Since the far gone year of 1997, South Park has been a mainstay of popular culture. South Park manages to stay topical and funny even with episodes released on a weekly schedule. Until 2014, South Park had not had much success in the video game market, but that was changed with the release of South Park: The Stick of Truth. Published by Ubisoft and created by Obsidian Entertainment, South Park: The Stick of Truth was met with high amounts of praise for managing to feel exactly like the show and still somehow manage to be a pretty well-crafted RPG. Three years later, the sequel was finally released: South Park: The Fractured but Whole. There was, however, a little bit of bad news was attached to the announcement: Obsidian Entertainment would no longer be the studio creating the game. This time, Ubisoft planned to stay in-house, opting instead to have Ubisoft San Francisco make the game. Could such a small studio really keep the trend of good South Park games moving forward? Fear not, dear readers, for Durga is here to answer that question! As a totally unbiased reviewer who absolutely loved the previous entry in the series, there was clearly no one better suited for the job of reviewing the latest game set in the South Park Universe. As this is a sequel, it is nearly impossible not to compare South Park: The Fractured but Whole (TFBW) to South Park: The Stick of Truth (TSOT). Still, a good game must stand on its own without relying on the success of previous entries, and so this game will be judged on its own merits. With that in mind, there are several factors to discuss, but the key factors will be story, graphics, and gameplay. The biggest flaw that many games based on television shows or movies seem to make is, well actually pretty much everything, but a really big flaw is usually a horribly crafted story.
The story for TFBW begins immediately after the end of TSOT. The kids are all still playing their fantasy game, with the player’s character still being King Douchebag. After an introductory scene that showcases the new combat style, the game introduces another new feature from the previous entry: quick time events (QTE). As the king and his soldiers overtake a new evil enemy, Cartman appears dressed as his superhero alter ego The Coon. Cartman states that he has traveled back in time to tell the children that there is a horrible tragedy occurring in the present day. Someone has been snatching up all of the cats in the city, and worse yet, another team of superheroes has stated that they will be the ones to solve the mystery, find the cats, and collect the reward money. At the mention of a reward and another hero team making them look bad, the kids all agree to stop playing in the past and once again take up their superhero mantles. The story for TFBW is still quite good, but the main premise is pretty weak. While normally this would be a huge problem, as this is a South Park game it actually is not a bad thing.
Having a loose main premise allows for much more freedom for side stories, and for the story to continue to change up to the end of the game when the real villain is finally revealed in a twist that everybody saw coming. Much like the television series, the premise and the plot take a backseat to the general insanity and silliness of the children’s everyday lives. Each time the kids solve a part of the mystery, it is revealed to the player that there is much more going on behind the scenes in the small mountain town. Much like in real life, however, the children remain mostly unaware of the bigger picture and are focused on their primary goal: the cash reward for rescuing the missing cats. Throughout the story of the game, the Farting Vigilante (the player’s character) manages to bring down a major crime family, shut down a corrupt police force, and even manages to travel back in time, and to the future, to stop the main villain of the game’s evil plans. Still, the kids could not care less about these major events, instead focusing on how each one of these victories brings them one step closer to the cats and in turn their reward. Overall, the story is still strong even if the main plot is weak. Just like in the last game there are moments when the real world breaks through, such as the player’s parents fighting and having serious addictions, or even just little things like battles in the street being interrupted momentarily by passing cars. The sense that there is a second story happening around the children while they play their own game in their own world is pretty strong, and both stories are told very well. With the creators of the show still involved, the story managing to be strong is to be expected. The biggest worry many will have going into the game is whether or not the gameplay can manage to be as good as TSOT without the masters at Obsidian Entertainment being involved.
There are several major changes to the way that TFBW plays in comparison to TSOT beyond just the “modern” setting that the game uses. The biggest and most notable is the battle system. Instead of the more traditional turn-based battle system that the previous game used, TFBW uses a grid-based system. Combat is still turn-based, but there is a square grid that the characters all stand on and move across during a fight. Each turn, a character may move a certain number of squares and use one of their “powers”. At the beginning of the game, the first thing the character will do is choose what type of hero they are, to determine their powers. There is a surprising amount of options, from healing abilities and ranged elemental abilities, to brute force super-strength style abilities. There will be something to cater to whatever kind of hero the player wants to be, and if there is a hole in the type of damage or defense then this is easily remedied by the several different allies the character has to choose from. Another major change is the system with which upgrades are applied.
