Casual gaming has taken a back seat in the triple-A community lately, with many of the biggest titles boasting grand competitive multiplayer experiences or challenging campaigns. Thankfully, South Park: The Fractured But Whole offers something unique during the final months of 2017, thanks to a solely single-player experience designed to have gamers split their sides and not their controllers. The Fractured But Whole is ideal for anyone wanting a detailed and well-written story, alongside only a few tough engagements.
Fans of South Park will not be surprised to learn that The Fractured But Whole is just as hilarious and disturbing as the television show. Players will once again take control of their customised character (referred to as the New Kid) from the previous instalment, The Stick of Truth. The new game sees Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny discarding their fantasy garb and instead dressing as superheroes in the hopes of launching their own hero franchise. In the game’s opening, the New Kid arrives at Cartman’s house to find that a rift has formed between the boys over what direction the franchise should go in and who should get their own Netflix series; the premise for this story is actually set up in an episode of the show released a few days prior to the launch. With the cast split into two rival groups called “Coon and Friends” and “Freedom Pals”, “Civil War” is declared to see who can make the best superhero franchise. To help kickstart the “Coon and Friends” franchise, the New Kid must help Cartman find a lost cat with a $100 reward for doing so.
As the New Kid, players spend the majority of the game filling out a character sheet, complete with powers, weaknesses, and sexual orientation. Everything—down to the New Kid’s gender and ethnicity—can be altered by approaching Mr Mackey, the school counsellor, or PC Principal. As fans might expect, choosing each of the New Kid’s traits is done in a humorous manner. For example, if the player changes the New Kid’s gender, Mr Mackey will call the kid’s parents and awkwardly mention The Stick of Truth, where doing so was not an option. To completely fill in the character sheet, the New Kid must complete multiple tasks relating to some of the side characters that rarely tie in with the overall story. Completing each of the main missions as well as the various side quests and collectibles will provide the player with roughly 20 hours of chucklesome content.
The major selling point of this game is the plot and source material. Without the zany characters and scenarios that South Park offers, The Fractured But Whole would be a tedious and often frustrating turn-based strategy RPG. Progressing through the story feels like an epic mini-series of the show, with each of the characters expertly recreated within a slightly altered version of the town of South Park. However, as brilliantly executed as the story is, the combat feels unfinished. The game swaps the previous title’s turn-based formula for a more complex 3D platform, with control of up to four characters manoeuvring around a makeshift chess board that puts an emphasis on positioning. In theory, having a new element added to the combat system is a good idea, until a character tries to perform a specific move. During battles, players take control of some of the fan-favourite South Park characters, including Cartman (The Coon), Kenny (Mysterion), Kyle (Human Kite), and Stan (Tool Shed) who each comes with a unique set of abilities.
When starting the game, players are given a choice between three initial hero classes: Speedster, Brutalist, and Blaster. Each class unlocks fourth abilities to use during combat, including a cutscene-based super move. More classes are unlocked as the game progresses, awarding four new interchangeable skills each time. Designating specific moves is also a tactical necessity as many attacks can only launch in a certain direction. Choosing too many abilities that only allow the New Kid to attack in a straight line leaves the character vulnerable to enemies approaching from above or below. Many attacks also cause status effects that range from gaining protection or invisibility to engulfing the enemy in flames or causing them to vomit. Strategically planning ahead by using the different effects is key to a swift and effective victory, as many of the debuffs can cause the targeted enemy to lose their turn. Status effects can also be applied to some minor boss characters, however, many bosses are immune to specific abilities.
When a player reaches a high enough level, they begin to unlock artefacts. These artifacts act as modifications and upgrades to the New Kid’s power level and can eventually be crafted after finding the correct parts. Stats such as health, brawn, spunk, and brains can be buffed through artefacts and a maximum of six can be equipped at any one time after reaching level 10. Much of the surrounding foliage is interactive, whether by opening an abandoned rucksack or punching a mound of discarded litter. These small “interactables” contain vital crafting parts, but can easily be overlooked. Something as simple as hitting a garbage pile could mean a world of difference during the next battle sequence, as the difficulty spikes late in the game, forcing the player to upgrade their inventory. Accumulating a mass of empty bottles and fluids from rubbish piles proves beneficial as doing so allows various health potions and buffs to be crafted for use during combat.
The various moves and special attacks look stunning, with well-executed visual indicators, such as an enemy vomiting during combat, that inform the player of what they should be paying attention. Each major character comes with their own stylised pop-up image that are detailed enough to become intricate posters or wallpapers. The overall look of the surroundings and characters feel as if they were ripped straight from the television program, right down to the simplistic, yet iconic, character movements. The soundtrack is also pulled directly from the program, with many well-known musical numbers playing throughout different encounters. An example of a well-integrated musical number happens when confronting Kyle’s mother, Sheila, with Cartman’s infamous ‘Kyle’s mom’s a b***h’ playing softly in the background.
The Fractured But Whole features a wide range of customisable options for the New Kid’s appearance. Collecting and crafting new clothing quickly becomes an obsession while exploring South Park, as many items are hidden in hard-to-reach chests that require the help of a buddy character. Options such as changing the colour of individual clothing items adds a satisfying amount of creativity to character creation, and allows players to look as amazing or outrageous as possible.
In addition to outfits, seven other types of collectibles are scattered around the town. Among the most common and shocking collectibles are Yaoi drawings featured in the South Park episode ‘Tweek x Craig’ that feature the boys in a multitude of compromising and sexual positions. To some fans’ delight (and others’ dismay), Memberberries also make a return to the series as the berries blurt out nostalgic phrases when plucked. When chasing after berries and raunchy Japanese artwork, players will come across numerous toilets that prompt a quick-time-based mini-game to “squeeze one out”.
In a way, South Park: The Fractured But Whole represents some of the best and worst aspects of modern gaming. The story is finely crafted, featuring expertly-timed humour amongst a genuinely intriguing plot. However, without the renowned source material, the game would be a mediocre turn-based RPG at best.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.