Going down to South Park, gonna have myself a time.
It’s been maybe six years since I last watched an episode of South Park, with my last interaction with the series being playing Stick of Truth. I did enjoy the game, however, which left me looking forward to seeing how Fractured But Whole would play with and poke fun at its superhero theme. After getting some hands-on time (roughly four hours), Fractured But Whole looks to improve on nearly every aspect of the previous game, and it’s about the most South Park thing you could possibly ask for. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you view the show, but what I found was a surprisingly engaging RPG filled with humor.
My demo started out by creating my very own character, the new kid. The options are just as robust as they were in Stick of Truth, except this time you can choose your gender, and there’s even a piece of biting commentary put right into the very first minutes of character creation. After choosing hair, clothes, etc., you’re given another option for difficulty. When you bring the option up you’re greeted with a skin shader, and Cartman informs you that this won’t actually affect combat difficulty, but every other aspect of your entire life. It’s the kind of unexpected tongue-in-cheek humor in Fractured But Whole that really makes it feel like South Park, and already had me laughing.
Part of what really grabbed me about Fractured But Whole was how I could create my very own superhero persona. At the beginning of the game you have to choose a class, but there’s a lot of variation after that on how you want to make your superhero look. Of course, the rest of the kids treat you like an inexperienced newbie the entire time, at least as far as I played.
After the opening sections the game opened up to me, and boy did I have a lot of options. Two things in particular really struck me about my time with Fractured But Whole: how much better the combat is this time, and the sheer amount of detail and personality packed into every inch of the game.
Stick of Truth had traditional turn-based combat, like you’d see in a JRPG. There was a level of interactivity with having to hit buttons when attacking and defending to boost damage, but it was very traditional, as it’s supposed to be for a game satirizing fantasy tropes. The combat could, however, get a bit stale at times as you fight enemy groups, pulling off the same moves. Fractured But Whole hopes to alleviate this by providing more variation and options in combat. Now things play out on a tactical grid, with each of your characters sporting four attacks. Positioning plays a big part, because each move has an effect area that you need to keep in mind. My favorite change to combat, though, comes with the fact that you can bring up to four characters into battle. This makes things feel far less restricting, and you truly have the ability to create battle strategies.
Even in my short time with Fractured But Whole, I found myself figuring out which moves worked best for each character, like having Speedster Jimmy, known as Fastpass, zip in with a dash, turn invisible, then on the next turn have him use an ability to switch spots with the melee character and heal him. Each battle feels engaging, and more often than not enemies are unique, making you adjust your strategies on the fly. The timed button presses still return for attacking and defending, but now they fill a super meter instead of boosting or reducing damage. Once the meter is full, you can unleash any one of your character’s super moves, which are flashy and ridiculous attacks that are great fun to see play out. This can be something like Super Craig getting out his Guinea Pig, and sending him to attack, which then prompts a picture of Craig and an actual real life Guinea Pig to pop up on screen. Characters are constantly talking to each other in combat too, with Craig and Kyle throwing insults and banter back and forth, and enemies sending lewd or insulting comments my way.
Another great touch to the game is if you’re battling it out in the street, occasionally a car will come by forcing all the kids to yell and move to the side of the street and wait. The best part about this is the epic music that plays as the kids stand there awkwardly, and you’re reminded for a few seconds that this is all just kids playing a game, until you’re thrust back into the dramatic superhero story.
The social media features return as well, only this time instead of Facebook you’re using Coonstagram. You’ll still need to become popular enough to befriend people, but now you take selfies with them and post them to your feed. It also seems like the social media aspect is more fleshed out, with characters constantly making posts or commenting to you about things you’ve done. Each of your selfies is tagged with some pretty choice hashtags as well, about 10 on each.
Most of my time in the demo was honestly spent wandering around South Park, exploring different houses, looking for items, and talking to characters. I found a sidequest that had me collecting Yaoi pictures of Craig and Tweek for, well, Craig’s dad. Yeah it’s weird. I also played a pooping minigame in multiple people’s bathrooms, which I’m sure they weren’t happy about. Across the hours I played, Fractured But Whole did a great job of introducing you to mechanics and building your character through comedy.
Most of the subject matter, of course, are things you would never see in another game. I went to Morgan Freeman’s Tacos and learned how to craft various food items together, and made a few burritos. I went to the school and talked to Mr. Mackey who helped me figure out my gender and sexual orientation, which put my new kid as a cisgender male. To my surprise when I left the school, a truck pulled up and three rednecks hopped out, saying cisgenders aren’t welcome here. It’s all utterly absurd and every bit as a shocking as the show. Although I haven’t watched South Park in years, I found myself chuckling the whole time at these events.
Fractured But Whole definitely has the writing and comedy chops, but now gameplay and combat stand right up there with those aspects. It certainly helps that the game looks almost exactly like an episode of the TV show, which is no doubt due to every asset of the game being hand drawn by the South Park team. Like with Stick of Truth, there was just something I found so fascinating about being able to run around the town, and feel like I’m actually a character in a South Park episode, something I feel Fractured But Whole does even better than the previous game so far.
There’s enough pure comedy in Fractured But Whole that I think it’ll appeal to anyone looking for a quirky, light RPG, in addition to fans of South Park. Although it’s been a long time since I’ve really watched South Park, there was something really refreshing about the game’s biting deconstruction of superhero media and video games. Almost everything that bugged me in Stick of Truth has been addressed, and I was already having a blast. Of course, only time will tell if Ubisoft can keep players engaged for tens of hours with the game, or if South Park’s shtick could start to wear thin.