By Shane Ferguson
Before I even booted up the PS4 version of South Park: The Fractured But Whole, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the pleasant surprise which was the South Park: The Stick of Truth. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. I’ve never literally laughed out loud that much playing any videogame. It felt like being inside your favorite TV show. To make it feel more real, it was tied in to a South Park TV episodes.
That foundation is expanded on in The Fractured But Whole. The genre and style blend effortlessly with the South Park universe, this union with brilliant use of the license creates a familiar experience for fans of the show as well as a unique gaming experience overall. If you have followed South Park over the years, going to Mr. Mackey’s office for a sex change or going to PC principal to “discover your race” (change your appearance) makes sense. They are perfect ways to integrate the general tenor of the TV satire into the game.
If “discover your race” offends you, you might want to reconsider your game choice. After all, this is a sequel to a game where a man was for all intensive purposes “assaulted” by aliens in an unnecessarily long minigame. Just like it’s predecessor, Fractured But Whole is not for the faint of heart. In addition, if you haven’t watched at least some the past 15 seasons, this game’s story will not make much sense.
Even though the game looks great, I was surprised to experience a few glitches here and there. There were even a few times where I had to close out the application mid-battle. Despire that, the new tactical gameplay helps combat feel more rewarding and true to its RPG style.
This edition is even bigger and filled with more locations, cultural references, cameos and Easter eggs for long-time fans. The game isn’t particularly challenging in my opinion, so at times the cultural references are relentless as if intended to stretch out the game’s run time. However, the game is self-aware and pokes fun at this the entire time.
TFBW picks up where the first one left off, except now the South Park kids are playing superheroes. Kenny, Timmy and a few others disagree with the direction of their super squad “Coon & Friends”. So they form their own team, The Freedom Pals. You embark on an epic adventure to get your respective group a movie franchise (with Netflix spin-offs). In comparison to what we know from South Park and their previous game, TFBW’ s humor is pretty mild and is more focused on trying to be an actual game. This idea pays off in when you deal with combat. The added strategy makes fighting more challenging –in a good way.
Voice acting feels authentic (Says the game: “ALL CELEBRITY VOICES ARE IMPERSONATED…..POORLY”) and will be familiar to long time fans. Some fights and character combinations make for diverse battle banter. Which is an improvement from some of the repeated battle phrases in The Stick of Truth. Musically, every time you start/restart you get the classic South Park banjo intro. As you travel the world, enter the shops and establishments in South Park you will hear songs from all the different episodes throughout the years. These are, strangely enough, well placed and feel appropriate.
It’s easy to appreciate the game’s humor and satirical nuance. The ending by itself is hilarious. While I appreciate Ubisoft’s effort in making a better overall game this time, it can feel as if the game has sacrificed some of its comedy in exchange for gameplay. A lot of the text on screen is too small and unreadable, many of the jokes and references will be missed due to this. Although The Stick of Truth felt like a more passive experience, it was memorable because of my laughter and it’s absurdity. This game is just as absurd at times, but it’s just not as funny. At one point you have a battle with Kyle’s mom. In normal South Park circumstances, this would be the set up for a hilarious exchange. Instead, expect a serious fight with Kyle and his family. At this moment, the humor come across as stale and his mother even considers pressing charges. No punchline, no witty retort from Cartman (who hates Kyle’s mom), just an awkward conversation.
I’d compare South Park: The Fractured But Whole to Halo Wars, on the grounds that they’re both good stand-alone games in the genre, yet those less invested in the intellectual property might have different impressions. The game plays like a long episode, but it’s not like it’s your favorite episode. It’s like one of the episodes you like and watch every once in awhile. I don’t think it rewards the casual fan/gamer enough to warrant multiple playthroughs. It does, however, make me want to play The Stick of Truth over again (which you might’ve gotten for free if you pre-ordered the game).
Shane Ferguson is a New York Videogame Critics Circle intern/writer.