The Video Gamer’s Experience – South Park: The Fractured But Whole Review

2014 was an incredibly interesting time for gamers and game companies as the eighth generation of video game hardware had been ushered in thanks to the arrivals of Sony’s Playstation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One consoles, yet there were still highly anticipated games being made for last generation consoles as well including the next attempt at turning a critically acclaimed animated TV series into a twelve to fifteen hour digital experience. After many attempts during the Playstation/Nintendo 64 era at making a “South Park” game that was worthy of its resource material, it seemed fans of both the show & games wouldn’t get what many hoped for: an ability to step into the fictional, insane world of “South Park” and revel in its chaos (no pun intended). But that notion changed in 2014 after Matt Stone and Trey Parker (the show’s creators) contacted Obsidian Entertainment with their idea of a role playing game based off of their infamous series. After five years of labor, “South Park: The Stick of Truth” was released to surprisingly high praise from everyone including yours truly. With the announcement of a sequel that promised to be wilder & more uncut than the original, I was incredibly hyped for what could be one of the best gaming experiences of 2017.



Did I Complete “South Park: The Fractured But Whole”


Not surprisingly, “The Fractured But Whole” doesn’t negate all the wackiness that came before it by having the player take control of their own created character that is introduced to everyone as “The New Kid” (because no new kids have come to South Park since the last game). The entirely silent protagonist becomes the focal point of not only the player’s experience, but also the entire story as the kids of South Park move on from doing their best imitation of “Game of Thrones” and “Lord of the Rings” (a “South Park” season seventeen reference) to donning the superhero outfits we discovered they all had a few seasons prior while attempting to cash in on the superhero fad that has made TV & movie studios millions of dollars. Like the last game, “The Fractured But Whole” sticks to the role-playing game formula, but switches things up by going a more tactical route. There are side quests, collectables, and even a secret battle involving everyone’s favorite freckled taco salesman. After nearly twenty-five hours I turned my character as Caucasian as possible to conquer the game’s toughest, yet optional battle after completing the main story on “Mastermind” difficulty to meet the criteria necessary to attain “The Token Experience” trophy/achievement (play the entire main story as a dark skinned character on the hardest difficulty) and obtaining all the collectables necessary for trophy/achievement completion. Following a successful battle against a marvelous man who could charm any person around him for more than two minutes, I saw the platinum trophy pop on my screen for another totally completed “South Park” RPG.


Did “South Park: The Fractured But Whole” Live Up to the Hype?


“The Stick of Truth” definitely set a new standard when it comes to licensed video games as the series’ creators did everything in their power to mix their love for old school RPGs with their most successful work on a mainstream level. Instead of playing it safe, developer Ubisoft San Francisco switches things up when it comes to the battle system. Gone is “The Stick of Truth’s” turn-based battle mechanics incredibly similar to the timed-based attacks of previous RPGs “Paper Mario”, “Legend of Dragoon” and “Lost Odyssey”. In its place is a more turn-based tactical scenario where characters (both allies & adversaries) can move around the battlefield thanks to the grid pattern shown any time it’s a character’s turn. Thanks to the HUD at the bottom of the screen featuring information such as attack order, players can strategize what’s the best option to take when going into the figurative next round of battle. While “The Stick of Truth’s” battle system was good thanks to an intuitive blocking system and its mostly pick-up-and-play simplicity, the sequel is better in almost every way thanks to this change in battle presentation as enemies prove to be a lot more difficult depending on the quality of a player’s planning, fights have the ability to last longer & be more tense, and the variety of abilities available to The New Kid can allow for the player to be anything from a power house to a supportive healer. Thanks to the grid setup, plays can be made where characters are knocked back into one another for double damage or even put in hazardous positions for a urine-filled water balloon attack that covers more than one grid. Status effects (bleeding, burning, gross, chilled/frozen, slow) also return, but aren’t connected to gear like “TSOT” and are primarily inflicted by attacks.



