Delays. We all hate them, but at the end of the day, it’s something that comes hand in hand with video game development. The Stick of Truth, the first RPG for the animated Comedy Central TV show that was originally part of THQ’s library, was met with a few delays when THQ went under and Ubisoft purchased the rights for it. Development continued for the game with the show’s creators – Trey Parker and Matt Stone – and Obsidian, the development team that the creators of South Park met to begin work on The Stick of Truth. The game eventually released early 2014 after over four years of development and big changes to its gameplay, but that didn’t stop it from being met with a positive reception. This was a release that was more than just a game based on the property, but one that truly felt like an extension of the TV show, bringing across all the comedy with a successful merger into a RPG. Over three years later and a new development studio behind it, the sequel is here, which had its own set of delays, but thankfully, this new team knows what made the first game a success and have released a great RPG for South Park fans.
South Park fans are the keywords in that last paragraph, because the story upholds every inch of the TV show in its writing, so anyone who does not enjoy that style of comedy is going to have a unpleasant time with the game. For the other side, those fans are going to relish in this game’s humour, all the nods to the show and the many Easter eggs packed inside. The story follows directly on from The Stick of Truth, where Cartman has shed his Tolkien fantasy get-up and replaced it with his superhero vigilante costume, known as The Coon. This is down to fantasy being so last year and superheroes being the in thing right now. The New Kid (your character from the last game) was the King, but now must adapt to being a lowly sidekick until he can prove to Cartman and friends that he has the push to gain popularity and be part of the cinematic universe, maybe a TV show or film. The New Kid is part of Cartman’s Coon and Friends, the familiar South Park gang now all dressed up as superheroes, who are on a task to find a missing cat and earn its reward, $100, but with the Freedom Pals unhappy with The Coon’s choices in who gets to star in what superhero franchises, a rivalry forms that pits these sides at each other until there is a winner.
This is another story that feels ripped from an extended South Park special, meaning it is doing the right thing to keep inline with the no-hold barred topics that the show doesn’t shy from, capturing the source material to a T. No topic, race, religion or sex is safe from the game’s comedy, and you will find it hard to hold in laughter at some of the jokes present here. Of course, some of them don’t always hit the mark, feeling a little lazy on the delivery, but there are plenty packed in, some straight in your face, while others more subtle, and if you don’t follow all the political news that goes on, there are still topics relevant to video games and superheroes, which are probably some of the better jokes. Either way, there will be something to find funny, shocking and maybe a little “Ohh, they didn’t just do that? Did they?” as Matt and Trey point at everything and make fun of it.
The only problem I had after finishing the game was that due to the extended length of The Fractured But Whole (it’s nearly double the length of The Stick of Truth), some of the jokes become repetitive, such as pausing the combat to let a car pass the street, which makes the pacing off compared the The Stick of Truth‘s shorter and more fluid delivery.
With fantasy gone and superheroes here, players must recreate their South Park kid with the revised character creator that is packed with more options than The Stick of Truth. The initial setup gives ethnicity, sex and extra clothes and styles, but early parts of the game set up your character to have weaknesses, faith and gender. A class from the three available at the beginning – Blaster, Brutalist and Speedster – determines what skills, attacks and stats your character will have at the start, covering speed, strength and range. These are all so obviously based on key DC and Marvel heroes that I ended up going for the ones I’d feel would make me close to some of my favourite characters, so I went for the Speedster to live out my Flash fantasy.
Many areas of The Factured But Whole, while covered in superhero themes, still play out very similar to The Stick of Truth. Players will explore around the town of South Park, running into famous characters – who you take selfies with to become popular on Coonstagram – to pickup main or side missions, enter various buildings to loot things with useful yellow markings to let you know it can be interacted with while also abusing the freedom to take a crap in their toilet to accomplish a quest to crap in every toilet in the game, find collectable yoai pictures instead of the first game’s Chinpokomon, and last but not least, use the power of flatulence to solve puzzles, going as far as making up a new freedom of movement known as Fartkour. The New Kid’s ass has evolved since the last game, becoming incredibly powerful that it can even bend time and space, enabling new skills to use in battle that can force enemies to skip their moves or slow down time. Outside of battle, the ass can be used to solve puzzles, such as slowing time to grab a guinea pig that is trying to escape from the player throwing fart bombs at it – one’s ass has never had so many advantages, and it manages to make such old fart jokes seem somewhat refreshing.
The biggest change to the formula comes with the reformed battle system. No longer using Paper Mario as a template, the battle system has switched to a grid format to offer more tactical gameplay. The action is turn-based, using speed as a factor to determine who goes first, and with up to three comrades joining in battle with the New Kid and each one having their own class and move lists, there are options here that open up deeper gameplay.
New factors change how one approaches enemies, such as position and distance. Attacks now have range and properties. An example is an attack for speedster, who punches the enemy at lightning speed, sending them across a few squares, while the speedster takes their position on the grid, which is great to force the enemy to be surrounded by team mates, but if their allies remain, the speedster can find themselves in a sticky situation swamped by enemy attacks. Some classes have attacks that miss a square to attack two spaces ahead or even attack to the side, offering all four angles of coverage when it comes to offensive play, while others bring status effects – bleed, slow, burn, sick – to the fight that play a big part in winning some of the more difficulty battles. Importance on having a varied party is key to winning battles. While the game isn’t hard on the standard difficulty, there are a few instances where it can kick it up a notch. These such scenarios often come when the game outnumbers your team, even going as far to force battles that feature the New Kid solo as they take on multiple enemies. There is one such fight against the Raisins Girls that show what tactical battles the game can bring with this battle system, while boss fights truly offer some interesting twists on the core mechanics.
Experience from battles and finishing quests enable the New Kid to gain new classes, mixing up a total of three that enables switching moves between them, gain levels and add additional artifacts. These are items that come with a number that add to the overall might rating (think of this as a power level) and plug into the character to increase various stats. A ton seem to be scattered all around the game, as I remember after around five hours of play, my inventory featured about 20. It got to the point where I was just making my might level higher, as quest lines have recommended might levels and I was trying to meet those to give myself a better chance. At least the game makes inventory management easy and straightforward, enabling players to pick the best stats fast without much time spent in the menus.
Transitioning to the Snowdrop engine hasn’t hurt the presentation or authenticity. The Fractured But Wholeruns smooth with no frame rate issues, and while it might not run at 24 fps, it still replicates the TV show immaculately. From visuals, animation, sounds and the voice actors, it’s all spot on. In that area, I cannot fault anything with The Fractured But Whole.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole successfully continues the quality in adapting South Park to a video game, capturing everything great about the series and once again translating it to an hilarious and enjoyable RPG. The comedy will not be for everyone, and so it makes it hard to recommend the game freely, but for fans of South Park, this game cannot be missed. It’s jammed full of jokes, insults, cameos and nods to the show that fans will get a kick out of it, more so if you are also a fan of the superhero genre. The fantastic bonus is that it also happens to be a great RPG, which has grown and improved with more mechanics and depth than The Stick of Truth to ultimately offer another prime piece of licensed entertainment.