Developer: Ubisoft San Francisco
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
I’ve always been a fan of the South Park series ever since I first graced my eyes upon it as a nine-year-old back in 1998, so naturally I fell in love with South Park: The Stick of Truth when it released in 2014. Whilst it was a great game though, I never expected to see a sequel, so when Ubisoft revealed South Park: The Fractured but Whole at E3 2016 I was pleasantly surprised.
Whilst South Park: The Stick of Truth offered a turn-based RPG twist on the fantasy genre though, South Park: The Fractured but Whole brings superheroes to the fray as well as a new tiled-based combat system. Outside of those differences, both games share a lot of similarities; one of which is that they were both delayed a lot up until release, and the other (and most significant) being that they’re both great games.
The story of South Park: The Fractured but Whole more than less carries on directly from its predecessor, with the children still playing their game of swords and sorcery. You’re still the New Kid and you’re still King following the events of the day before, but things take a turn when Cartman (in his Coon alter-ego) decides that it’s time to play a new game – one of superheroes!
After re-forming Coon and Friends and allowing you to join in on the action, you’re tasked with one job: finding out who has been kidnapping the many cats of South Park in order to get a $100 reward. As you’d expect though, the quest to find the cat-nappers becomes more absurd, epic, and ridiculous the further you progress through the game, but it always manages to remain utterly entertaining.
Of course, you can’t just dive into being a superhero without earning a reputation first, and that’s where ‘Coonstagram’ comes in. Coonstagram is South Park’s favourite social networking site and dictates just how popular someone is – the more followers you have, the bigger your reputation. The only way you can get more followers is by having a selfie with each person you meet, though you often have to complete a task for them in order for them to do this. It’s silly, but it adds an extra dimension to the game that I really appreciated.
As you can imagine, South Park: The Fractured but Whole still has the traditional South Park humour in place where nothing is ever off limits and just about anyone might find themselves offended. If you don’t like the show already there’ll be nothing to change your mind here, though the constant references to the Marvel (and abuse hurled at the DC) Universe might appeal to fans of superheroes. Just be ready for plenty of remarks that make fun of race, gender, religion, and so much more. It’s never afraid to cross the line (and believe me, it does) but you know what you’re getting into – this is South Park and you’ve simply got to embrace the style of humour it offers, or stay away. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt when laughing at some very, VERY offensive jokes…
You take on the role of the New Kid in South Park: The Fractured but Whole, but once again you’re able to choose what class of superhero you want to play as. There are three on offer initially (the Speedster, Brutalist, and Blaster) though you’ll eventually be able to choose from a substantial selection as a subclass including the likes of the Cyborg, Psychic, Gadgeteer, and Elementalist to name a few.
There’s a surprising amount of depth to the class system considering how simplified South Park: The Fractured but Whole feels to play in general. As you unlock more classes for your character you’ll be able to mix their different abilities together, meaning you can define your character’s skillset to perfectly suit how you want to play. You can customise your loadout before each battle too, meaning you’ve got the flexibility to change everything on the fly. It offers a lot of freedom, but more importantly never forces you to play in a specific way. There were certain abilities that I found useful earlier on in the game for example, but were nullified by later enemies – rather than being left at a disadvantage, I was instead able to completely change them around and use something which was more useful for the situation I found myself in.
You can customise the look of the New Kid too, with a wide variety of options available to create the perfect superhero style. Each class has its own pre-set look, but you can actually equip any costume item that you find around South Park. There are plenty of creative options out there that relate to the show, whilst there are also plenty that are based around actual superheroes too – you could easily look like Thor, Iron Man, or Captain America if you wanted. My character was equipped with a bra on his head, spiked gloves, and the Assassin’s garb from Assassin’s Creed (a uPlay bonus), and he looked absolutely glorious. There are plenty of options on offer though, so you can do you.
South Park: The Fractured but Whole features a grid-based battle system where players take it in turns to move across the battlefield and unleash attacks upon their opponents. These attacks often have limited range or cover specific areas – you might have to be right next to an opponent to hurt them for example, or alternatively some might only attack enemies that are located horizontally. Luckily, you can preview each of your attacks and your movement is never set in stone until you’ve actually made your attack, so there’s a lot of flexibility in place with each turn you take.