Similar to the previous iteration, the player can assign The New Kid to a “class” that dictates what kind of role the character will play on the battlefield. Unlike “TSOT”, every class offers greatly different opportunities and, most importantly, the player isn’t forced to stay in that one class throughout the entire game. The classes themselves pay homage to several superhero archetypes like the introductory options “Blaster” (“X-Men’s” Cyclops), “Speedster” (The Flash) and “Brutalist” (Thing from “The Fantastic Four”). As the game progresses so do the class options including more supportive roles like the “Plantmancer” class (Poison Ivy, anyone). Tied to each class is an “Ultimate Move”. While all the allies have a specific Ultimate Move, The New Kid’s Ultimate Move is tied to the specific class being in use (though it can be changed in the menu section for mix & match options depending on what works for a particular battle that can be accessed before any battle and when moving around the map). A bar fills up at the top of the screen with each successful attack by & on the player. When the bar reaches 100% the player can unleash an all-out attack that can do everything from brutally beating an enemy to death from that enemy’s perspective to reviving fallen allies with the power of majestic queefing. Bringing it all together are the returning Fart powers The New Kid possesses. While the previous game’s Farting techniques centered on puzzle solving and magic usage in battle, expelling stinky gas from The New Kid can do anything from rewinding time to make an enemy lose a turn to introducing a temporary clone of The New Kid to fight alongside the original in battle while clearing paths and solving simple puzzles when moving around the map. Fart attacks also need to be recharged during battle, meaning they can only be used maybe a couple of times per fight.

Gear played a big role in “The Stick of Truth” as adding patches/strap-ons to clothing would allow for stat boosts as well as the addition of status effect attacks. As noted above, status effects in “Fractured” are solely tied to specific attacks like The New Kid’s fart press that can gross out nearby enemies. Team stat boosts are now connected to “Artifacts” (items that can be both found and crafted thanks to this game’s implementation of a crafting system so every piece of junk actually is worth something unlike in “TSOT”). These Artifacts can help improve critical strike damage, health recovery, and how fast the Ultimate Move bar fills up. Associated with Artifacts are “DNA Strands”. DNA Strands prove to be The New Kid’s sole stat booster, but can come at a price as each Strand offers different limitations such as becoming stronger might lower Kid’s health by a third; or having the ability to land critical strikes better while impede brawn’s efficiency. While there is only one slot for DNA Strands, multiple Artifacts slots open the more The New Kid levels up.



For all the good the battle system provides, there are some disappointments. Thanks to the kids being superheroes there aren’t any weapons to be had here outside of the ones specifically connected to a character that can’t be upgraded or changed. The lacking patches/strap-ons definitely takes some getting used to as it they were a major implementation in the previous iteration that made clothing actually mean something than simply being around for aesthetics (which is exactly what clothes are in this game). Summon attacks are back, but severely lacking in effectiveness & entertainment. Gone is the absurdity of Mr. Slave turning an actual human into Lemmiwinks to save the kids from facing a sure death in battle and in its place is Classi running a kid over with her car. And, most importantly, the enemy variations are severely lacking. A majority of the time The New Kid & friends will take on sixth graders and Raisins girls with a few ninjas and crab people thrown in to mix things up. In “The Stick of Truth”, it never felt like the enemy offerings got stagnant (one minute The New Kid is slaughtering dire wolves, the next avoiding gross nazi abortions spewing vomit) – but the same can’t be stated about “Fractured”. The boss battles on the other hand are incredibly fun and varied nearly until the very end that feature so many infamous characters doing their best to kill The New Kid.



Exploration is both more impressive, yet not as varied compared to “TSOT”. The town of South Park has been fully realized compared to its predecessor thanks to the lack of hardware limitations that hindered the previous game. Around the town are multiple collectibles including Yaoi art celebrating the relationship between Craig & Tweek, ‘Memberries, and toilets that need to be pooped in via a mini-game that can be somewhat challenging depending on the toilet. While filling out The New Kid’s “Character Sheet”, the player has the chance to take selfies with various South Park townspeople to gain followers, use The New Kid’s fart power to discover hidden places & items, solve puzzles & open up new paths, and complete the solid amount of side quests that can range from getting counseling from Mr. Mackey while explaining your gender, to helping a Gay Fish send his mom to Heaven. There is a lacking of detail when it comes to the more layered side quests that can only be completed later on; leaving the player to wonder if something’s gone wrong when scanning the map to discover nothing in the way of progress. There is also a shortage of special environments in this one as a majority of the game simply takes place in the visible area of South Park – no alien spaceships, 8-bit Canada or underground sewer searches this time around.

