2014’s The Stick of Truth was a great game. Aside from being a credible turn-based RPG, it was also like you were playing the cartoon. The look was perfect and it was a welcome way to delve back into South Park’s world which we’d not visited thanks to other shows like Family Guy and then Archer stealing its thunder. So when Ubisoft said they were revisiting the South Park license a few E3s ago, we were very keen to see what they’d come up with this time.
Where The Stick of Truth was pretty much Parker and Stone, the show’s creators, channelling a bit The Lord of the Rings, The Fractured But Whole is their take on the currently massively oversubscribed superhero genre and the game makes the transition between genres right away. You play as the new kid, the hero of the first game as battle rages on the streets of South Park between the good and evil factions. Cartman however has moved on and is more interested in playing superheroes and leaves.
You go to Cartman’s house and are recruited in what has become a bitter feud between two ‘franchises’ of heroes. Cartman, whose superhero identity is The Coon (a sort of fat, human racoon) and he leads Coon and Friends. On the other side of the Marvel Civil War style divide are the Freedom Pals led hilariously by Timmy in his role as Dr Timothy (essentially Professor X).
Initially your battle is against the Freedom Pals but before long you become aware of an actual crime syndicate as you are recruited by the South Park police. The story evolves in quite a few directions as per the first game, introducing you to many of the characters from the show but the story is now tied into a few modern day real life storylines such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the general rise of the social justice warrior culture.
At first it all seems pretty familiar. The action is viewed from the same 2.5D viewpoint as the first game and the layout of the world is much the same as before. This makes it feel as if you are really just dipping back into The Stick of Truth but with a superhero focus rather than a D&D type of feel. However, it soon becomes apparent that the game itself has more depth.
As you find your own identity as a hero, a process that takes quite a long time and develops as the game goes along, you’ll be introduced to new abilities as well the game’s in-depth crafting system that allows you to create costumes as well as items that will help you in combat. Every drawer, box and bin seems to give you new crafting materials and there are plenty of looks and combat styles for you to choose from.
The combat is still turn-based but again has more depth than before. You’ll build up to having a squad of four heroes, all with varying move sets and you can pick and choose from plenty of kids from Coon and Friends which, when combined with the number of choices you have for your own character, gives you plenty of variation. Of course, being South Park, your abilities are mainly based on farting.
The good news here is that the game still looks great. This is more of an interactive cartoon than a game at times. The show is very well represented with the deliberately simple animation of the cartoon being perfectly replicated here. The sound is even better with the sort of excellent soundtrack that you’d associate with a big publisher like Ubisoft but with all the voice acting talent from the show also.
However, the game itself is also no slouch. Sure, it’s still a little toned down compared to all of your favourite J-RPGs but it still took an hour or two before we were comfortable with the mechanics of the game and able to make strategic decisions. Eventually though it all made perfect sense and we were able to enjoy building up our hero and taking him into battle. What’s interesting is that the game is almost a Metroidvania type of affair with new friends combining with you to give you new powers that allow you to pass previously-uncrossable obstacles.
The only real problem with The Fractured But Whole is that it does feel a bit too similar to the previous game and, frankly, The Stick of Truth had the pick of all the best gags first. This game tends to put a bit too much stock into the whole racial humour thing and it does start to get a tad stale, likewise the pops at the whole SJW culture are funny at first but before long it all got as tiresome as the culture itself. That said, there are still moments where the gags land but where The Stick of Truth was often laugh out loud funny, The Fractured But Whole is more of a game where you smile through it.
So while the first game was arguably funnier (and more shocking), the sequel here has the better gameplay. The main story will keep you going for up to twenty hours but there are plenty of other quests in town to do and secrets to find. Unlike Ubisoft’s other games (which are often too big for their own good), the world here is reasonably small which makes navigating it a lot easier and means there is a lot less wasted time.
Ultimately, if you liked the first game, this is more of the same. The way they’ve captured the spirit and imagination of children creating a whole world to play in, combined with the usual South Park humour, is spot on but the game doesn’t have quite as much impact as its predecessor.
+ Beefed-up combat
+ Well-written story
+ Excellent voice acting
+ Lots to see
+ Crafting is quite interesting
- Some of the humour gets repetitive
- Can get a bit overloaded with side quests