Upon South Park: The Stick of Truth's initial announcement, I had some concern. South Park doesn't have a great history in gaming, but as we know now Obsidian Entertainment delivered a great game. By all accounts, its sequel South Park: The Fractured But Whole is better in just about every way.
Fractured But Whole picks up right after Stick of Truth, with the New Kid (the player) as King and the kingdom under attack. The New Kid is called upon to save the day and does so when The Coon (Cartman), shows up from the "future," stating that South Park is under threat and he is calling on all heroes to save the town. The kids quickly dismiss their fantasy game and don their superhero garb.
Without giving too much away, the plot revolves around Coon and Friends attempting to find a missing cat for a $100 reward. This leads the kids down many strange paths, involving them in cults, drugs, and other hidden goings on in the town. The rival superhero groups, Coon and Friends and Freedom Pals, drives a lot of the conflict as well with each looking to outdo the other and build the better superhero franchise.
The writing is a step above here. Following the story of the kids was enjoyable and definitely relied on the unexpected and absurd but not to the levels of the last game. Stick of Truth took wild tangents from the plot and setting to shock people, which was fun but also an easy out for unrelated laughs. While the writing isn't necessarily more believable in Fractured But Whole, the situations and characters in the game are easily intertwined with the overall parody of superhero movies. It's all kicked up a notch as well, as the game has far fewer restrictions on it than the TV show.
Before getting further, I have to take a moment to talk seriously about farts. Unsurprisingly for a South Park game, farts play not only a central role but are the most important thing in the game. The New Kid's most visible trait is his powerful farts, puzzle solutions involve farts, farts play a big role in combat, farts are part of the most crucial plot elements—you see what I mean. So, expect a lot of humor around farts and the many creative ways they are utilized in both the writing and gameplay.
One of those ways is through exploring South Park, which has never been better realized than in Fractured But Whole. Without spoiling much (as the humor in the game relies on the unexpected), you are given abilities to help solve puzzles around town, and nearly all of them are powered by farts. For example, one of the abilities uses a sandblaster to clear away obstacles. Seeing as the kids aren't going to carry an air compressor with them everywhere, the sandblaster is of course powered by the New Kid's amazing fart abilities. The puzzles themselves are mostly uninteresting, serving as a reason to return to certain areas of the town to get more loot or access new areas.
One of the biggest criticisms levied at Stick of Truth was that the combat was just too simple. Not terrible, there just wasn't a lot to it. In turn, Fractured But Whole has a surprising depth to the combat that is more complex than you may first think. It's still turn-based but now a bit more tactical as fights take place on a grid. Placing characters in the correct areas is of course key, even more so since each individual ability will only affect certain areas of the field.
For example, the simplest abilities can only target an enemy in front of or behind a character. Some may hit all characters in a row, others may shoot out diagonally from your character, and others may need to be used from a certain range and only hit enemies in a certain area. This, of course, makes positioning very important for both yourself and enemies, as trying to lure them into certain configurations for maximum effectiveness is important to success.
Fractured But Whole features a knockback mechanic, which of course plays a big role in positioning. Many abilities feature some sort of knockback to move enemies back a square or more, and some can pull enemies forward. In this way, it's possible to use one character to set up another's devastating attack. Knocking enemies into objects or other enemies can add extra damage to an attack, and even knocking enemies into other allied characters adds damage as they take a swipe at them. Knockback gets used creatively in certain fights as well, with some requiring enemies be in certain areas while others task the player with running away from something while enemies attempt to knock them back into it.
These unique mechanics and the choreographed fights that use them are one of the best parts of Fractured But Whole. There are plenty of randomly generated encounters around South Park but a significant portion of them are pre-planned and scripted in some fashion. While I laid out the basics of combat above, many fights make things a lot more interesting by adding in something specific and thematic to that fight.
Let's get back to farts for a minute. While each character and class has their own ultimate ability, only the New Kid has special fart abilities. These have different functions both in and out of combat. The New Kid's farts are so powerful they can manipulate time—in other words, he can rip one hard enough to tear open time itself—giving him or her the ability to stop, rewind, or manipulate time in other ways. This means you can force enemies to skip their turn, pause time to punch them in the face, and some other surprises. These powers have big ramifications in the plot, of course, since it all comes back to farts.
Players have a lot to choose from in customizing their character, as Fractured But Whole features ten classes, each with three unique abilities and one ultimate ability. Each of the characters in your party embodies a different type of class. Some have similar class abilities to the player character and some stand out from the pack. All feature unique, and often humorous, ultimate abilities as well.
Another layer of added complexity is in the progression system. Instead of being tied to weapons and gear, players have access to artifact slots. These offer straight stat buffs based on MIGHT! gained through equipping artifacts, as well as boosts to different effects like status effect damage, knockback damage, and more. Included in that is the DNA Strand, which modifies your various stats, health, and ability to move greatly. Each ability is attached to a primary stat and choosing a DNA Strand can have a great effect. For example, you could see a 30% damage boost to abilities attached to a certain stat but a dramatic reduction in health and other stats.
There are a lot of choices to make and players can mix and match to play however they want. Every ability is swappable at will, taking one or two abilities from one class and marrying them with another. You can go a more "glass cannon" route with high damage and low health or pretty much anything else. Players are given great freedom to tweak players as they see fit to play the game as they'd like.
Stick of Truth is not a bad game and Fractured But Whole surpasses the original in every way—even the toilet mini-game. The writing is equal to the show at its best, humor is injected everywhere possible to great effect, and the combat is far more interesting. The game is a no-brainer for South Park fans and they should consider it a must. If you don't like creative fart jokes and what some would call "juvenile humor," South Park will never resonate, regardless of how good the gameplay is. For everyone else, enjoy the many laughs you'll find in Fractured But Whole.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is South Park at its best backed up by gameplay that would stand on its own in any other game.
- Varied Combat
- Perfect Representation of Source Material
- Great Humor
- Puzzles Are Filler Content