20th Oct2017

‘South Park: The Fractured But Whole’ Review (Xbox One)

by Matthew Smail

south-park-2-xbox1-cover

Like most sequels, South Park: The Fractured But Whole clearly suffers from the usual questions about how closely it should follow in its predecessors footsteps, whilst still doing enough to justify itself as a standalone product. It answers these questions rather neatly, presenting players with an experience that is similar to 2014′s South Park: The Stick of Truth, but with a paradigm shift in focus and characterisation.

By channeling the childlike ability of its cast of characters to simply forget everything that happened in the first game within two minutes of opening,South Park: The Fractured But Whole effectively wipes the the slate clean for a new adventure in the constant, familiar town that we all know and love. Rather than the fantasy/Lord of the Rings theme of the first game, this sequel is built around the current popularity of superheroes and characters and it features a clear improvement in combat mechanics versus the first game.

This time, the kids of South Park have formed a superhero posse named Coon and Friends. Led by Cartman (AKA Coon) the kids investigate and solve serious crimes such as missing cats and cars being keyed, all in the aim of collecting rewards and expanding the Coon’s crime fighting arsenal. As the new kid, the player must prove themselves to Cartman by completing an ever expanding to-do list of menial tasks.

During the first hour or two of The Fractured But Whole, I spent an awful lot of my time wandering into nearly identical houses and ransacking the cupboards as I made my way towards objectives via the fairly unhelpful mini-map. The game does create an undeniably authentic South Park look and feel, but during these early sequences you’d be forgiven for thinking that nothing had changed from the previous game.

Thankfully, it isn’t long before the combat really begins to shine through. Players are initially able to choose from three classes of hero, but as The New Kid levels up, his or her ability to access new classes and mix the best of them together in interesting ways really ramps up. It also helps that other members of Coon and Friends can join the player. Ultimately, there are twelve Friends to choose from and any three can join The New Kid in combat, so many combinations are possible.

Combat itself is an evolution of the system used to great effect in The Stick Of Truth, with turn based combat that features a grid based system and an area of effect damage mechanic for each move which introduces some lightweight tactical nuance to game play. Combat also features South Park’s own brand of status effect, with stun, poison, burning and freeze effects just a few of the many possibilities. Most of these are caused by fart jokes, which I suppose is par for the course!

The story and the way the game is presented combine to offer what is basically a feature length episode of the show, albeit with less up to date content. A lot of the jokes about loading times and other video game tropes feel kind of rehashed from the first game, as do the fart, skidmark and mildly racist or sexist ones that manifest in the form of squinting ninjas, superhero names or whatever. You’ve no doubt already read about the white/black difficulty slider, which is something that I (rarely) share a view with Polygon on, in that the actual difference changing from a white to a black character makes is almost entirely peripheral to the game, so it feels like a weak, cheap laugh rather than one of the hard stances that makes South Park so great.

In general, the only thing lacking from South Park: The Fractured But Whole is absolutely due to the longer design cycle of a video game when compared to the two week turnaround that the TV show has. Game designers simply can’t model, test and approve set pieces quickly enough to make the gags in South Park feel like they have the same resonance that fans are used to, but that’s not an issue as such, it’s just a fact of life. Fans will love the game regardless because it still feels like a convincing extension of the universe, whilst for lighter followers of South Park, or indeed those indifferent to it, it takes a more vanilla stance on the various issues and is therefore easier to swallow.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a good RPG masquerading as a reasonable South Park game, so overall I can’t complain about the quality of content that it offers. It looks and sounds more authentic than any South Park game I’ve played and the combat is a fantastic, irreverent mix of madcap fun and tactical nuance. The early fetch quests soon give way to more interesting jaunts that immerse the player into a decent story that lasts for about twenty hours or so, depending on side quests, skill level and desire to collect every follower on Coonstagram (or whatever else takes your fancy from a completionist perspective.) As a result I do recommend The Fractured But Whole, but be aware that it isn’t a revolution on the previous game and nor is it quite as witty as the show, despite the endless raft of fart jokes.

**** 4/5

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