Outside of your standard attacks and movement, you also have an ultimate meter in place that when filled allows you to unleash your ‘Ultimate Attack’. This attack varies from hero to hero, with a good variety of moves on offer; Fastpass’ attack will see him running all over the world as he unleashes a ferocious attack on a line of foes for example, whilst The Coon’s sees him plotting out the success of his franchise before he lets rip upon his foe with some vicious slices. Depending on his class, the New Kid has a variety of different Ultimate Attacks on offer, though one is only ever available at any given time. The Ultimate Attacks are all game changers and all pack a punch, but they’re also spectacles to look at. I never grew tired of unleashing them, whilst the sheer variety on offer never ceased to impress me – every time I unlocked a new class or a new combat buddy, one of the first things I’d do is check out their Ultimate Attack.
You can also use summons in battle such as Jimbo and Ned who’ll come to the battlefield to shoot at your opponents, or Moses who will come and heal your party. Again, these are neat touches to the game that are completely optional to unlock, but add an extra sense of depth to the combat system. They’re not vital to succeed, but at the same time there’s something great about having Jimbo and Ned assist you with gunfire (even if they’re no Ifrit)…
Battles are initiated in real-time, with enemies running into the player whilst on the streets of South Park. This means you’ll always be aware of when an enemy is about to attack, but also how to avoid them – you can easily run away from most pursuing enemies, especially since they’re typically a fair distance away from the player. Alternatively, you can actually gain the advantage pre-battle by throwing a fart their way to gross them out (poison them), or by punching them as they approach you to get the first turn. There’s a bit of creativity on offer in how battles are initiated, but you can also take advantage of it to be given the upper hand too.
The only problem I had with the game’s combat was that it’s incredibly easy. I didn’t die once during a combat situation on the normal difficulty, nor was I ever in a situation where I came close to it. This could’ve easily been due to the fact that I’m experienced in the genre and had a powerful team, but I actually think that the game might just be a bit easy. Those who want a decent challenge might want to up the difficulty to the highest one possible, otherwise they can expect South Park: The Fractured but Whole to be a bit of a breeze.
It wouldn’t be a South Park game without having farting involved heavily in the experience, and South Park: The Fractured but Whole certainly delivers on that front. The protagonist is able to use special powers known as ‘Timefarts’ both in and out of combat to unleash a variety of special abilities. Outside of battle it might be something as simple as farting to freeze time or to even rewind time, whilst in battle they can be used to cancel an enemy’s turn or to unleash a few cheap shots upon your foes. It’s a clever mechanic that lives up to the series’ reputation whilst also adding a unique touch to gameplay, regardless of how gross it might be. I’m just glad I didn’t play the game with the Nosulus Rift…
Crafting plays a big role in South Park: The Fractured but Whole, with Morgan Freeman teaching you how to mix components to create all-new items fairly early on in the game (and yes, you read that right). This might mean putting together consumables to keep yourself revitalised during battle, creating new outfits to keep your hero stylish, or crafting the vital artifacts that you use to keep your party strong.
You don’t level up your character’s strength in South Park: The Fractured but Whole in a traditional manner, but instead see your overall ‘Might’ increase by equipping a variety of different artifacts that can raise your stats in differing ways. It’s a clever system that simplifies the process of levelling up, though RPG veterans might be left a little dissatisfied at the lack of depth that’s involved – no matter the differences that are made to your party’s stats, it’s typically just easier to equip the items that increase your overall Might the most.
Whilst crafting is vital if you want a lot of the best equipment, a lot of items can be found in the environment and bought from vendors. You could easily complete the game without crafting a non-story related item, so it’s a system that could be completely bypassed if you so desire. It’d be a shame though, because some of the best items you can get in-game are from crafting.
Whilst you don’t necessarily level up your characters, you will see your ‘Hero Rank’ improve as you unlock experience points from completing the various side quests and challenges throughout the game. Your Hero Rank allows you to equip more artifacts which in turn increases your Might, so naturally a higher Hero Rank typically makes for a stronger party.
