Review In Short
Ben says: "Whilst it has a far better combat mechanic than The Stick of Truth it doesn't quite get away with rekindling the enjoyment of the first game. The ending of the main quest is a bit too long winded whilst the DLC is far too short for the price. If you're a big South Park fan then it is still worth playing but otherwise it is one you can miss."
The Stick of Truth was a surprise hit in 2014 when, after several delays, Obsidian Entertainment gave the world a South Park game that felt like an episode of the show. At just under 8 hours in length and with a fairly light combat mechanic, the game was really more about the story and the number of things Matt and Trey could and couldn’t (in certain countries at least) get away with. The Fractured But Whole looked to follow this trend albeit with a switch from the Lord of the Rings / Hobbit style fantasy setting to the current trend for superheroes; gone are the pointy ears and sticks to be replaced by capes and lasers. There was a similar delay of almost a year and whilst there were rumours of a larger script I was generally expecting more of the same.
Even now, I’m struggling to decide if this is really a sequel or if it is more akin to a DLC expansion. There is a huge amount of refinement to the game both in terms of combat mechanics and inventory management whilst also clocking in at over double the length of Stick of Truth with it taking me around 18 hours to finish the main campaign. Yet I also can’t shake the feeling that this feels all too familiar, a natural byproduct of having a fixed amount of game world (the same town) along with the majority of the characters from the original.
Improved combat mechanics are the main draw for this sequel
The main area where there is a substantial difference from Stick of Truth is in the combat. Whilst the first game had a fairly basic turn based system limited to two controllable characters, The Fractured But Whole has a full movement grid with four controllable characters which increases to even more at certain key points. The first game saw you choose from four different classes whereas here you have ten classes available to you with options to multiclass becoming available as you progress. Thankfully there is no longer a Borderlands style weapons inventory but instead each class has three attacks and a special move when a meter is filled based on successful blocks and attacks. This means that you aren’t constantly changing your weapon as you find something with a 1pt increase but instead getting to use the same moves every battle; the fact that you have three constantly changing companions from a roster of ten keeps things fresh along with the fact you can swap out a move you don’t like for one from another class later in the game.
All of these things lead to a much richer battle system and actually make it feel more like a game rather than a series of quick time events as the first one did. Whilst I worried the game was going to be too easy at the start, those fears were erased once the difficulty started to climb half way through with some of the final battles being particularly challenging. I also appreciated that not every battle was a “kill all enemies” affair with some needing you to reach a specific point or destroy certain items on the board.
Making a return from Stick of Truth are summons, powerful beings that can help turn a battle. There are only four to find in The Fractured But Whole and they also have a finite limit as you need to use certain collectibles to call them. They can also only be used once per battle so you can’t constantly summon Moses to heal your party even if you do have enough macaroni pictures to do it.
There is a huge amount of cosmetic outfits to choose from
As you no longer have weapons, the way in which you level throughout the game had to change slightly and is now achieved through artefacts. These are essentially patches added to your character that increase your rating in three key areas; brains, brawn, and spunk. Each of your abilities will be based on one of these types. For instance, boosting your brawn stat if you do a lot of physical attacks will increase your damage whilst boosting spunk will improve your healing abilities. These artefacts go into slots on your character sheet (of which more are unlocked as you level your character) and total up to a “might” number which is a good way of seeing if a quest is going to be too hard for you or not as you will be able to see the average might of your opponents. In addition to artefacts, there is also DNA which is a single slot that wildly alters your stats. For example, you might choose a strand that boosts your brains by 30% at the cost of a 20% reduction in hit points. All of this combines to making inventory management simpler as you are no longer going through a long winded process of swapping minor patches on weapons every battle in order to gain an extra point or two of damage.
The changes to inventory management go slightly further though. The first game was notorious for having a “junk” section which was literally just references to items from episodes of the show that didn’t actually do anything. This is now an ingredients section broken down into a few types that can then be mixed together in a simple crafting mechanism for creating certain artefacts or consumables like health potions. Crafting has its own levelling system which allows you to make better and better recipes; this led me to be a bit too powerful at the start of the game (as I’d found loads of ingredients) but it all balanced out around half way through.
Other collectibles in the game include clothing items which are now purely cosmetic rather than having offensive or defensive properties. There are entire costumes to find with challenges granting extra XP should you find a certain number. There are also quest based collectibles such as finding Big Gay Al’s missing cats or collecting Yaoi depicting Tweek and Craig’s romance. Finally, as in The Stick of Truth, you need to collect followers by propositioning the townsfolk but this is done via selfies within the “Coonstagram” app on your phone in which you can pose and change your facial expressions to suit your feelings.
There are ten allies to choose from and you’ll cycle through them all during the course of the campaign
The plot continues exactly where Stick of Truth left off but you quickly switch from the fantasy setting to the superhero one. Coon & Friends want to try and start a franchise with multiple movies and a Netflix series but an argument over the franchise plan means that some of the boys end up forming a rival superhero franchise named Freedom Pals. You as the unnamed ‘new kid’ are working for Coon & Friends trying to find a missing cat so you can claim a $100 reward to kickstart the franchise but all the while strange things are happening in the town. It’s about as far fetched as usual for South Park and there are definitely some huge twists and turns throughout the adventure that will delight longtime fans of the series whilst also bringing it up to date with the more recent series with the inclusion of characters such as PC Principal and locations such as SoDoSoPa and Historic Shi Tpa Town.
