The Stick of Truth was a shockingly good game. It didn’t just emulate South Park’s wittily juvenile comedy and construction paper aesthetic and slap them on an RPG, it genuinely felt like an interactive season of the show. The fact that the game was a concise, reasonably robust roleplaying game, on top of being a genuine extension of the show, made it an exemplary licensed video game. The thing is, a lot of what made Stick of Truth so great were consequences of it being the South Park game, not just the fantasy-themed South Park game. The Fractured But Whole, now, finds its identity as the superhero South Park game. While the specification of the theme is a great way to differentiate Fractured from its predecessor, it can’t avoid having some of its toes stepped on by the breadth of Stick of Truth.
Now playing superheroes, the South Park kids are at odds about the trajectory of their superhero franchise, arguing over which characters deserve solo films, who gets a Netflix series, and who just shows up for the team movies. This contention insights civil war, splitting the kids into two factions; Coon and Friends and Freedom Pals. Much like in Stick of Truth, you play as the new kid, going along with Cartman as The Coon’s superhero roleplaying to find a missing cat. In typical South Park fashion, things, of course, escalate in entertainingly overdramatic ways. The scenario of Fractured, though it takes a while to unfurl, is increasingly interesting, tying tonnes of South Park history together in fun and cohesive ways.
Unfortunately, The Fractured But Whole doesn’t outshine the comedy and surprise of Stick of Truth. It suffers inherently from being a sequel, with the wonder of exploring South Park and snooping through each kid’s house missing the excitement that made Stick of Truth so special. So many recurring locations, as well as the layout of the map as a whole, are unavoidably similar to their prior counterparts that they have the disadvantage of familiarity from the outset. It’s a bummer the game doesn’t spend more time in new environments. There’s also a deficiency of the sudden, shocking scenarios that accounted for a lot of Stick of Truth’s best jokes. There are plenty of funny things to do and see in Fractured, but nothing specific and unforgettable.
Mechanically, things have changed. Combat takes place on a grid, so positioning your team and using specifically directional abilities is integral. Knocking an enemy into another teammate behind them for an extra hit or getting in between foes to let off an area of effect attack is much more engaging than selecting moves from stationary positions. Unique battles against foes that target certain spaces or environmental hazards can mix things up even more, though they’re fairly few and far between. Combat farts, cooldowns on some attacks, and super moves add an extra degree of depth, but all of each character’s three attacks have pretty straightforward effects, so there are no particularly elaborate set-ups here. Seeing as all damage is healed once combat concludes, each fight is a self-contained challenge, meaning the difficulty is only really a variable in specific fights, and healing items aren’t very valuable until most of the way through the game. It’s not a deep system, but it’s more than enough stay fun for the length of the game.
Outside of combat, there are a few ways to interact with the world. Throwing firecrackers and farting around helps to solve some light puzzles, while buddy powers add a Metroidvania element. You might need The Human Kite to help you fartkour up to a ledge or Captain Diabetes’ diabetic rage to remove an obstacle from your path. Combine these with fart powers that can manipulate time, and the puzzles can be a lot of fun to solve. They just never really get tricky.
Collecting costumes is a motivator throughout, but because outfits have no impact outside of appearance, I didn’t find myself changing too much or getting excited over new gear. I had a bra on my head from the point I found it in the first couple of hours of the game through to the finish, and that’s just how my sick character looked. Artifacts do improve your stats, but they come pretty naturally through the course of the game. It’s a shame the best of them don’t come as rewards for completing side quests or being found in tricky places. When they are found outside of the main quest, it doesn’t take long for them to become obsolete.
Accumulating followers by means of selfie is a great way to encourage you to explore South Park and talk to its residents, with certain characters refusing your request until certain conditions are met. There’s a bunch more to collect, with Memberberries, Yaoi art and toilets that have you play a mini-game to use. Moving so slowly across the same map for so long was certainly wearing on me by the end, though. Gathering collectables can be a little more laborious than fun when you’re walking across stretches of road without fast travel points you’ve been down so often.
The look and sound of South Park is a key component here, and a flawless one. Once again, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s control over the project is consistently apparent, with every situation, every piece of dialogue and every specific animation being as much South Park as the show itself. It’s a genuinely commendable move by Ubisoft to give the free reign and necessary time to a licensed product like this a second time over, and the result is a product that clearly succeeds in all it set out to do. Outside of the South Park aesthetic, it does a great job of riffing off of superhero games, with the interface and soundtrack being immediately comparable to stuff like Injustice and the Arkham games. I did encounter an issue with how the game functions regularly, though, in that the next turn or event would fail to be triggered in combat. Sometimes this meant nothing was happening for a couple of seconds before the next turn began, sometimes it meant a few minutes. It usually wasn’t a big deal, but after it happening dozens of times through my playthrough, it definitely gets problematic.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a fun and accessible RPG that falls right in line as a South Park product. Combat adds a minor layer of depth with the role of strategic placement in combat, balancing accessible simplicity with enough variables to keep fighting fun throughout. The story, though slow to build, is a fun culmination of South Park bits and the superhero personas of the kids are fun to get to know. The thrill of exploring South Park for the first time is worn off, and the lack of new places to go and things to see is a bummer, but by its conclusion, The Fractured But Whole establishes an identity through its broad qualities, even if the special moments of Stick of Truth aren’t matched.