Some days it’s hard to believe that South Park began airing its irreverent, no-holds-barred, stylistically unique animation 20 years ago. For as long as the show has been on television, it has been depicting traditionally taboo subject matter and shattering the social norms that TV shows often adhere to. Matt Stone and Trey Parker pride themselves on their ability to be immediately relevant, with a quick turnaround that lampoons current events, covering the spectrum from politics to entertainment. It seems that nothing is safe from the South Park treatment, and with a number of episodes already taking on video games in many different ways, it was only a matter of time before Stone and Parker took on the interactive medium in a more direct manner.
South Park: The Stick of Truth was a phenomenal game. It may have been a lighter RPG, but it translated the South Park experience to interactivity better than any attempt at a South Park game before it. It was more true to its property than any other licensed work I’ve played, more than likely because of Stone and Parker’s direct involvement. The follow-up, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, is no different. If it looks like South Park, sounds like South Park, and has a superhero origin story that ends with “and then you saw your dad…fuck your mom,” then it must be South Park.
Picking up almost immediately where the first game leaves off, I was an all powerful king, but it’s not long before Cartman effectively decides that they’re done playing fantasy. It’s time to get into the superhero game, and as the new kid, I’m not welcome to play this one with them. I force my way in, but I’ve got to work myself up from lowly street hero to a powerful icon again. It’s a cruel twist of fate that is painfully reminiscent of how children play, and yet also a mirror into how quickly society moves from one thing to the next, making the great deeds of a noble king rapidly irrelevant.
Cartman, as the hero Coon, wants his franchise to espouse the same virtues as the Marvel Cinematic Universe–that is to say, Coon and Friends wants to dominate the world with a three-phase, ten-year film and television arc that will make them billions of dollars. They’re dogged by their rivals, the Freedom Pals, former members of the group who had a falling out during the South Park episode that acted as a prequel to the game. Of course it’s never just a simple venture, and a nefarious plot is discovered that rounds up some favorite South Park references and cameos for a story that never seems to pull the punches.
The Fractured But Whole never really reuses more niche jokes and characters that made appearances in the first game. While I appreciate that it feels unique, it also seems like many of the cameo appearances and references in the first game were from the whole history of the South Park show. The Fractured But Whole pulls from more recent airings. It doesn’t make it any less funny, but those who have kept up with the show will get more value from the countless references to different episodes from the last four years. Admittedly, I haven’t watched much of the more recent South Park, but I still found The Fractured But Whole to be hilarious. I never felt left out of a joke just because I haven’t been actively watching the show, a balance that’s important when crossing mediums from cinematic to interactive.
Much of South Park embodies the wonder of playing make believe as a child, albeit with the mature mind, attitude, and subjects of an adult. I remember being a kid and tying a blanket around my neck to be a superhero, leaping off my bed in nothing but swim goggles and underwear. Of course, I also remember being in my early twenties and pretending I was a Transformer by wearing a pizza box, so it really isn’t too far of a stretch. South Park: The Fractured But Whole turns everyday household objects into costumes and powers. Tupperware becomes a sweet mech suit. Tinfoil becomes a brain wave reflecting helmet. The kid with crutches somehow has the powers of the Flash.
Updating the simple turn-based battle system from the first, The Fractured But Whole takes a tactical approach, laying the board out like a grid. New kid, along with three additional characters, can perform different abilities that take up spaces on the grid, a far more strategic fare than the first game provided. Where The Stick of Truth became too easy by the end, the grind in Fractured But Whole is much more balanced. Never did I feel the need to go out and grind to get more powerful, but I also didn’t come across battles in my progression that were too easy. The tactics of moving around the board always made me feel that I had to play smart or risk losing the fight. Do I risk getting in close for a powerful punch when Jared Fogle has his five dollar footlong held in his hand at crotch level, or do I make the safer but weaker distant play?
Other small changes from the first help to make a better player experience. Customization of the character is no longer tied to power or abilities, so I can outfit myself however I want and earn new class abilities independent of my look. The town of South Park also feels like a much more interesting place to explore now. Instead of being the set piece and backdrop against which the game is set, there are side missions and secrets that litter the entire town. I need to get selfies with as many people as I can to gain followers, while finding Big Gay Al’s cats, and becoming Cartman’s mom’s pimp, among a plethora of other tasks and finding various pieces of different superhero outfits. Teaming up with other heroes will grant custom abilities that make South Park able to be explored multiple times over, like doing Fartkour with the Human Kite to reach the tops of buildings.
Of course it’s not all sunshine and mountain rainbows in South Park. It’s only mostly sunshine and mountain rainbows (and crab people. Lots of crab people). One of my biggest gripes in games is the oversight that doesn’t allow you to adjust the game boundaries to your own TV. My TV frequently kicks some of the image slightly off of the edge, so I had some issues figuring some ability configurations and the battle order, as these elements are on the fringes of the screen. There was one progression puzzle that I solved entirely by luck because the edge of the screen hid a pathway I was supposed to open.
I also ran into some odd visual glitches where characters didn’t move properly in battle or a model was set too far forward in the scene, allowing my character to walk behind it and break the illusion. None of these oddities broke the game however, except one issue where I fartkoured to the top of an area and the prompt to get down did not load so I was stuck. Luckily the game has an auto-save slot, so I was only set back by a couple of minutes, but it did set me into a state of panic for a few moments as I calculated how long it had been since I last saved.
Despite these couple of technical misgivings, South Park: The Fractured But Whole is another interactive journey into the minds of Matt Stone and Trey Parker. I quite literally felt like I was playing the show for the 15 hours that I spent in South Park–not surprising, given that the first game met that uncanny caliber of delivering a near perfect recreation. If easily offended, chances are you’ve already written off South Park, and chances are even higher that you aren’t reading this review. Surrounding the fart jokes and fourth graders who love to say fuck a lot, there is a brutally intelligent comedic commentary on many aspects of modern society. It’s something that South Park has always been great at, and something that translates incredibly well to interactivity. Where the first game made a believer out of me, The Fractured But Whole had me
farting falling in love with South Park all over again.
South Park The Fractured But Whole review code provided by publisher. Version 1.02 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on review scores, please read our Review Policy.