Even more so than 2014’s South Park: The Stick of Truth, Ubisoft San Francisco’s twice-delayed The Fractured But Whole — yes, that’s actually the game’s real name — makes the player feel like they’re inside an episode of the long-running, often envelope-pushing, animated comedy series.
The title takes many of the gameplay mechanics established with The Stick of Truth — a video game that in its own right also felt like an interactive episode of South Park, gross-out toilet humour and all — and turns particular aspects of the title both up, and to my surprise, down a notch.
While The Stick of Truth adopted the sensibilities of an old-school, turn-based Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) pulled right out of the mid-90s, The Fractured But Whole simplifies the first game’s approach by streamlining its character upgrade process through a surprisingly clever artifact system, as well as by paring back its obtuse crafting system.
In some ways, I’d go so far as to compare The Fractured But Whole and The Stick of Truth to Mass Effect 2 and the first Mass Effect . Just like Bioware’s sci-fi franchise, the second entry in the series removes much of the first title’s bloat, giving the game a more streamlined, cinematic feel that makes it more accessible to players not familiar with turn-based RPGs, or who aren’t interested in the intricacies of party management.
As a result of this though, those who appreciated the surprisingly hardcore nature of The Stick of Truth will be disappointed to learn that many of the first title’s RPG heavy features have not carried over to this sequel
The Fractured But Whole looks like multiple episodes of the TV series spliced together into an interactive experience, complete with zooming camera angles, witty dialogue and both familiar and more obscure characters from the TV show. In many ways, The Fractured But Whole, which was developed with extensive input from series’ creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, feels like a lost season of South Park — and if you’re a fan of the long-running TV series, this is definitely a good thing.
The game’s new combat system is the main shift fans of the original game will notice has changed with this sequel, with The Fractured But Whole opting to ditch the classic 16-bit era turn-based JRPG system I was actually quite fond of.
In its place is a slightly more dynamic and involved combat structure which includes a grid and lining up your characters from different vantage points to take best advantage of their abilities. The combat system has a surprising amount of depth to it and can be very technical, especially if you opt for one of the title’s higher difficulties. A particularly nice touch is the ability to box enemies in and chain attacks together — you can even kick foes into objects in the environment like cars or trees too.
As a side note, you only level up your own character this time around, which means you don’t have to worry about grinding out battles to ensure your team is a high enough level to move through the game. While I found this shift refreshing, those who enjoy micro-managing a party will likely be disappointed by this change.
Also, if you thought the series would tone things down now that Ubisoft is at the helm, you’re very wrong. If anything, The Fractured But Whole pushes the envelope even further, causing me to, at times, question some of the title’s more controversial comedic moves.
Executing humour in a video game is not an easy task because comedy often requires specific timing. Hitting punchlines and making jokes is just inherently more difficult in an interactive world, making The Stick of Truth one of the few successful comedic video games to ever be released. For the most part, The Fractured But Whole’s various awkward situations, witty lines and show-accurate cutscenes are hilarious, just like its predecessor.
For instance, one point in the game has players giving a fart-fueled lap dance in a seedy strip club, while in another, you’re taking down Kyle Schwartz, Kyle’s cousin, in an alternate universe superhero battle pulled right from a Marvel film.
The Fractured Butt Whole’s focus on lampooning the film industry’s ongoing obsession with creating expansive, multi-movie universes based on increasingly obscure superhero comics is both relevant and compelling in 2017. I do, however, miss The Stick of Truth’s ability to poke fun at video games and the role-playing genre in general. While some video game related humour is present in The Fractured But Whole, this topic isn’t as prevalent in the sequel.
Players familiar with South Park will recognize characters like Cartman’s The Coon, Kenny’s Mysterion, Token’s TupperWare and many other offensive, playful and downright ridiculous superheroes.
South Park is often at its best when it’s tackling a poignant issue through the innocence (or lack of) of its main characters. For the most part and without giving too much away, this is a theme The Fractured But Whole is built around.
Additionally, Ubisoft San Francisco has done an excellent job of linking the first game and the second title in a way that makes sense, though I won’t go into specifics in an effort to avoid spoilers.
Interacting with a toilet launches a mini-game focused on defecating, fire crackers can be thrown at objects to solve puzzles and there’s also a mechanic that requires the player to take selfies with townsfolk to improve their ‘Coonstagram’ influencer rating. Most of the title’s puzzles are easy to solve, though a few are mind-bending. The more complicated quests and tasks — and there are a multitude of side quests — sometimes even feeling like a throwback to classic point-and-click adventure games.
As a nice touch, when kids are battling, a car will occasionally appear, forcing combat to stop as the driver of the vehicle yells obscenities at the children.
The title feels like it was designed with accessibility in mind, particularly when it comes to South Park fans who may not be familiar with the turn-based RPG genre.
Depending on how you felt about The Stick of Truth, this may be a bad thing.
Overall I’ve enjoyed my time with South Park: The Fractured But Whole, despite the fact that the game in some ways felt like a parred down version of The Stick of Truth. While I actually recommended The Stick of Truth to those not familiar with the South Park series, but who were looking for a solid, throw-back RPG, I wouldn’t do the same for the Fractured But Whole.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is set to be available on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC on October 17th.