stripe. In the church there’s a box with a bright yellow lid with the words “Don’t Steal” on it, and as a player you’re both drawn towards the yellow beacon advertising the goodies within, and filled with guilt from the appeal to conscience. Well, filled with guilt for about 2 seconds anyway.
The Fractured But Whole is a completionists dream. There’s all kinds of achievements that can be achieved by collecting erotic artwork, building your Coonstagram social media presence, crafting costumes and combat items and more. If you’re someone who gets giddy from the little achievement popups, you’ll find this game very satisfying as they show up frequently.
The game takes an incremental approach to introducing gameplay elements, teaching you something and letting you play around with it for a bit before adding more complexity. As someone with no patience for long tutorials or walls of text, this is very welcome. You start off with just a couple of apps on your phone and over time they grow, but it’s never overwhelming because each app is introduced on its own and with a brief tutorial.
Game elements are also really well integrated into the world. For example, like most open world games, The Fractured But Whole has a fast travel system. Usually this is something you’re not supposed to think about it in the context of the game, it’s purely a tool to make the player’s experience more enjoyable and less frustrating. In The Fractured But Whole, an attempt has been made to weave any such game elements into the world itself. So for the fast travel, the character of Jimmy plays a Flash type superhero who can quickly zip around the world. When you need to get somewhere in a hurry, he shows up to push you to your destination at top speed.
The combat has improved from The Stick of Truth – now you can move the characters around on their turn to position attacks and avoid enemy hits. There’s a lot of strategy around positioning, and various ways to move enemies around through knockbacks and other attacks to try to create the configuration you want. I could see the combat getting a little repetitive if battles were more frequent, but so far I’ve found that I spend more time solving puzzles, collecting items, taking selfies and just talking to people than I do in combat, and new characters, skills and dynamics are regularly added that mix things up just enough to keep the combat interesting.
If you love South Park and turn based tactical RPGs, you’ll love The Fractured But Whole. The world is faithfully adapted from the tv show, politically incorrect humour and all. There’s some hilarious scenes and lots of subtle humour throughout and gaining in popularity and superpowers along the way is immensely satisfying.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.