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South Park: The Fractured but Whole Review


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On 10/28/2017 at 12:00 PM by Julian Titus

My god, New Kid, what a tragic backstory!
RECOMMENDATION:

Fans of South Park and RPGs who also like the Coon and Friends episodes of the show.

South Park: The Stick of Truth triumphed over adversity to become a critical and commercial success. It was a gamble on a franchise that had never had a great game, went through a protracted development cycle, and survived the closing of its original publisher. Three years later South Park: The Fractured but Whole may not have had as many roadblocks, but it is a sequel to a surprise hit being developed by a different team and attempting to be just as successful as its predecessor. While it may not reach the heights that The Stick of Truth hit, this is a worthy sequel.

Taking place not long after a kid farted on a princess’ balls to save the town from the scourge of Nazi zombies, we find the kids hanging up their cloaks and +1 Broadswords of Bleeding in favor of their superhero personas. Even though the New Kid (your character) became the king of Kupa Keep, he is a nobody when it comes to Coon and Friends, Eric Cartman’s merry band of crime fighters. You’re busted back down to level one in one of the best explanations of a character being depowered in a sequel I’ve ever seen.

The Fractured but Whole makes some big improvements to the previous game, while holding back in other areas. The most welcome improvements come in the battle system, which receives a complete overhaul. Gone is the timing based attack system with two party members, replaced with a more tactical combat screen with a full party of four characters (out of 12 total heroes) duking it out against 6th graders, Raisins waitresses, and dreaded crab people.

Combat takes place on a grid that pops up when enemies appear. It may resemble more of a strategy/role playing game like X-Com to some, but it reminded me more of the Lunar games. Strategy revolves completely around positioning, with multiple abilities drastically altering where characters end up in relation to each other. This allows for additional damage if you can knock an enemy back into one of your teammates, or to set up bigger attacks by grouping enemies together for an area of effect move. Some bosses add an extra wrinkle to the fights when they straight-up don’t follow the rules, taking multiple turns or negating the damage you dished out to them. It adds a much-needed layer of thought and challenge to the game. While I didn’t see a game over screen very often, this is definitely a tougher adventure than the last one, especially with some inventive boss encounters later in the story.

It's a shame, then, that the super hero setting doesn’t allow for as much sense of player progression as The Stick of Truth did. That game leaned hard into its fantasy/RPG trappings with skill trees, different weapon types, and armor that affected stats in meaningful ways. In The Fractured but Whole you start out with a single hero class, such as speedster or brawler, with a full set of powers unlocked from the get go. Later on you can multiclass and choose abilities from a growing list of super hero tropes, but your individual skills can’t be improved or augmented. There are relic slots that unlock as you level up, which are used to equip different items that boost your stats. While you could conceivably spend time trying to min/max your character to prioritize specific powers, I found the best strategy was just to equip the relics with the highest overall Might rating. My character stopped earning new upgrade slots just past the halfway point, so the sense of player progression came to a halt long before the story was done.

The story of The Fractured but Whole is solid, and certainly continues the sense of it being a well-written, super long episode of the show that The Stick of Truth managed before it. However, it just doesn’t have the same oomph as the previous game. It’s decidedly not as funny, and seems to play things safer this time around. While there are certainly some great moments that stand out, nothing is as out there or as envelope pushing as exploring Mr. Slave’s insides, or fighting a giant aborted fetus. Also, this game hinges a lot of the laughs on the more recent seasons of the show, so if you’re not already familiar with SoDoSoPa, PC Principal, or memberberries you may find yourself missing out on some of the fun.

That shouldn’t suggest that South Park: The Fractured but Whole is not chock full of laughs, of course. Some of my favorite parts of the show involve the kids being kids, and I love the use of their imagination here. Jimmy Valmer may be hampered by a stutter and arm crutches, but the hero Fastpass is the fastest kid alive. Scott Malkinson is just a loser who is less popular than Butters, but as Captain Diabetes he turns his greatest weakness into his power. There is also a lot of fun in the confusion of just what is real and what is in the kid’s imaginations. Like, the kids know how they should react to the Human Kite’s eye beams, but what about the adult meth addicts that he fights? It raises a lot of questions that you’ll just have to answer yourself. By far my favorite parts of the game was the in-battle banter between the kids, especially with Super Craig and the Mosquito. It made me appreciate some of the supporting cast in new ways.

There is a lot of fun to be had with this return to South Park. Even though the town is largely unchanged, I still had a great time exploring this sleepy mountain town where so many shenanigans take place. I found the super hero setting to limit my investment in my character, but the battle system is top notch. I still can’t get over how it looks and feels like I’m playing a part in the show, and I’d certainly love to see another game come from this team.

 

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

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