The very first moment of player interaction in South Park: A Fractured But Whole is a pooping minigame. It’s an undeniably juvenile bit, but one that’s surprisingly fun to play and somehow funny despite itself. It is, then, a perfect metaphor for the rest of the game, and for the South Park franchise as a whole. Immediately preceding this exercise in deuce-dropping is a story setup that picks up right where the last game (The Stick of Truth) left off. The kids of South Park are still locked in an intense LARP battle between humans and elves, when Cartman decides to switch up the imaginary playing field and don his superhero persona, The Coon. Inspired by a missing cat poster promising a $100 reward, Cartman unites the Coon and Friends league of heroes to track it down and use the reward money to kickstart their rise to fame and lofty plans for a cinematic universe. Reprising your role as ‘The New Kid’ from the previous games, you’ll join Coon and Friends on their mission, developing your own superhero backstory along the way. Of course, in true South Park fashion, things don’t pan out so simply, and the friends soon find themselves balls-deep in a conspiracy with more layers than Inception and more fart jokes that anyone should be subjected to.
Fart-activated diabetic superpowers? Yep, it’s definitely a South Park game
The Fractured But Whole plays much like its predecessor, and it’s clear that Ubisoft San Francisco have tried to strike a balance between making improvements and straying too far from the formula established by Obsidian Entertainment in The Stick of Truth. The most immediate change is in the battle system. Ditching the basic, Mario RPG-style combat from the previous game in favour of something closer to a strategy RPG considerably deepens the experience and allows for a plethora of exciting new tactics. Immediately, the increase in active party members from two to four makes things more interesting, and a grid-based movement system makes smart positioning and forward planning essential. The New Kid has access to a raft of abilities, based on his or her chosen class, and employing them in tandem with the abilities of your friends can lead to some devastating combos. Throw a multitude of inflictable status effects, items, summons and “ultimate” moves into the fray, and you have the recipe for something that feels much less like an RPG-themed South Park game and more like a real RPG that happens to be set in South Park. Most importantly, the trademark South Park humour that is so integral to the experience is deftly woven into the very fabric of every fight. Almost every move and mechanic is just as much a punchline as a viable battle strategy, and the sheer amount of character dialogue reacting perfectly to the countless possible combinations in battle is astounding. The whole thing would be near-perfect if not for a slightly clumsy interface that occasionally works against the player, and a difficulty level that is only ever slightly demanding right towards the end of the game.
One of these kids is not like the others
Outside of battle, things feel pretty similar to The Stick of Truth. Again, you’ll find yourself exploring the fully-mapped-out town of South Park and taking on various quests in your search for the truth behind the missing feline. Getting around town, and poking at its various nooks and crannies for both useful loot or some well-placed fan service is just as entertaining as before, if not as revolutionary as the first time the world saw it laid out in full in the previous game. Adding new wrinkles to the experience are various ‘buddy actions’ that act both as puzzle devices that lead to secrets, and as progress gates that slowly open up as more allies join the cause. All of these abilities, in fact most of the personal and environmental interactions in the game, are based on The New Kid’s supernaturally powerful flatulence. Of course, this wouldn’t be a South Park game without a hefty dose of toilet humour to balance out the intelligent and biting satire, but over the course of the 15+ hour main questline the fart jokes start to feel more than a little overdone. Thankfully, as a whole the writing and humour in AFBW is beyond excellent. Though the opening third of the game tends to drag a little, once the plot really gets going, things get pretty wild. Between the increasingly shocking twists and turns of the broad plot and the gargantuan number of jokes stuffed into every sequence, AFBW is absolutely one of the funniest and most ridiculous games I’ve ever played. From subtle jabs at the games industry to hard-hitting deconstructions of racial profiling and gender identity, nothing is sacred here, and the whole thing stands toe-to-toe with the best episodes of the TV show.
The Peppermint Hippo, now with new branch in Inner Melbourne!
A Fractured But Whole’s real triumph is in the sheer multitude of ways in which to shape The New Kid, both in gameplay and out. First and foremost, rather than a simple levelling-up system, earning experience and gaining ranks in AFBW affords The New Kid more slots to equip artifacts. These are powerful objects that increase player and party stats, and are gained either through careful exploration or use of the game’s robust crafting system. On top of that, as time goes they’ll gain access to multiple new classes to add to their original choice, and add more classic South Park characters to their party, allowing for a huge amount of scope in crafting and fine-tuning a playstyle to suit every situation. The New Kid’s superhero origin story is just as malleable as their fighting style, too. Completing various quests and story milestones adds to their character sheet, eventually filling in important details such as their nationality, gender identity and religious beliefs – all player choice and all completely inclusive. Topping it all off with a staggering amount of unlockable costumes and accessories means that no two The New Kids are the same, and it’s now truly possible to put yourself in the world of South Park.
DLC bus? What’s next, the micro-tram-saction? Am I right?
Perhaps unsurprisingly for fans of the previous game, it happens to be a world that’s recreated in a shockingly accurate way. Visually, A Fractured but Whole looks and sounds exactly like the show, and unlike The Stick of Truth, it does so with nary distracting hitch or annoying bug in sight. For the second time around, a game based on the franchise has been so expertly crafted that it’s near indistinguishable from the source material, and the fact that the total content likely doubles that of the first game is an impressive feat.
South Park: The Fractured but Whole goes beyond being just a fan’s wet dream, and is a legitimately great RPG in its own right. If you can look past the relentless fart jokes and slow opening act, you’ll find a game that not only improves on its predecessor in almost every way, but firmly establishes itself as the best example of two entertainment mediums coming together in a meaningful and productive way.
Reviewed on Xbox One S