South Park: The Fractured But Whole
The follow up to 2014's South Park: The Stick of Truth makes a strong case for both current and lapsed South Park fans. The revamped battle system in The Fractured But Whole stresses tactics and forces players to think through their current options in any given situation instead of hammering attack buttons to get through. I enjoyed parts of the game, both aesthetically and mechanically, and could see myself engaging with in the future. It’s just the rest I’m not sure about.
The demo took me from the beginning of the game through a few quests of the main story. Once the game opened up, we were able to recruit the rest of the superhero team led by Eric Cartman, who DMs you on Coonstagram with messages and mission headings. Coonstagram itself plays a large role in the game, as taking selfies with willing participants makes you more popular, and not everyone is willing to pose with you until you finish their quests.
Recruiting The Human Kite, Kyle, involves defeating his alternate universe clone. Picking up Super Craig requires the player to run around the basement to help catch his pet gerbil, getting firecrackers out of the deal. Pretty much everywhere you go, there are people to see, jokes to hear, and battles to have, all lovingly recreated to look and feel like an episode of the show.
This should not be shocking to anyone that has played the last South Park game, but these games match the look of the show completely, from single-frame profile turns to the awkward bouncing of characters up and down stairs. The Fractured But Whole is built on The Divison's Snowdrop engine, and uses the actual assets from the show, making for a more authentic experience and leveraging South Park's unique art style to really nail its look. It works to such great effect that, when higher quality art appears in your menu for a scant few seconds, it is almost always hilarious in its abrupt incongruity.
I asked if there would be any enhancements for Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro and was told that the game is targeting the base systems first and foremost.
Stick of Truth aped Paper Mario very deliberately with its battle system, focusing on the timing of both offense and defense as its core mechanic. While The Fractured But Hole retains the timed button presses, the battle system shifts to a positional grid laid out on a 2D plane. When your hero characters engage in battle with enemies, they must move around to get closer to the enemy, or move back to space out their moves as appropriate. You can try to group enemies together, heal your allies in together, try to avoid collateral damage from your attacks, or cheese enemies by pushing them away repeatedly.
Enemies can also do the same thing to your characters, which can be frustrating when all you’re trying to do is get a melee character into the battlefield and they keep getting pushed out. During one mid-boss fight, one enemy kept pushing Super Craig out of bounds, which made it difficult to make headway back into the battlefield.
Battles can also be entered numerous ways. See some fireworks next to the Sixth Graders? Light 'em up by tossing a firecracker in their direction, then attack them to enter battle to start the fight with the enemy on fire. You can fart on enemies to gross them out before the battle begins, courtesy of the burritos that Morgan Freeman helps you craft. It is clear a significant amount of attention went into how the battle systems could integrate with the game as closely as possible.
For better or worse, The Fractured But Hole is not holding anything back. Ubisoft has given Matt Stone and Trey Parker complete freedom to write whatever they want into the game. It will not lack the show’s edginess, but a lot of jokes left me wincing from said edge. The normalization of things like Cartman’s superhero being named “The Coon” kind of reminds me why I dropped off South Park in the first place.
During one quest, the player character visits a Hooters-equivalent known as Raisins, which only hires young girls. The joke was not lost on me, but it didn’t make me feel good that I understood it. The player frees one of the heroes from the apparent clutches of the girls who want the heroes to pay their bills, which causes a battle scene where you bloody the girls up. I wasn’t feeling it, but that was to be expected from the moment I took the quest.
The game is still fraught with social commentary, like the character creator's skin color slider doubling as a difficulty choice. Wanting to make a character accurate to myself, I chose a darker shade for my skin tone, and discovered I was making less money and getting more terse answers than people nearby. It made me laugh and made me feel bad, which makes for a pretty good point.
Ultimately, The Fractured But Whole seems like it will be a treat for South Park fans, and the revamped battle system makes even the random low-level fights feel interesting and fun. The battle difficulty settings allow the player to choose the style best suited for them, but even on normal, early mid-boss fights were challenging without feeling frustrating. Combine that with the game's inherent personality and you have a unique title that should serve as a worthy follow-up to Stick of Truth. For more information, previews, and videos of the game, make sure to check out our home for all South Park: The Fractured But Whole news.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole will be released on October 17 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. When I inquired about a possible Switch version, associate producer Kimberly Weigend remarked that it’s always a possibility, but right now it is just coming to the announced systems.