In 2014, Obsidian Entertainment and Ubisoft delivered an amazing South Park game with South Park: The Stick of Truth. After a rocky history of licensed South Park titles in the past, Obsidian developed arguably one of the best games based off of a licensed property ever. Ubisoft is looking for lightning to strike twice with the sequel, The Fractured but Whole. Obsidian has been dropped in favor of an in-house studio this time, which was slightly concerning at first. Regardless, the results are pretty great, despite a few blunders that bothered me.
The Fractured but Whole opens as players return to the town of South Park once again filling the shoes of the new kid in town. The game picks up directly where The Stick of Truth left off, but this time the children of South Park decide to drop the high fantasy role playing and swap to super heroes instead. In an attempt to secure funding for their super hero entertainment franchise, the kids split into two warring factions competing to collect a $100 random for a missing cat. Along the way, the kids find themselves in all sorts of wacky situations.
Upon starting a new game, players will create their own South Park character. This character, once again, takes the role of the same new kid from The Stick of Truth. Again, your character possesses magical fart powers that can “bend space and time”. At first, your character will be shunned by the rest of the kids. Eventually, the new kid will become the hero the children of South Park need in order to fight crime and secure their film franchise rights.
As players progress through the game, new costume pieces can be collected that allow them to customize what sort of super hero they desire. Hitting specific story beats also allow players to add new sub-classes to their character which enable a plethora of new abilities in battle. Collectible relics are also hidden all over South Park that, when equipped, will raise your character’s power rating and stats associated to each type of skill.
Not much has changed in terms of gameplay and structure in The Fractured but Whole. Players will still explore the town of South Park freely while completing various story quests, side missions and solving environmental puzzles. The map of South Park is almost identical to the one found in A Stick of Truth, aside from some minor changes and new buildings added. Several hazards will block access to certain areas in the town until specific powers are unlocked through progression. Everything feels very similar to the previous game so I eased into this one as if I never left.
There are plenty of additions to the Stick of Truth formula in The Fractured but Whole, most notably the battle system as received a major overhaul. Ditching the Paper Mario-esque turn-based battle system, Ubisoft implemented a more strategic, grid-based approach. Instead of emulating the likes of Fire Emblem or Ogre Battle, Ubisoft instead fuses together a bit of X-COM with a traditional turn-based battle system. Everything still revolves around characters taking turns, but this time positioning on the grid dictates who attacks who.
For instance, each character has a specific set of attacks or buffs that work within a certain distance on the grid. One attack may shoot projectiles at anything within a four square radius in front of a character. If an enemy character falls into one of the squares on the grid that an attack will cover, they will receive damage. In order to be successful in battle, the player must be aware of everyone’s positioning on the board and how their attacks cover the grid.
Everything you do in battle takes up square spaces on the board. This includes using items to buff or heal an ally. As your party members take hits, a button prompt will appear that gives the player a chance to gain a little health back if pressed in time. After successfully hitting this button prompt enough times in battle, your party will earn an attempt to launch an ultimate attack. Each character has their own ultimate attack which can turn the tide of battle quickly. The animations for each character’s ultimate attacks are pretty hilarious as well.
Special fart abilities are also introduced throughout the story that allow the player to shift combat in their favor. Once every three rounds in combat, you can hold down L2 and R2 to bring up a menu that will allow the player to execute a time fart special move. The most useful move includes canceling out an enemy’s turn, skipping them completely and moving on to the next character in rotation. Another allows players to stop time and get some free hits in on an enemy, which is useful for taking out any enemies holding on to dear life with a small amount of health remaining. I used these moves as often as I could in strategic ways that helped me win the majority of my battles.
One thing I appreciated is how Ubisoft occasionally throws in a combat scenario that requires special conditions to be met instead of defeating every enemy on the board. The first time this happens can be a little confusing at first, where I found myself failing several times before I understood what was going on. After that, I loved the unique challenges these special condition battles provided, which adds a bit of variety to the game. For example, one battle in a nursing home requires the kids to back away from enemies and escape through the front door instead of defeating all of the enemies inside.
Initially, I wasn’t a fan of this new grid-based battle system. I never could find enjoyment in the battle systems found in strategy RPGs. As a result, the drastic change from the traditional turn-based battle system turned me off at first. However, thanks to the simplicity of the battle system mixed with the strategy involving player movement and distance, I found each battle to be much more engaging than before.
Once I sunk around three or four hours into the game, my appreciation for the battle system grew and by the end I ended up appreciating it more than A Stick of Truth’s take on combat. It helps that the controls are razor sharp throughout the entire game too.