The dialogue and writing throughout is top notch with all the correct voice work. This isn’t a surprise after Stick of Truth but it is always nice when original cast are used for video games as it happens so rarely. South Park do better than any game I’ve previously seen though with a vast amount of dialogue for such a small game. Every character interacts not only with others but also based on certain plot points throughout the game. There is constant bickering between your superheroes as you fight and even the enemies you might only see for a couple of minutes may have many different lines of dialogue just in case you take your time making your next move. I particularly enjoyed characters that were just in the background making themselves known such as the cinema attendant telling you that he’s seen better costumes in 1980’s Doctor Who if you battle in front of the cinema. It is these little moments and the endless hours of dialogue that must have been recorded that make the game what it is and make you feel like you are actually in South Park.
Praise should also be given to the excellent soundtrack that manages to keep up with the constant twists of the script be that providing a stirring superhero backdrop, a Joker-style funfair ensemble mixed with Mexican music, or a poppy soundtrack for the Raisins girls. There is as big a variety in the soundtrack as there is in the vocal work which is to be highly commended.
Flappy Bird meets Only One in this Kanye West spoof
On a related note, the sound effects are horrific which is to say they do their job incredibly well. One of the points I’ve neglected to mention so far is that you have certain powers related to your farts that come in handy around the “overworld” between battles. These vary from a way to clear lava to a way to reach high places. Each one is graphic and has some of the more puerile sound effects you can imagine; it is incredibly childish, but even after my 30th time of shooting a hamster out of my anus I still couldn’t stifle an adolescent snort. This also goes for the toilet based minigame which sees you performing rock band style quick time events in order to evacuate your bowels.
In case it wasn’t clear, The Fractured But Whole is on a scale of lewd to massively offensive depending on where your own sensibilities lie. It is full of toilet humour but also has a scathing critique on gentrification, microaggressions, immigrant labour, and gender fluidity. There is also the matter of helping Seaman get a gay fish’s mother into heaven by means of a flappy bird game aimed squarely at Kanye’s recently cancelled Only One game. Oh, and the lap dancing minigame.
This is the sort of thing that was banned in The Stick of Truth in certain countries…
I did run into a few issues whilst playing The Fractured But Whole although most of them are relatively minor. First of all, there is no ultrawide screen support which is disappointing especially as many of the battle boards don’t fit on a single screen and have to be panned to see certain enemies. I did also have one battle where the game would get stuck in an endless loop until, bizarrely, I took a screenshot at which point I could use my controller again. Finally, everything goes through UPlay so even on Steam you’ll need to install that and have it sync your saves and pop up with extra notifications about achievements, etc. I don’t really mind this but it is annoying to see items of clothing in the game that require you to purchase them with UPlay points. There are less achievements than in the first game but they are also less bullshitty; the Chinpokomon in Stick of Truth were notoriously easy to miss requiring a restart of the game but I’ve not seen anything like that here. The addition of Steam trading cards was also a pleasant surprise.
There is a season pass available with several big DLC packs due to launch over the coming months starting with Doctor Timothy’s Danger Deck this December and then two new story-based content packs in 2018. A couple of minor bits of DLC are available already as they were used for pre-order bonuses. This includes a cosmetic pack containing outfits from Stick of Truth and “Towelie: Your Gaming Bud” which sounds a lot better than it is. I received that as a pre-order bonus and it is just Towelie popping up occasionally to tell you obvious tutorial things; it does get a bit funnier towards the end but it is something that should have just been included (I was expecting it to be a unique summon).
Little moments like this whereby your battle is interrupted due to a car driving down the street are wonderful
In conclusion, this is a bit of a mixed bag depending on your point of view. First of all, if you are not a South Park fan then there is nothing here for you; the story and humour lean too heavily on a knowledge of the series and you simply won’t enjoy it for the game mechanics alone. For fans though this is definitely a gold mine in terms of content. An 18 hour campaign filled to the brim with dialogue and nostalgic references including possibly some of the most offensive content that you won’t see in the programme (and that is saying something!). Pair that with an improved combat system and reduced inventory management and you should be onto a winner. I haven’t even mentioned the subtle details that make the difference such as Toolshed’s entrance animations, Cousin Kyle’s many interruptions, Wendy as “Call Girl”, Cartman’s flashback sequence for teaching you new class moves, collecting memberberries, the Half-Life references later in the game, Jimmy’s superhero character being “Fast Pass”, or the wonderful fact that Mr Garrison isn’t anywhere to be seen.
I still have a nagging feeling about recommending it too highly though. It is a great game but the reliance on Stick of Truth for the plot, the fairly repetitive puzzles, and the limited environments means that I’m in two minds about how much I actually enjoyed it. This is definitely not just an expansion to the first game but it doesn’t quite feel like it has grown enough to be a true sequel either. Instead it is stuck inbetween; fractured, but not quite whole.