South Park: The Fractured But Whole – review

The Stick Of Truth finally gave us a South Park game that was actually good. Following a similar formula, The Fractured But Whole (did you spot the subtle play on words there?) looks to replicate that success. The good news is that – despite some missteps typical for the franchise – it does a darn good job.

Again, it’s really no exaggeration to say that even outside of cutscenes, it looks and sounds exactly like the TV show (though admittedly, it’s not the most hi-tech cartoon out there). For better and for worse, it seems that Parker, Stone, and the rest of the South Park team have been given free rein to do whatever they want for full authenticity. Absolutely everything is fully animated and voiced, too; kudos for that.

The story picks up pretty much directly from the end of the last game, but the kids are no longer playing their fantasy D&D game. They’ve now moved on to playing superheroes, with Cartman leading (in one example of a questionable melding of the characters’ innocence and the writer’s awareness) “Coon and Friends”, and Timmy heading up “Freedom Pals”. What initially begins as a fairly simple quest for a missing cat – with a view to using the reward money to kickstart their superhero franchises – soon unfolds into something bigger. Surreal and silly, of course, but still bigger.

As you wander around South Park as your pleasingly customisable mute character, you’ll enter buildings, talk to NPCs, solve (very) simple puzzles, pick up collectables, and do lots and lots of fighting. The non-story battles aren’t random, exactly. Enemies are easily spotted hanging around, with battle only instigated when they attack you or you attack them. You can almost always easily avoid battles should you so wish. It’s in your best interests to enter into plenty of extra fights to level up, though; so just as well the combat system is a goodun.

Battle remains turn-based, but movement and attacks are now grid-based. This adds an extra layer of tactics without complicating things to the extent that it alienates people unfamiliar with such a system. It’s impossible to miss with an attack, the game won’t let you take action if you’re only targeting blank squares, and you get a preview of exactly how much damage or healing your move will do before you initiate it. Almost every move has a mini QTE associated with it (tap a button once) for a minor buff. There are status attacks and ultimate attacks to take into account (as well as, er, magical farts); but nonetheless, it’s all pleasingly simplistic. Indeed, JRPG veterans may sneer at the system. So far as we’re concerned, it’s a welcome dollop of user friendliness that fits right in with the generous checkpoints, fast travel stations, and non-patronising nudges in the direction of where to go next.

The new crafting and upgrade system, as with pretty much everything else, is simple yet more than fit for purpose. As your New Kid levels up, they will unlock slots for ‘artefacts’ which can be found, bought, or crafted (and upgraded). Each increases your character’s ‘Might’, but also offers some sort of bonus such as critical hit damage or an ally health bonus. It’s easy to understand, and not too time consuming.

Professor Chaos makes a glorious return, marking his territory by wrapping tin foil over everything.

As for the writing… well, it’s South Park, so by and large you know what you’re going to get. In the specific example of this game, oh yes, this most definitely includes a near-constant tidal wave of swearing. Here’s a surprising thing we quickly noticed, however: in general, the ruder or more controversial the joke, the less funny it is. Self-flagellating paedophile priests? Yawn. A parody of Kanye West and his planned videogame tribute to his dead mother? Not impressed. Institutionalised police racism? Not handled nearly well enough. However, this is a regularly hilarious, often laugh-out-loud game with fantastic acting. There are plenty of great jokes and witty lines, a great many of which are innocent enough to be dropped into a family-friendly game. The kids for example use red Lego bricks for lava (used to fantastic effect for one of the final jokes), resulting in one of our favourite lines: “Oh my god. He’s going to declare the entire town lava!”

So the script’s not consistent, but you’re never usually more than about 30 seconds away from a good gag. More disappointing is the pacing. The final 20% or so of the story slows right down. First, fast travel is briefly taken away from you. Later, as you get closer to the final fights, the regularity of NPC conversations and buddy interactions (usually too simplistic to be called puzzles), each of which involves a QTE and takes a good 20-45 seconds, is ramped up enormously. Fortunately, the laughs and the combat system are strong enough to keep you going.

The main story, depending on how many distractions you follow along the way, will probably take you about 14-18 hours. There are plenty of side quests, and – not something we can say about most RPGs – you’ll probably want to do them all. Each has its own mini storyline and script, with plenty of content you’ll otherwise miss. On top of that, the reward can sometimes be something as significant as a powerful new attack.

We have, somehow, managed to make it to the end of the review before we mention the fact that there are a lot of fart jokes in here. As in, there are probably more jokes about farts than anything else. 98% of them are unfunny… but the other 2% are hilarious. All that really matters though is that this is a rock-solid game wearing comedy trousers. Trousers that have several noticeable scuffs and tears, but still manage to impress.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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