South Park: The Fractured But Whole (Xbox One Review)
South Park has, and always will have, a rather contentious reputation. By tackling social, economic, racial, sexist, and religious issues in a snowy mountainside town it has also cemented its place in television history. South Park’s fan base thrives on the controversy that the show stirs up, feeding on the crass nature of the toilet humour and revelling in the message that show claims to broadcast through the show’s political and social torchbearer; Kyle. But how does this translate to South Park: The Fractured but Whole?
Well, the videogames attached to South Park are slightly different. South Park: The Fractured but Whole struggles to remove itself from the lowbrow demeanour of many of the cast members and encourages that often provocative cutscenes of the series, ensuring that they play a large part in the set pieces that build the game’s story. And that’s because South Park: The Fractured but Whole doesn’t have a message to send. It’s like Matt Stone and Trey Parker had no greater purpose to serve with The Fractured but Hole, so they decided to reinforce the toilet humour and controversial moments that the show had tried place itself above.
As a direct sequel to The Stick of Truth, you reprise your role as New Kid at the height of a battle between the LARPing characters from the previous game. This battle abruptly ends as Cartman barges in with another “get rich quick” scheme and proposes that the team find a missing cat and use the reward to start a superhero franchise. You’re quickly dethroned and plunge the ranks to start from the bottom in what promises to be an unpredictable and eccentric journey throughout the town of South Park.
It’s pretty obvious that you’ll spend the entirety of South Park: The Fractured but Whole getting reacquainted with the community that populates such a busy town. There is plenty to explore, with areas becoming more fleshed out that the Stick of Truth, but it’s fundamentally the exact same. You’ve already explored all these areas before, turning a trip down memory lane into a recollection of game that still holds a place in recent memory. Even going as far to repeating some of the exact same actions of the first game.
Although that doesn’t mean that the residents are the exact same. Characters like PC Principal and even the extremely irritating Memberries all make an appearance. The town has also received somewhat of a facelift. New places to explore, like Skeeter’s Wine Bar, Crunchy’s Micro Brew, and the exuberant Shi Tpa Town all provide new nooks and crannies to raid. Even though it’s nice to see a bit of diversity in the locations, there is one major caveat in that these additional locations relate to far more recent seasons of South Park. So, people who haven’t watched the latest episodes will struggle to really grasp a great deal of the jokes. Thankfully, it doesn’t detract too much of the experience as the revamped gameplay keeps South Park: The Fractured but Whole fresh.
South Park has ditched turn based combat in favour of a more Western approach. Your party is no longer fixated to one point on the battlefield. Now you can move about a grid, with each character having their own unique range based on their classes and stats. This allows you to manipulate objects, and indeed your own characters, to pincer enemies for extra damage or set off traps. It even more impressive when you consider that the combat is largely beginner friendly but allows for a large number of different tactics to be implemented at ease. Although, there is a point that the beginner friendly approach gains access to the noxious time warping fart powers, allowing our protagonist to skip an opponent’s turn or freeze them in time to attack them freely. These time powers also extend beyond combat, creating scenarios where you’re able to rewind time to solve puzzles in the open world. It’s just a shame that many of these puzzles are connected to story sensitive events, preventing you from really playing about with them.
Your time powers aren’t always enough to save you, that’s where your allies step in. Players have a total of ten South Parkers to choose from. Each ally has their own superhero persona and moves; Jimmy can travel at Mach speed, moving around the board and switching positions with enemies; Kyle can fire lasers from his eyes to deal damage from a distance; And Tweek can call on the elements to freeze and shock opponents into submission. You, however, are not confined to just one class. Throughout the story you will amass your powers and unlock the ability to expand your repertoire from the starting 3 classes to all 10. Mixing and matching whatever powers suit you prior to every battle, should you wish to, making sure you can topple the mightiest of foes.
After all, every superhero needs to have a supervillain. Butters revives his roles as Professor Chaos. Providing an entertaining opposition that requires you to keep his mischievous misdeeds in check. On top of that, there are other villains birthed from the occult juxtaposed enemies that are sol silly that you can’t help but laugh them out of the door.
In spite of these rather creative villains, there comes a point where the battles can often become strenuous. The extremely early plateau of South Park’s difficulty combined with its repetition will often bore you. Even though there are enough team compositions to keep you entertained, you’ll naturally stick with whatever feels the most comfortable and there will ultimately be little to no challenge in combat.
Assuming that you are like me, in that I can’t help myself from raiding the nearest cupboard for valuables, you will never sit idle in South Park. Costumes, crafting materials, artifacts, and money are hidden throughout the town. While costumes only really serve to make you look spiffier, artifacts play a more substantial role. These enigmatic artifacts come in the guise of familiar set pieces, childlike toys, and strange paraphernalia from the annals of South Park’s 20 year legacy. Each artefact boasts its own “Might” level, a signifier of your character’s current power, and offers various different stat boosts that influence your powers in battle. There are also Yaoi posters to be found about the town, but if you don’t know what Yaoi is don’t google it in public.
Beyond the physical collection of items, South Park: The Fractured but Whole also has its very own in-game app to amass friends called Coonstagram. Just like Instagram, you’ll spend your time taking pictures of friends and pursuing an ever increasing follower count through these selfies. At the very least, it encourages you to speak to all the denizens of South Park and get to know them a bit better, even if it means you need to switch your outfit to appease them.
My interest in South Park has waned over the years, dipping in and out of the TV show when time allowed. At a particular low point, in my opinion, The Stick of Truth managed to salvage my love of the series. Now, 3 years later, I feel that South Park: The Fractured but Whole has sought to destroy the bridges its predecessor rebuilt. The funny moments are sporadic, lost amongst a series of tired gags and namechecks, but the gameplay goes someway to saving the overall experience. For the first half of The Fractured but Whole combat was genuinely enthralling, but it soon stagnated. I pushed on hoping that there would be a big revelation that inspired me to continue, but by the time the credits rolled there was no new mechanic in site. It’s a game made for South Park fans, die hards at that. But for a more casual audience, there isn’t much to highlight as a selling point and it pales in comparison to The Stick of Truth, which just so happens to be bundled with every new copy of South Park: The Fractured but Whole. I guess there truly is a silver lining to every putrid arse cloud.