South Park can tell you a lot about yourself.
More specifically, your reaction to Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s animated magnum opus reveals a lot about you as a person.
I still remember the first time I saw a South Park episode for the first time. I remember thinking, “Aww, they look so cute!” Then the characters started talking. I think I might have blushed.
Once I got past the shock value of seeing cute animated children talk and act in a decidedly non-PG manner, however, I quickly realized that South Park provides great biting satire as well as a surprisingly accurate reflection of modern-day society’s foibles.
It takes a certain level of open-mindedness to appreciate South Park’s brutally abrasive take on often-controversial topics. And if you’re like me, it can also cause a bit of discomfort, perhaps the same way that legendary satirist Lenny Bruce made his critics and even some of his own fans feel back in the day. I mean, that’s the point of satire — the best of which poke and prod at established social conventions and mores.
Then again, I also view that sense of discomfort I feel when South Park pushes the envelope as a badge of honor. It tells me that my conscience is still working and that I’m an OK human being. I’d be more worried about folks who don’t feel any discomfort at all about South Park’s more outrageous riffs. Lack of empathy is an actual psychological disorder after all. Plus South Park’s humor doesn’t work as well if you’re an unfeeling jerk.
Anyway, that’s my long and convoluted way of saying, “Hey, I’m reviewing South Park: The Fractured But Whole.”
In typical South Park fashion, the game does not pull any punches and starts off with some controversial social commentary right off the bat. See, as you create your main character “New Kid,” you are presented with a difficulty slider. The more you move that slider toward the hard difficulty, the darker the character’s skin gets. It actually does not affect the game’s difficulty at all but, well, I see what you did there, you guys. My initial reaction was to laugh, which was immediately followed by a sharp pang of guilt deep in the pit of my stomach. Well played, South Park. Well played.
After creating a character reflective of my Asian self who stood somewhere in the middle of the difficulty slider, I proceeded to embark on my grand big adventure. The Fractured But Whole starts you right where New Kid left off from the previous game, “South Park: The Stick of Truth.” I must say, it felt kind of good to enter battle at the apex of your power. Just as the new South Park transplant finally claims his position atop the kiddie food chain, however, South Park’s resident, uh, “but whole” Cartman decides to literally change the rules of the game. As a result, everyone decides to play an entirely new game and New Kid has to start from scratch yet again.
This time, you’re caught in the middle of a war between two dueling superhero factions, with Cartman’s Coon & Friends on one side and Kenny’s Freedom Pals on the other. After guessing Cartman’s judgmental password, you end up joining the little punk’s superhero group, which is bent on getting the $100 reward for finding some missing cats. As with any adventure game, however, the plot eventually morphs into something much bigger.
You initially get to pick from three starter classes: the Speedster, Brutalist and Blaster. Later on, however, you get to unlock other classes that bring your total hero types to 10, each representing familiar RPG roles like tank, mage, assassin and support. You can further tweak your character by using artifacts and hero DNA, allowing you to hew more closely to your preferred playstyle. Eventually, you get the option to multi-class, allowing you to mix and match abilities from various hero types.
To assist you in your quest, you can unlock 12 buddies, each with their own unique abilities to help you form a well-rounded party and build your Might levels. These include familiar alter egos of South Park characters such as Human Kite, Super Craig and Wonder Tweek. The South Park cast continue to be a source of much hilarity in the game, thanks to their goofy personalities and own idiosyncrasies. Loyal watchers of the show will recognize a plethora of nods to previous episodes, such as the series take on the Japanese phenomenon of “yaoi” or “boys’ love.” This includes a combination attack involving Craig and Tweek that leave any surviving foes dazed and confused, which is exactly what happens to a lot of people when I explain to them what yaoi is and why it’s popular among some Japanese girls. That or some unsuspecting folks I see walking past the yaoi books at a Kinokuniya bookstore. I also thought it was hilarious how the “Creek” combination attack repurposes the “Let’s Fighting Love” song to give it new meaning. That song never gets old.
Combat, meanwhile, uses a turn-based system with a few tweeks, er, tweaks once again. As with many JRPGs, striking an opponent first on the field to trigger a battle lets you take the first turn in a fight. Basically, this involves punching people you see on the street or wherever you’re adventuring.
One change from the previous game is the inclusion of a new battle grid. This adds an extra element of strategy through movement and positioning. It basically makes combat a bit more tactical or strategy RPG-ish compared to the previous game. The increased tactics play well with the battlefield variety as well as the hazards you have to deal with during boss battles, making for a more interesting combat experience.
Fractured But Whole also lets you adventure around South Park to solve puzzles and explore areas of interest. You start out as a nobody but eventually build your reputation through your exploits, making people more open to taking selfies with you for social media. Day sections are more open and encourage more free exploration. Going to bed triggers nighttime, which involve more linear mission that move the game’s narrative. The further you progress, the more of South Park opens to you, allowing you to enter previously inaccessible areas.
Admittedly, the game no longer has the element of refreshing surprise from the first game. As such, it doesn’t feel quite as new but does build on its predecessor’s solid foundation. The crude humor also will not be for everybody. At its best, South Park works as an excellent commentary on society’s hypocrisy and the silliness of political correctness taken to an extreme. At its worse, the humor can feel crass just for the sake of being crass and also come across as unnecessarily mean-spirited.
Despite its issues, however, Fractured But Whole does a good job in taking what makes South Park excellent and distilling it in video game form. Like its predecessor, this is not some throwaway cash grab of a game based on a popular IP. Instead, it’s a well-crafted love letter to fans of the show who like playing video games as well.
Like its predecessor, “South Park: The Fractured But Whole” proves that games based on popular entertainment properties don’t have to be soulless cash grabs. It doesn’t quite have the new car smell of Stick of Truth and the humor can be crass and outright mean, so it won’t be for everyone. Strong dedication to the source material, however, combined with the obvious love and care to do right by South Park fans make this a can’t-miss game, whether you’re a loyal viewer or an old fan who hasn’t seen the show in a while.
Technobubble covers games, gadgets, technology and all things geek. Follow Technobubble poobah Jason Hidalgo’s shenanigans on Twitter @jasonhidalgo or his Tabiasobi Youtube channel.