South Park: The Fractured but Whole

"If you find yourself in the center of the Venn diagram of "people who enjoy South Park" and "people who enjoy turn-based RPGs" then South Park: The Fractured but Whole and its predecessor The Stick of Truth are both must-play video games."

If you actively dislike the TV show South Park, then stop wasting time reading this review. South Park: The Fractured but Whole is distilled South Park in video game form and makes no effort to provide extra explanation or guidance for players unfamiliar with South Park's setting or characters. It's hard to recommend The Fractured but Whole to non-enthusiasts of South Park, but fans of South Park: The Stick of Truth should find that The Fractured but Whole meets expectations.

South Park: The Fractured but Whole (TFBW) is a direct follow-up to 2014's The Stick of Truth, both chronologically and thematically. In the first scene of TFBW, the children of South Park are playing the large-scale fantasy game central to The Stick of Truth until Eric Cartman abruptly decides to play superheroes instead. It's unclear if Cartman's motivation is to seek a $100 reward for a missing cat, reassert a leadership role during play, or something more complicated. Most of the superhero names and concepts from this game originated in a 2009 South Park episode called "The Coon," also the name of Cartman's raccoon-themed superhero persona.

The player character in South Park: The Fractured but Whole is The New Kid, a child who moved to South Park just before the events of The Stick of Truth. After Cartman and the other children start playing superheroes, The New Kid joins Cartman's superhero faction, Coon and Friends. Their rival faction, led by Kenny and Timmy, is Freedom Pals. The story kicks off with an investigation into South Park's missing cats, leads to an underground cat urine drug ring, and eventually spirals out of control in true South Park fashion (time travel, an ancient evil, and genetic engineering are all involved). The game's main villain is a character with a long history in the South Park universe whom I wasn't expecting to see. In general, the story goes some interesting places and should be rewarding to follow for South Park fans.

The New Kid teams up with both Coon and Friends and the Freedom Pals throughout the story and eventually has all eleven children from both factions as available allies, plus Call Girl, Wendy Testaburger's independent superheroine alias (she has cell phone powers). In addition, as the story advances, The New Kid deals with his parents' increasing hostility towards each other, eventually tying into The New Kid's mysterious social media prowess from the previous game and his mysterious flatulence. Most of the plot threads were resolved to my satisfaction by game's end, but the story construction seemed a little flimsy in The Fractured but Whole. Playing The Stick of Truth beforehand is not necessary but strongly recommended for the story to make more sense.

The superhero send-up elements in The Fractured but Whole draw from several films in the Marvel Universe as well as the recent Christian Bale Batman movies. Some of the superhero jokes are quite amusing (Super Craig's lack of imagination in his costume, Timmy's powers like those of Professor X), while others either fall flat or take a mediocre joke too far (Scott's diabetes granting him powers similar to The Hulk). Both Coon and Friends and Freedom Pals aspire to be mega-franchises with multiple films and Netflix series, and the schism between them likely sprung out of creative differences. For these young superheroes, fighting for truth, love, and justice is ancillary to those lofty multimedia goals.

South Park: The Fractured but Whole takes place in an extremely fictionalized version of South Park, a small snowy town in Colorado. The game's world map is shown in a 2D plane with 360-degree movement for the main character. The map appears nearly identical to that of The Stick of Truth, but with a few additional buildings; the ruins of the mall and Taco Bell are visible, but not accessible. Navigating areas in The Fractured but Whole sometimes requires assistance from fart powers or help from your allies; using these abilities to solve puzzles make dungeons occasionally feel like an adventure game of the LucasArts era. For example, Stan's sandblasting power is required to clear lava (which is actually piles of red LEGOs), so to clear any lava Stan must be an available party member and you must successfully complete a brief minigame.

The cutscenes look perfect for a South Park game; most of them are indistinguishable from a scene in the TV show. The game's audio is also TV-perfect, with every major character's voice work consistent with the show. The musical score has a grandness to it that fits the superhero movies that The Fractured but Whole parodies. One unfortunate break in the game immersion takes place on occasion during map navigation. You need to line up your character perfectly adjacent to certain items to interact with them, which feels like trying to punch an enemy in an old arcade beat 'em up game where you must be on the same horizontal axis to connect. It doesn't always work perfectly/as intended.

Early on in The Fractured but Whole, The New Kid chooses a superhero class between Speedster, Brutalist, and Blaster. At specific points in the story, The New Kid is allowed to add additional classes from a list of 12 but is always limited to four selectable skills at a time. Your party supports up to four heroes at once (including The New Kid), and most of the other characters have skills similar to one of The New Kid's classes. I preferred throwing The New Kid into melee combat, so I typically used a combination of Brutalist, Assassin, and Karate Kid skills. My favorite party members were Stan, Wendy, and Kenny (Toolshed, Call Girl, and Mysterion), but everyone on the team is at least serviceable in combat.

