South Park: The Fractured But Whole is the funniest game you’ll play this year. While the story loses focus and is victim to some brutal pacing towards the end, the impressive gameplay and laugh out loud comedy makes Fractured But Whole a very worthwhile experience in today’s more sensitive world.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Platform: PS4, Xbox One and PC
Few shows can get away with as much as South Park. Since its start in the late 90’s, the show has lambasted every sensitive topic in existence. From pedophiles to terrorism, no topic is off-limits, which is part of what makes the show so hilarious. The Fractured But Whole carries on this tradition by tactfully mocking superhero franchises, racial tensions, and everything in between while still providing players with a genuinely fun tactics-based RPG.
Taking place the day after the previous South Park game, The Stick of Truth, you play as the “new kid”, a silent blank-slate kid made for players to customize and project upon. With Marvel and DC (or at least Marvel) conquering the box office, the kids decide to make their own superhero franchise to get rich off of. Disagreements on franchise handling arise, leading to a split in the group, with Cartman heading “Coon and Friends”, and Kenny heading the “Freedom Pals”. It’s a very on-the-nose parody of the different ways Marvel and DC handle their film divisions, and there are plenty of references and jokes to hammer the point in. Looking at the “franchise plan” Cartman has hung up on his wall is a good laugh for anyone acquainted with the MCU/DCEU, as it highlights the insanity of having movies planned 10+ years in advance.
As the new kid, Fractured But Whole tasks you with finding a missing cat in order to earn a $100 reward to jumpstart the Coon and Friends franchise. I like this simplicity quite a lot, as it’s more reminiscent of the older seasons of South Park where the most childlike adventures (finding a missing cat) transform into these epic quests. The kids still feel like kids throughout the adventure, which made me quite happy. More recent seasons have had a fair amount of episodes where the kids feel more like tiny adults, so seeing this return to form in The Fractured But Whole was quite refreshing.
“Looking at the “franchise plan” Cartman has hung up on his wall is a good laugh for anyone acquainted with the MCU/DCEU, as it highlights the insanity of having movies planned 10+ years in advance.”
While the story is largely enjoyable, I found the last quarter or so lost its pace and padded itself out a bit too much. There were four times where I thought the story was about to end, yet it continued while adding extraneous sections to the game. This problematic pacing made the last part of the game more of a slog to play, though this feeling was slightly eased by the stellar humour that persisted throughout. The frequent use of partner abilities towards the end also hindered the pace, as it seemed like I was constantly calling characters for no reason other than to make time. I’d have preferred it if the story was cut down a bit, but overall the narrative is quite enjoyable and worth playing through.
The gameplay in Fractured But Whole is immensely better than that of its predecessor. One of the main criticisms for The Stick of Truth was its dated RPG combat system, and it seems that the devs took this critique to heart. Fractured But Whole embraces a more grid-based tactical RPG system where your positioning and movement on the grid can change the tide of battle. Different attacks hit specific sections of the grid and can increase status ailments like Bleeding or Grossed Out, adding a solid layer of strategy to what could have been another basic RPG. All of the playable characters have their own unique skills that make them all worth trying, especially to catch all the show references that the moves make. The main story isn’t especially hard for the most part, so you’re able to use a team made up of characters you like, instead of characters you feel are necessary to win. The battles can feel a bit too long at times, as enemies have a lot of health and appear somewhat frequently, but battles can usually be avoided somewhat easily since enemies are visible on the map.
There are a lot of neat little bonuses to battles too, whether it’s the wonderfully silly ability to do extra damage to characters who say “microaggressions”, or the occasional car coming by, prompting your party and enemies to move to the sidewalk as the driver curses them for taking up the road. Little details like this remind you that you’re playing superhero as a bunch of dumb kids, and will likely bring back fond memories for anyone who played outside with friends when they were children.
There are a number of classes to choose from as well, each one vastly different from any others. You’ll eventually get to pick 4 classes to wield simultaneously, though the post-game lets you swap classes on the fly. While some classes definitely feel more powerful than others (Speedster has got some insane abilities) none of them feel underserved, and acquiring four different classes typically fills any gaps that any single class may have.
“You can’t be a Canadian though (probably because of our beady eyes and flapping heads), so that was a minor disappointment.”
There’s also quite a lot of customizability for your character outside of classes. Skin color, hair, clothing, and makeup/scars are all available to make your own South Park avatar, but the system goes even deeper than that. Sexuality, ethnicity, gender, religion, and even economic status are all played for laughs as you fill out your Dungeons and Dragons-esque character sheet, leading you to eventually have an incredibly long title like “Agnostic Cisgender Bisexual White American Male”. It’s basically South Park doing what it does best while simultaneously allowing for an impressive amount of character depth. You can’t be a Canadian though (probably because of our beady eyes and flapping heads), so that was a minor disappointment.
Outside of combat you’ll primarily wander the town of South Park, gathering followers on “Coonstagram” and completing side-quests. I love these sections because of the increasingly rare sense of discovery that South Park is chock-full of. You’ll find plenty of closed-off areas and locked rooms throughout the story, but you’ll also find the means to bypass these restrictions as you play. I found myself constantly running back and forth to explore new parts of the town purely because I wanted to see what I had unlocked. Sometimes it would be secret boss fights, or summon items, or the game’s best collectable, yaoi. (yes, you collect yaoi of Craig and Tweek in this game, and it is as ridiculous as it sounds). I absolutely loved finding show references and new areas to plunder, a feeling I rarely get outside of Metroidvania games.
Visually, The Fractured But Whole is everything one could want from a South Park game. The show’s style is emulated perfectly to the point of cutscenes looking exactly like scenes from the show. The famous locales of South Park, from Stark’s Pond to the Elementary school, look exactly as they do in the show. This makes you feel like you really are exploring South Park, both the location and the show. It’s basically a fan’s dream come true, and wonderfully easy on the eyes for those who don’t necessarily keep up with the series.
The sound is as accurate as the visuals, with guitar twangs and light tunes that are straight out of the show. The character voices, almost entirely provided by series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, are flawless. Every character sounds exactly as they should; whether it’s Butters’s adorable innocence or Cartman’s dickery, the defining characteristics of the show’s iconic cast of characters is on full display.
The Final Word
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is hilarious and mechanically superior to its predecessor. While the story loses its way towards the end and the battles can feel a bit long, The Fractured But Whole is a fun and funny ride for fans and newbies alike.
-MonsterVine Rating: 4.5 out of 5 – Great