As seems to be the case with several different sequels, armor has been changed into nothing more than a cosmetic costume the character can wear. Upgrades are now instead applied directly to the character, through attachments that have stat boosts and provide an overall “level” that applies to the player’s team. There is also a basic hero rank that is increased with experience gained from battles and completing quests. This rank unlocks more slots for the player to equip attachments. In addition to the attachments, there is also a DNA slot that gives another overall buff depending on the type of DNA that is used. All of these attachments and DNA combine to boost the basic things like hit points and speed, and also boost the different stats attached to each damage type, whether it be a physical damage based attack or otherwise. Overall, this system offers much more versatility than the previous game and still manages not to overload the player with too many options. The only real issue is that it does not really matter what is picked. Whatever the player chooses to focus on will work in any situation, and there is never a need to use one stat in place of another. The player can choose to run nothing but brute physical powers and will walk through the game just as easy as choosing to play a character with beam attacks who have to avoid close range. There is no situation in the game where the player will need to switch up which powers they are using making the inclusion of so many options a little pointless. That being said, the powers are still fun and quite amusing, so the powers not being overly utilized does not hurt the game too much. It is safe to say that this new system is a big improvement in many ways over the simple turn-based system from the previous game.
There are some small annoyances that are included in this new game, and some places that it definitely falls short of its predecessor. The first and biggest is that the game uses many manufactured roadblocks to prevent full travel of the map, meaning the player must walk around the much longer path in some cases to reach a goal that is actually rather close. On top of this, the ability to sprint has been inexplicably lost between games. There is still a fast travel system, but the travel points are much fewer and further between until far later into the game. Forcing slower travel to pad game time is a bad move, but the town is not too terribly large so getting around is not too bad. Another annoying change is that this game is on Uplay. While this in itself is not that big of a deal, the fact that the game can be bought on Steam, but must still launch the Uplay application to run, is quite annoying. The music, while still pretty decent, is nowhere near as good as the last game. TSOT had a lovely soundtrack that actually included some of the character’s voices in the music. TFBW has a decent soundtrack, but there are really no memorable tracks that stand out. Beyond these small gripes, the biggest problems with this game are the way the story is connected to the show and the last few hours of gameplay.
South Park is a show with over twenty seasons that has been on television for over a decade. With a series that has been on the air for so long and has nearly 300 episodes, it is not hard to see how there could be some people who are fans of the show and still have not seen every episode. One of the biggest mistakes that TFBW makes is that it includes an exceedingly large number of in-jokes that people who have not been avid viewers of the television series would not understand. While major fans of the show will appreciate all of the jokes, this makes the humor of the sequel less accessible than that of the first game. TSOT had many jokes that tied to the series, but nothing that excluded people who may not have been watching since the first series. Instead, it relied more on poking fun at tropes that fans of video games, in general, would understand and find funny, much the same way that the television series pokes fun at relevant pop culture trends. Instead of doing this, much of TFBW feels as if it is just pointing at the show and saying “remember that time we were funny over there?” The other major problem with the game is the ending, or rather, the endings.
When the final day of the story approaches, and the major problems with the city seem to have been contained, it is revealed that the villain all along had a secret objective that the kids actually helped him achieve, which was to become mayor of the town. The final day is spent trying to stop this from happening and takes the kids all over town again with fast travel removed and several boss fights threw in. The final areas and final fights in the game are not any harder than the rest of the game. The only major difference is that each new enemy is ridiculously healthy, and takes forever to beat to death. After being several mutated sixth graders, a giant mutated clone of Kyle’s cousin Kyle, satanic woodland creatures and several more bosses, the kids finally get to face off with the villain. The problem is that it takes so many unnecessary ending sequences and boss fights to get to the ending. The game makes the player suffer through several false endings leading to the final confrontation and then turns it into a joke by giving the game literally no ending and having just a credit sequence start after a line. In a way, this is hilarious. In another way, it is tedious and horrendously long to get to a quick punchline. Even with these issues, South Park: The Fractured but Whole manages to be funny, charming, and a blast to play through. While it is not as good as the previous entry in many ways, it does much to stand on its own with a unique battle system, mountains of customization and power options and holds up rather well on its own story even if there are too many references to the source material. Overall, this game was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, despite its flaws.
With that, we reach the end of the review! Have any readers given this game a try yet? How does it compare for you to the first game, or to the show itself? Were there any fun moments for you? Any problems that were not addressed? If so, let us know with a comment below! For now, this reviewer must find another game to play to provide another entertaining review. As always, thank you for reading and keep on gaming!
Title: South Park: The Fractured but Whole
Genre: Role-playing Game
Developer: Ubisoft San Francisco
Platform Reviewed: Microsoft Windows
Release Date: 17 October, 2017