There’s a defining investment irony split between South Park the show, and South Park the current series of games (Stick of Truth, The Fractured But Whole). Leaving aside the amount of time it takes to make either -- and they’re literally years apart -- on a viewer/player level South Park the show is immediately digestible and bursts at the comedy seams with breakneck speed. South Park the game(s) require a fair amount of investment with smaller, less throat-jamming comedy spread about a fully realised Park County. What this does is in absolute antithesis to how South Park Studios draws in its viewers, but with series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker pulling the strings on both ends, this disparate investment principle still works across both platforms and delivers that comedy we all know, love and hate in equal laugh-out-load measure.
If you played South Park: The Stick of Truth, you’re largely in for a very familiar experience here. In Obsidian’s foray, some of the fart and mini-game controls were a bit… well, not so great. Ubisoft San Francisco has listened to that feedback and addressed this in spades. The game’s main mini-game is, as you can only expect from Matt and Trey, about shitting. In fact there’s an initial challenge thrown down to the gamer to try and shit in every toilet in the town of South Park. It’s a game about shitting.
But funnily enough, South Park as a brand is about shitting on everything. They even had an episode about how many times was too many times to say shit in a TV show back when swearing was creeping into mainstream, primetime TV. They love the word, and they love act (shit measured in Courics, for example), and in South Park: The Fractured But Whole, it’s front and centre of the whole damn thing; aiming squarely for the S-Bend, with
abomb. And that’s okay, because it works here and the comedy fits. Just bear this in mind: if you don’t like shit, dick and fart jokes, this game might not be for you.
So what’s changed? Combat -- specifically -- has been tightened up with a turn-based grid system. Characters can attack mainly anyone in their lane and there are moves that allow you to attack multiple enemies within that lane. You can also knock enemies into each other, the environment and most importantly, into your other party members if you’ve moved them across this South Park chessboard cleverly. Different characters have different movement options, and you have your basic warrior, elf and mage setup -- to keep it simple. Characters build up a special (with Jimmy’s trumping everyone’s
), which can be used by any character in your party. And, in keeping with the traditional RPG rules of the series, buffs and antibuffs apply, but with clever item-management and character power usage, it’s all very manageable.
I mentioned earlier warriors, elves and mages but this game isn’t strictly about warriors
which, is it’s other biggest differential to The Stick of Truth. And if you’ve spent anytime over the past 10 or so years watching and absorbing big-screen (and now small) superhero content, the team and Matt and Trey go to town on the comic book genre.
But they do this with a sense of reverence to where those things actually came from: the Funny Pages. And with the kids in the game swapping from their Game of Thrones game to Superheroes, the town, albeit ever so slightly, morphs with that change, making that familiarity from the Stick of Truth still fresh and engaging.
The loot-chasing loop is also as good as it ever has been here, while leveling up can take it’s time, it’s good to get out into the world to look for those telltale signs of something hidden, not quite not
out of sight. And you gain XP for chasing these things and they have their own levels, gamifying an already game-heavy gameplay loop. Say that fast five times.
Environmental puzzles have also seen a boost in complexity, but being able to solve them brings this review somewhat full circle in that lengthy investment I ranted on about earlier. It takes a long time to get the most out of The Fractured But Whole, and no amount of reverent and irreverent superhero comedy can maintain a measured hook on the game. Combat is lengthy early on, and it takes an equally long time to unlock more and more ways to make you and your party more powerful. There are upgrades and collectibles galore, and in many ways, like The Stick of Truth, The Fractured But Whole is as traditional an RPG as you can get, despite fighting enemies such as horny anal rose bead bearing (and tucking) Catholic Priests, or a “Drunk on Red Wine” near-pantsless Randy Marsh.
It’s for both South Park fans and RPG fans, but finding that balance between the two audiences might prove a bit tricky. However, if you’re a fan of both you’re in for a challenging and investment-heavy treat. The game’s polish was worth the wait. It’s combat is much-improved and the story -- if you care -- has some wonderful peaks across a South Park consistent delivery of social commentary alongside all those aforementioned dick, shit and fart jokes. Boss battles are always engaging and when you do finally gain those abilities to tackle all of the Town’s secrets, it culminates in a fantastic and excellent experience. You just need to have the patience to sit on the pot for a while, before you can decide to shit and move on (to awkwardly mess up an old saying).