Battles are similar to the previous game, with enemies visible in the field and turn-based battles taking place when contact is made. Regular enemies include Chaos Minions, Sixth Graders, Raisins Girls, Senior Citizens, and a few other recurring enemy types with specific traits. At one point in the game, The New Kid is forced to choose a weakness against one enemy type. Like Stick of Truth, every skill in the game has an attached timing minigame to score critical hits. These critical hits are more simply presented than in The Stick of Truth, with concentric circles signaling button presses like in a rhythm game for nearly every attack. Also, The Fractured but Whole replaces The Stick of Truth's timed defensive button presses with an easier, more generous health recovery bonus. Unlike The Stick of Truth, combat in The Fractured but Whole takes place on a rectangular grid, and character movement and attack area of effect are key to success. Status effects, repositioning skills, shielding skills, and healing skills are all options in addition to direct damage. There are many more skills and party members present in The Fractured but Whole than in the first South Park RPG.

The Fractured but Whole is noteworthy for a few particularly creative boss encounters. The final boss of the U Store It facility undergoes different transformations; one late-game boss is an early-game character transformed into a giant, able to perform instant-kill attacks but with a weakness to sunlight; one mid-game boss can only take damage if it eats its own minions, which you must herd into its telegraphed devour attack. This is a complexity of fight situations not present in The Stick of Truth, and The Fractured but Whole is better for it.

The New Kid manages everything including powers, party members, inventory, maps, and social media through their smartphone. The smartphone has apps for managing all of those systems, such as a crafting system for most items and a character sheet displaying basic stats and side quests. Your character level increases through combat and also by completing quests, which range from finding talking Memberberries to defeating certain enemy types. Gaining levels allows your character to equip more artifact items, which are The New Kid's only form of equipment. Armor items are now cosmetic-only costumes, allowing players to choose The New Kid's clothing without worrying about it affecting stats or skills. And there are well over a hundred costume items in the game.

A lot of the humor in The Fractured but Whole is hidden in your smartphone, in item descriptions and social media. The Coonstagram app regularly updates with texts and images from characters with whom you've connected via selfie, and their exchanges are often hilarious. There is an abundance of regular items to collect in The Fractured but Whole, nearly all of which are references to episodes of the TV show. They lack the amusing item descriptions of The Stick of Truth but are categorized in such a way that it makes collecting and crafting items easy to do without micromanagement. For example, any "food" item will contribute to your food inventory, and you can craft healing burritos from tortillas and food points. And I should mention: you learn to craft burritos from actor turned taco restaurateur Morgan Freeman, who also teaches you new fart powers by crafting specialty burritos.

South Park: The Fractured but Whole tells its first toilet joke in its title, and from the menu screen onward packs as much scatological humor as possible into a video game, probably setting some kind of record (if such a record exists or is being tabulated, I'd be very interested in reading the attached research). The New Kid's powerful flatulence is central to their role in both story and gameplay; from the very beginning there is a sidequest to successfully poop in as many toilets as possible (via a minigame that gets quite challenging), and eventually the main character gains the ability to warp the fabric of spacetime with their farts. There is also an excess of vomit and other excrement present in the game, so players with aversions to any of that should beware.

The Fractured but Whole's problematic humor doesn't stop at bodily functions. The player designs The New Kid's appearance at the start of the game and fills in specific details about The New Kid (including gender, sexuality, race, and religion) later on. Those later four details are handled in a manner that toes the line between respectful and offensive. None of them affect gameplay, but some dialog changes depending on the player character's gender and sexuality. Notably, The Fractured but Whole attaches skin color to a difficulty setting, and players will earn less money if they choose a darker skin tone. No other gameplay systems, like combat or skill customization, are affected by skin color. In addition, The Fractured but Whole includes racial profiling by police as a plot point and employs racial and homophobic slurs in a few names (but not in typical dialog). Again, whether any lines are crossed depends on the player, but I feel that South Park's writers told jokes in poor taste a little too often in The Fractured but Whole.

If you find yourself in the center of the Venn diagram of "people who enjoy South Park" and "people who enjoy turn-based RPGs" then South Park: The Fractured but Whole and its predecessor The Stick of Truth are both must-play video games. If either of those qualifications are negotiable or uncertain for you, then your mileage may vary; The Fractured but Whole is undeniably South Park in its writing and presentation and your love of the show probably correlates directly to your fun playing its new video game. I'm a lapsed South Park fan who enjoyed the show a great deal through the 2000s but hasn't seen many recent episodes. The Fractured but Whole made me wonder if I'd outgrown the show a little, since I felt some of the humor was too puerile, but I enjoyed this gross, inappropriate 20-hour RPG too much for fart jokes to cloud the experience.

This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.

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