There’s no shortage of quests to complete throughout the game, with a good mixture of bulky main quests mixed up with smaller side quests. These side quests might be something as simple as putting up someone’s headshots to promote their comedy career, delivering Mrs. Cartman’s ‘business cards’ to potential male clients, finding Big Gay Al’s missing cats, or even beating up a bunch of paedophile Catholic priests – basically, it’s the kind of quests you’d expect from a South Park game. New quests will continually crop up though so you’ll never be short of things to do.
The only problem with the side quests was that they’re typically fetch quests with a few instances of combat thrown in for good measure, with not many of them feeling too substantial from a gameplay perspective. There’s a lot of backtracking involved too; you’re given the freedom to explore almost the whole of South Park quite early in the game, so re-visiting the same locations could grow a little tiring over time. Thankfully, the absurd situations and fantastic writing of the game make the side quests feel worthwhile, though in a game that didn’t have as much of a personality they could’ve easily been seen as a bit of a hindrance.
At least the main quests are a lot more fleshed out and take you to a wider variety of locations, some of which have some really clever twists upon them. I don’t want to spoil anything here for players, so let’s just say to expect the unexpected whilst venturing through what might seem like normal locations. More importantly though, the main quests often brought something different to combat too, with some pretty epic boss encounters on show as well as some unique scenarios that don’t necessarily demand that you beat enemies as much as you run away from them. There’s simply no doubting that the meatier main missions were the pick of the bunch and probably the most enjoyable endeavours you’d take part in during your time with South Park: The Fractured but Whole.
Outside of battling and completing quests, it’s enjoyable just to explore the town of South Park and uncover its many secrets and puzzles. You have the freedom to adventure through the entirety of the town and visit all of its buildings, with each one full to the brim with references to the show or little Easter eggs to uncover.
There’s an ‘Inspection Mode’ in place too, which feels very similar to the Arkham Games’ ‘Detective Mode’ in that it lets you examine the environment carefully and points out any hidden objects or clues. This might be to identify objects that you can destroy with firecrackers, to find any big obstacles that can be toppled with Captain Diabetes’ super strength, or to locate any hard to reach locations that require the Human Kite’s ‘farkour’ abilities to reach. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock some buddy abilities that allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas, so you’ll continually uncover more things in the environment from start to end. These abilities also utilise farts in clever (and often disturbing) ways too, so they’re always entertaining to witness.
Visually, South Park: The Fractured but Whole looks incredibly impressive; it’s probably become a bit of a cliché to say at this point, but it’s almost like you’re watching an episode of the TV show. The animations are on point, the interpretation of a South Park driven by superheroes is amazing, whilst the voice acting is bloody great too. It’s everything you’d expect from the studio.
However, I did notice a few glitches here and there. The most obvious one was that characters would often speak, but there’d be no sound to go alongside it. Sometimes the sound would actually kick in a few seconds late, but would then get cut off when the speaking animation was finished. There were also a couple of occasions where characters would move in cutscenes, but it would be staggered as if they were stuck in one spot – this wasn’t so common though, with it only occurring a couple of times during my playthrough. Lastly, some of the load times were a pain, with constant loading screens often breaking up the smooth transition of freely exploring the town and its buildings. None of these issues ruin the game by any means, but they were certainly noticeable.
I thoroughly enjoyed my twenty-hour adventure through South Park: The Fractured but Whole, with the game offering plenty of the things I loved about The Stick of Truth but also evolving upon the formula with its new premise and its surprisingly deep combat mechanics. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to be partaking in some epic in-depth RPG action with complicated systems in place, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the game actually had more than enough unique ideas of its own and never just relied upon the brand to do the hard work.
There are so many zany and outright disturbing things I could talk about in this review, but the absurdity of South Park: The Fractured but Whole is best appreciated when witnessed yourself. It really is something special and those who love the show (or have a very juvenile sense of humour) will have a smile on their face from the start up until the very end.
There are a few flaws in place, both technical and from a gameplay perspective, but in all South Park: The Fractured but Whole offers an entertaining adventure that’ll keep both fans of the show and gamers alike enthralled until the end credits. Just stay away if you’re easily offended…