South Park: The Fractured But Whole
I love South Park. Another of those franchises that’s been close to me all my life, I remember my first experiences with it through getting VHSes of the first few series, and seeing the first televised showing of Bigger, Longer and Uncut after music evening in my first year of high school. I was instantly looked – a cartoon with a unique style that drew inspiration from craft paper-based stop motion, that was absolute filth? Sign me up. I’ve watched the show ever since!
Sadly, the series didn’t have a great showing with its games for the longest time. Unlike things like Futurama’s game, The Simpsons: Hit and Run and Road Rage etc, South Park’s games were ugly, boring or plain problematic. It was weird, when the show’s style seemed the easiest to emulate.
But in 2014, The Stick of Truth came out, and it was pitch perfect. It looked absolutely spot on. Its story was like a full season of the TV show, with jokes that landed perhaps even more effectively thanks to the extra time spent on it, compared to the show’s short production time. And it was loaded with references and throwbacks that were joyous for any series fan.
That game used an existing story arc and its themes – the trilogy of episodes where the kids of South Park dressed up in fantasy gear a la Game of Thrones and mixed a parody of it with Black Friday sales and the division between those who wanted a PS4 and those who wanted an Xbox One (which was kind of weird given, at the time, The Stick of Truth only came out on their predecessors – PS3 and Xbox 360 – despite being released months after PS4 and Xbox One were).
Three and a half years on from The Stick of Truth, and now we have its much anticipated, and repeatedly delayed, sequel – The Fractured But Whole. But how is it?
Like its predecessor, South Park: The Fractured But Whole (get it?) focuses on the kids playing a certain scenario in a story arc of the show. This time, it follows their superhero personas. The South Park TV series parodied Marvel and DC’s universes, and these alter egos carry over to the game. Eric Cartman is The Coon. Kyle is Human Kite. Stan Marsh is Toolshed. You have Mysterion, Super Craig, Wonder Tweek, Call Girl… the list goes on.
Since there was no split between two groups as in The Stick of Truth, The Fractured But Whole creates one to commence its story. Following a self-centred plan by The Coon for the group’s “cinematic universe”, some of the kids split off into Freedom Pals. Your created character, still the king in the location that The Stick of Truth ended in (making this possibly the closest chronological sequel I’ve ever seen, coming in at just seconds after the previous game’s conclusion), as an ally of Coon and Friends, has to create their superhero persona and rid the streets of crime.
The Fractured But Whole once again nails the feel of South Park on the head. It’s funny throughout, woven with throwbacks to the TV show and also to The Stick of Truth, and exploring South Park itself is still a joy – although it does feel like the scope of the map has slightly reduced since the predecessor, with fewer “special” locations. Canada, for example, is reduced to a joke that is equal parts mildly amusing and “this area is DLC now, go away until you’ve paid us for access”.
You will want to have watched the TV show – up to, like, season 20 – and have finished The Stick of Truth (which comes as a free download code with The Fractured But Whole – a massive plus to the game) before you play The Fractured But Whole. It’s enjoyable without that, but there are so many things that I can’t imagine make much sense if you’re not intimately familiar with the show. The predominant game villain, especially, is a weird one if you’ve not seen their introductory episodes but a hilarious surprise if you have.
I won’t go into any of the story elements, they’re best left surprising. But as an actual game, The Fractured But Whole builds on its predecessor’s gameplay, once again presenting combat as a turn based affair with quick-time attack and defense buffs, but this time introducing a grid-based movement engine. Rather than simply attacking on the spot, you move around the grid (limited to your character’s traits) and then attack in a number of ways – some might only be one square forward, some might attack in a straight line, some might be all around you, and some are weird. It’s a big gameplay improvement, and there are some great attacks in there too – my favourite being the “Plantmancer” class’ ability to damage three full rows infront of you with a wave of thorny bloodletting vines.
Another addition in The Fractured But Whole is the ability to play as a girl. The game does a bizarre job of handling this, given The Stick of Truth happens in the same timeline and only let you create a boy, though. You start off as a boy, at least until you reach Counsellor Mackay, where you choose – if you choose girl, he becomes confused, having assumed for the full previous game you were male. Most of the school kids will still refer to you as male, although occasionally make quips about how “your skin is unusually soft” or “I thought feminine guys went out of fashion in the 1980s!”. Your parents will have an argument about your player character revealing her true gender to Mr Mackay. And NPCs are a mixed back – some will still use male references, while others will compare you to Wonder Woman. It’s very weird – like the decision to include girls was made halfway through development and they shoehorned in what they could to support it. Better than nothing, I guess. You can also choose to specifically be transgender – the first time I’ve ever seen this option in a video game without it just being a gender toggle – although as far as I can tell, this doesn’t change anything beyond a couple of jokey fights with rednecks and one encounter with Wendy in a public toilet, and is mainly there as a reference to the big gender-focal South Park story arc.
Perhaps my only major disappointment with the game is that you can’t play the two South Park games merged into each other. The Stick of Truth comes as a download code that gives you the game separately – even though the stories are right next to each other, there’s no player character carry-over, no world persistence or anything else like that. Would have been nice for the features of both versions of South Park (which are very similar to each other) to have been experienceable together – eg, having the whole school as in The Stick of Truth, with the whole of Raisins as in The Fractured But Whole.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is the easiest conditional recommendation in existence, though. If you dislike South Park or haven’t seen it, don’t bother with the game at all. Watch the show if you want to, and if you get into it enough to see it all, grab The Stick of Truth, play that first, then move onto this one – an easy thing to do if you purchase a copy of The Fractured But Whole that comes with it.
But if you’re into the show, get it. It’s a season of the show packaged up into a game that also lets you explore South Park as with The Stick of Truth, seeing new areas not featured in the original. It’s not the best game in the world, but just like The Stick of Truth, it’s South Park in its purest, funniest form.
I genuinely wish I could play all of the TV seasons as games, now.