I have always been a fan of South Park since it first aired and watched seasons of the TV Show, the films and just about everything I could absorb about the franchise. The Stick of Truth was the most immersive South Park experience a fan could have and boy did they really go all in with the humour and willingness to not compromise and even go further with their humour for the game. The game was also a very solid RPG with fun turn based combat and gear systems then made this a very serious game. Now we are back with South Park the Fractured but Whole with the focus moving from that of fantasy and magic to the world of Superheroes. It is time to come on down to South Park and see some friends of mine…
Fractured but Whole is a direct continuation from The Stick of Truth with the main character players get to be, still the ‘New Kid’ who has only just moved to South Park. Our hero lives in the same house just a couple of doors down from Eric Cartman, the town is the same with the familiar shops and roads and locations as the first game and it took mere moments to be immersed once again in the world of this little old mountain town. That immersion is absolutely key for players to get the best from the South Park games and how both Stick of Truth and Fractured but Whole manage to do this so quickly for fans is a real joy. I love how the switch from the magic and fantasy world in the first game into the sudden universe of superheroes is made so effortlessly. By effortlessly I mean it is simply a case of the kids deciding they are done playing ‘that game’ and Cartman moves the group into playing superheroes as kids would, and having the New Kid just left standing in Cartman’s back yard whilst all the other kids have left is genius.
Cartman or ‘The Coon’ quickly summons his superhero team of ‘Coon and friends’ together to their secret hideout, his mum’s basement, to reveal that a cat is missing but the reward for finding the cat is just what they need to kick start their own Superhero film franchise. However The Coon tells the team that a rival superhero team, Freedom Pals is also looking for the cat in the hopes of using the reward money to begin their own superhero billion dollar film franchise so the race is now on, to fight crime and to find the missing cat. But of course, in order to gain our superpowers we must first have an origin story which The Coon is happy to oblige. This is where players can start to create their superhero persona by choosing their starting powers of either speedster, blaster or super strength. This sequence really sets the tone for things to come and got to be honest here, genuine laugh out loud moment for me right away.
It also serves as a great tutorial for the brand new combat system in the game which although it retains the traditional turn based combat that, has now been updated tremendously. Still turn based but now characters have three super-moves to use based on their powers to use in combat. But now you also have more movement in combat, something taken from more modern and recent JRPG style games so the combat area acts like a grid or chessboard and characters can be moved within this grid as depending on how much movement area they have and if there is an empty space to move to. This new mechanic allows for a much deeper fight as moving to either avoid an impending enemy attack or to reposition in order to maximize your own attack adds a new level of strategy to the combat and is a most welcome addition. I really love the new supermove that each character has that builds up during the combat and is boosted by hitting A to recover from an enemy attack. The ultimate move meter can only be used once by your team once it has built up so deciding when to use it can change the flow of a fight depending on what ultimate moves your team has. The animations for some of the ultimate moves are beyond crazy funny with some genius selections for some of the characters. Summons are still present and there are four that can be collected throughout the game and are triggered just like using a consumable so are limited in uses and combined this is perhaps the most refined combat you could have in an South Park game which is yet again surprising. In a game that parodies so much, it takes the combat and RPG elements very seriously and just as in the first game, is a rich and deep side to the game that makes it all the more satisfying to play.
Another new element to the game is the Crafting system, which allows the player to use the junk and scrap collected all over to craft new items such as consumables like food which serve as health packs to crafting brand new gear in the form of new costumes and artifacts. The gear system is used to increase your ‘Might’ level with new slots available as you level up and more powerful artifacts can be crafted based on recipes found or obtained during gameplay. The artifacts can boost your attributes depending on what powers you have equipped as moves whilst also increasing health, so picking what artifacts can bolster your own powers can really help in the later battles in the story. As you grow stronger and level up you will be given the opportunity to change your origin back story in order to access new powers, something The Coon is unhappy about letting you do which can result in having different power moves in combat to call on. You can edit the moves available as well outside of combat so you can really start to customise your Superhero persona in almost every way.
Of course the next important thing about a superhero after your powers is deciding what your superhero costume is and boy does Fractured but Whole offer you a full dazzling array of outfits to pick from. Some are clearly inspired by the comic book worlds of DC and MARVEL with some brilliant takes on some of the well known heroes from both but all have that awesome “made at home from anything lying around” style to them. Some can be found by discovering ‘Coon and Friends’ chests scattered around the town with some requiring some puzzle solving to access and some are rewards for winning fights in and around the main story and some will require a certain crafting level to create. You can even mix and match different parts from different outfits to create your own and each piece can have a colour chosen for it. It is staggering just how much players can customise their own superhero from appearance right down to their powers making this a real joy to just play around with till you find the hero you want to be.
Being a South Park game there is of course plenty of cultural references and social commentary thrown in such as social justice warriors, racist cops and labelling. Now after playing Stick of Truth, I had expected more moments of gasps and ‘oh now you didn’t’ but to be honest, nothing was really all that shocking this time around. That is not to say that it is tame by any means and there are some moments that will leave you open mouthed at times, but this is very much a South Park experience with the volume turned up to 11 with the freedom a video game can have to really push the limits of what you can get away with. That said, if you never played the Stick of Truth (which by the way you get for free for purchasing Fractured but Whole before January 2018) then this could well be rather shocking but in true South Park tradition never leaves you feeling uncomfortable with the humour if you are familiar with the show. The main campaign came in at 25 hours for me, which is a lot of South Park and the amount of side stuff to do along with the main story itself will give you plenty of things to do with things to collect and the town to explore.
But that 25 hours can drag at times, not to an annoying degree but there are times when you do feel as though you have seen and done it all especially with the random fights that pop up although, it never really get old fighting sixth graders, ninjas, crab people and the Raisin Girls but there is a point in the later stages of the game when you have fully leveled up, have all the artifact slots available that I felt all I could really do was to complete the main story but should you complete the main story and still have things to find and collect do not worry, as you go right back into the world after the story ends thankfully.
Overall I really loved my time with Fractured but Whole as it once again allowed me to return to South Park as a fan and be completed immersed in the world in a way that is only possible in a video game. Every aspect to the first game that I loved has been enhanced and improved for this game. The combat and RPG elements have all been brought up to date and the very fact that until January, it comes packaged with The Stick of Truth just makes it the most complete South Park experience a fan can have right now. I relished the new buddy system that allows you to summon an ally to come help solve a puzzle to access new areas and the time bending “farting powers” is pure genius at times. I would say though that this will suffer the same replay issue as The Stick of Truth in that once you have played through it and learned all the jokes and big moments that they will lose their impact on subsequent playthroughs .
But the sheer excellence in the writing, design and execution of this game speaks volumes for the potential to do more and with story based DLC in the future for Fractured but Whole, there are plenty more laughs to be had. I even returned to The Stick of Truth and you can instantly feel the improvements made over it but it still holds its own today. It has been a long wait for this sequel which originally was supposed to come out last year but the wait has been worth it. I am still amazed at just how credible the gameplay is which loses nothing from all the humour thrown in on top.
Still the most satisfying South Park experience you can have as a fan and so many laugh out loud moments that I am eagerly awaiting the DLC and I am still refining my superhero character in appearance and powers after completing the main story because the amount of options is crazy fun. There really is no better time to revisit Cartman and pals then right now!