But one of the most impressive things about “The Stick of Truth” wasn’t its battle system or the collectables, but just how similar the game was to the actual TV product – being something of a love letter to long-time fans while delivering so many character-based jokes that a non-fan of “South Park” would still get a hearty laugh. “The Fractured But Whole” is funny as well, but obviously lacking thanks to one thing the previous iteration had going for it that this one doesn’t: seventeen seasons of unique material. When “TSOT” released, “South Park” the TV series had seventeen seasons & one movie worth of material to pull from that could be specifically used for a first-time experience. With a lot of that material used up in “TSOT”, “The Fractured But Whole” either sticks to a lot of what made the last three seasons (eighteen-twenty) unique such as ‘Memberberries or go into the old bag for moments of diminishing returns (Crab people) and underwhelming redundancy (the explanation as to why The New Kid has so many super powers & can’t speak). That doesn’t mean there aren’t several moments of sheer hilarity that’ll stick with the player longer than the smell The New Kid leaves when trying to stop time (Mr. Mackey trying to repair Tweek & Craig’s relationship; Kyle’s Jewish stereotype cousin; and the explanation as to why the cops of South Park are so racist).



The overall narrative lasts at least fifteen hours and is mostly strong throughout, but there is a major problem: the ending. Not to spoil too much, but the game’s final battle and overall ending rank up there as some of the worst in recent video game history as the prior is ridiculously easy (which is made even more profound by the fact the battle directly before it is one of the best in the game) and the latter pays homage to the abrupt nature of the show itself when concluding a rather ridiculous story. When the credits roll it’s hard not to feel like you’ve been trolled for fifteen to twenty hours – something no one enjoys when playing a game of significant length. From a technical aspect, “The Fractured But Whole” not only looks like an episode of “South Park”, but at times it looks better even if it comes as the experience of the game’s frame rate at odd times when moving around the town. Glitches were few & far between, but the most distressing one has to be the auto-save glitch that can happen at any time and won’t allow the player to manually save. Thankfully for yours truly I noticed it almost immediately and only lost a couple of minutes of gameplay without it corrupting my save. There are also some minor sound & lip synching issues that’ll leave out some beginning dialogue at times so make sure you turn on the subtitles.

“The Stick of Truth” truly set a high standard that “The Fractured But Whole” was able to surpass in certain areas (the battle system, a mostly strong story), fall short in others (overall humor, enemy variation) and stay status quo (side quest variations, exploration options); producing a mixed bag of “South Park” fun that’s incredibly divisive just like the TV show’s eighteenth through twentieth seasons.


Should You Play “South Park: The Fractured But Whole”


Like its predecessor, “The Fractured But Whole” has some glaring problems; but unlike “The Stick of Truth” those flaws don’t come to the figurative surface until late in the game including a lackluster final battle and an ending that will disappoint no matter who you are. But before all that there’s a fantastic experience based around a stronger battle system compared to its predecessor, consistent story with some new ground lightly treaded, and hilarious moments aplenty even if it doesn’t produce the same amount of laughs as “TSOT. For “South Park” fans and those who simply enjoyed the previous game this one will be right up your ally, but “TFBW” won’t end up surpassing what came before it a generation ago. With that being stated, it’s hard to give the game a full recommendation on the basis of the ending alone. RPGs are built on the premise of storytelling and having an insulting conclusion definitely hurts the overall experience. “The Fractured But Whole” is a worthy successor to “The Stick of Truth” by capturing the essence of “South Park” the show, but in the end goes too far in honoring the resource material. It’s definitely worth a purchase, but only when it’s on sale (or when the inevitable “Complete Edition” arrives sometime next year featuring all the DLC).


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