By Alexander O. Cuaycong
SOUTH PARK: Stick of Truth was a game that was much, much better than first impressions conceded. While its graphics were simple, taking its art style and much of its humor from its titular Comedy Central show, South Park: Stick of Truth provided a level of polish that didn’t look possible from such a simple-looking game. Featuring an entertaining turn-based combat system, South Park: Stick of Truth was a surprise hit; it proved in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t just a cash grab targeting fans of the series. It was an amazing adaptation of a television series, and a good game in its own right. Now, with South Park: Stick of Truth’s success apparent to all and sundry, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, its sequel, certainly has big shoes to fill and a lot of expectations to live up to. Does it come anywhere close?
In many ways, the answer is a resounding yes. The idea of sequels has always revolved around the latest release being bigger and shinier and its immediate past predecessor. In this way, South Park: The Fractured But Whole easily delivers. Set a day after the events of South Park: Stick of Truth, it once more shines a light on the exploits of the New Kid, who gets between groups intent on developing superhero franchises. With the help of familiar characters (the taqueria-managing Morgan Freeman included), the New Kid must keep the town from being overcome by crime. En route, players get to explore a larger map, with plenty of optional areas in the town to visit in search of treasure. Fast Travel points are dotted along key areas to make backtracking easier, and it’s often good to do so, as layouts can be revisited and provide much-needed loot and gear. Its crafting system is rather generic, but gets the job done all the same, as it rewards players who explore and do battle, with better gear and more efficient healing items.
The combat strays away from the JRPG-like mechanics of South Park: Stick of Truth, and incorporates a grid-reliant turn-based system, allowing for more tactics to shine in combat. Strategy becomes an important part of every fight, as certain attacks depend on the specific positions of the protagonists. Often, attacks will cause status effects or knock enemies back, dealing extra damage if they collide into another character. That said, these very enemies can do the same in kind, leading to a careful balance between offense and defense.
And here’s the kicker: The level of customization is pleasantly in-depth. The superhero theme works well in giving South Park: The Fractured but Whole a sense of progression. There’s something hugely satisfying about going through the main story, as each chapter not only enhances characters by giving them additional attacks or by unlocking alternate classes, but by also changing their appearance, religion, and even sexuality and gender. These are small things when viewed from the big picture, but they fit perfectly with the source material’s tongue-in-cheek humor.
On the downside, South Park: The Fractured But Whole finds itself unable to sustain its momentum; it falters somewhere in the middle. As good as it is and has the potential to be, it winds up trying the patience of players with its repetitive game design. Even disregarding its controversial humor and dark comedy, some of the jokes, while legitimately funny, tend to get reused too often for comfort. Moreover, its constant use of quick-time events during battle, while amusing, can get tiresome. Even some of the better aspects of exploration, such as using a party member to clear an obstacle through elaborate puzzles, gets painfully slow when the same problems are faced again and again.
Creditably, South Park: The Fractured But Whole does try to shake things up. Various mechanics, such as the hilariously fourth-wall-breaking micro-aggression mechanic, are introduced at a moderately fast pace to break up the flow of combat and add interesting aspects to battles. This, alongside special moves in the form of Time-bending farts and special attacks, can combat the grindier, slower aspects of South Park: The Fractured But Whole.
Overall, barring the occasional lip-syncing issues and animation bugs, the game should last and function well throughout its respectable playtime of 20 hours or so on normal difficulty. It’s a mechanical upgrade over South Park: Stick of Truth, and a veritable must have for fans of the series. For others, the offensive humor and the simplistic looking art-style are barriers to appreciation from the get-go, but their investment of time will yield them a trove of value via an interesting combat system, a ton of content, and at the very least, a laugh or two. South Park: The Fractured But Whole is utterly ridiculous, and utterly satisfying.