The Fractured but Whole includes just about every South Park child character you can think of, with many of them able to be added to your party. You can choose up to three characters to aid you in battle and more are thrown on the roster as you progress. These characters even unlock special abilities that can be used to solve puzzles, such as Captain Diabetes’ ability to be farted on, which throws him into a Hulk-like state and lifts heavy objects blocking your path. Some of these abilities are needed to access major areas in the world map too, which can sometimes make getting from point A to point B a little annoying until all abilities are unlocked.
One of the elements I LOVED about The Stick of Truth was the faux Facebook feature that allowed players to add characters in town as friends. Status updates would appear and a fake Facebook feed could be browsed through that would give players hints as well as deliver clever gags.
The Fractured but Whole includes a very similar feature; this time with a fake version of Instagram called Coonstagram. This time, players will find, and sometimes must convince, characters in town to take selfies with them in order to add them as friends. Even though it’s a different social media platform and a different method of adding new friends, it’s still a very smart and hilarious feature that I loved here.
A handy crafting system is also included in The Fractured but Whole, because video games require crafting systems these days, it seems. Scattered all around South Park are crafting materials that can be used to create healing items, character buffs, costume pieces and power relics. All of the various names for these crafting items range from humorous to vile objects. Thankfully, for those who despise crafting in games, this feature can be largely ignored in favor of spending extra cash on items in shops and vending machines.
Visually, The Fractured but Whole may not be looker at first glance. It doesn’t really need to be. What’s impressive about the game is that it looks identical to an episode of South Park, making the game look indistinguishable from the TV show. For that reason alone, Ubisoft deserves praise here once again.
All of your favorite South Park characters, show references, silly voices and musical numbers are all packed into this game. My only complaint is that the standard music played throughout the gist of the adventure sounds like your generic super hero fare. The entire story is a parody of Marvel properties, so I’m sure it’s all intentional, but nonetheless I largely ignored the music as a result.
The element that made The Stick of Truth so memorable was the writing. Show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone wrote the game as they would any episode of the show. Thanks to the freedom to do whatever they wanted in an censor-free environment, Trey and Matt wrote an over-the-top, hilariously offensive, and extremely funny story that takes players through some pretty bizarre situations.
The same goes for The Fractured but Whole, but I mostly found the writing not nearly as strong as The Stick of Truth‘s. The game’s set pieces seemed to lack the intelligence that the original game possessed. I found myself laughing at little moments sprinkled throughout the 15 hour campaign instead of the big, elaborate set pieces.
Not to say that The Fractured but Whole isn’t a funny game, because it certainly is. The highlight of the entire adventure takes place in a strip club where our heroes must battle through angry strippers while searching for leads on who kidnapped the cat. The mixture of the music, environment design, and writing here were pitch perfect. Unfortunately, this happens fairly early on and the game never really delivers another set piece as smart as this going forward. Still, you’ll certainly get a good amount of laughs throughout.
One big flaw that I found while playing The Fractured but Whole was how the game handled the ending. Around halfway through the game, the developers introduce a gag that’s a reference to a classic South Park episode. Once the game’s narrative begins to wrap up, it runs this gag into the ground so hard that it became obnoxious quickly. I was at the point where I became annoyed with a certain scenario due to the gag overstaying its welcome. For this reason, I felt like the game failed to stick the landing in terms of narrative.
I finished the game in about 15 hours, which lasted a little longer than the previous game. Depending on the difficulty level of the combat and whether or not the player cares about hitting 100% completion, the game could last upwards to 20 hours easily. Playing various difficulty levels, I found the normal and casual settings to both be fairly easy, where the harder difficulty will require players to make smarter moves within the battle system. The game starts off a little slow too, with what feels like a 3 hour long tutorial, but none of it felt like it dragged the experience down. For the $60 asking price, I felt like I got my moneys worth here.
South Park: The Fractured but Whole retains the same style of gameplay I loved from the original. The battle system has been greatly enhanced to a more engaging, strategic approach and the roster of party members are a lot of fun. I still found a lot of humor in the fake social media platform integrated in the game and exploring the town was always a treat.
Even though I greatly enjoyed my time with The Fractured but Whole, the writing was a pretty big let down for me overall. Still, anybody who appreciates South Park, its satire and its brand of humor will find a lot to love here. Just don’t expect to laugh hysterically at everything the game throws at you and I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
South Park: The Fractured but Whole
- Looks identical to an episode of the show
- Much improved battle system
- Addictive gameplay
- Amazingly faithful presentation
- Writing isn't as strong as predecessor
- Music is rather generic
- First few hours are slow
- Ending joke became obnoxious