Following The Stick of Truth from 2014, Ubisoft has returned to the little mountain town of South Park with The Fractured But Whole. And once again Ubisoft has completely outdone themselves in bringing South Park to life. Every aspect remains faithful to the TV show and it feels like you’re playing a 20 hour episode. The Fractured But Whole is another love letter to fans that builds on the original with well executed new additions.
When it comes to graphics, it’s all about the trademark art style instead of resolution. Just like The Stick of Truth, the town and all of its inhabitants resemble their TV counterparts. Anyone unaware will assume you’re watching an episode of South Park instead of playing a game. The Fractured But Whole makes improvements, however, in how the town shows the after effects of not only the previous game but the newer seasons as well. Brand new characters and areas that appear in recent seasons like PC Principle or the area of SoDoSoPa add even more personality to the town. Exploring this recreation of South Park is as fun as it was in 2014 and these new additions make things feel fresh.
The primary positive about the sound is the voice acting. As you’d expected, Matt Stone and Trey Parker give their characters life with some amazing voice work. This is complemented by equally strong writing, which makes Fractured But Whole the funniest game I’ve played all year. The soundtrack was a bit hit or miss for my own personal taste. Pretty standard and uninspired fare used in the over world is mixed with traditional sound bits from the show. Music during combat wasn’t bad, but overall there were no real standouts from the original tracks that I’d listen to on my own. However, you can hear some songs from the show on radios in certain buildings, as well as some remixed versions.
The story of Fractured But Whole takes place directly at the end of Stick of Truth as the kids finish up their fantasy game and have to transition into a game of superheroes. Taking cues and inspiration on the over saturation of the current superhero market, Fractured But Whole parodies everything from Marvel vs. DC, Civil War, franchise plans and Netflix series. You once again take control of the New Kid who must work his way up as a competent superhero after rising so far in the first game. This leads to team ups with your usual suspects like Stan, Kyle. and Cartman but also some new kids like Scott Malkinsin and Wendy.
The first few hours of the story feel a bit safe and almost tame compared to the things we saw in Stick of Truth. While it was still enjoyable getting reacquainted with the characters and town, something was missing: that bite South Park has when it can take its’ filter off and go crazy. Instead it opts to ease you back into the setting before really delivering on the absurd and outrageous situations that come later. By contrast, Stick of Truth really went all out from the start and never stopped. It’s not a snail crawl beginning by any means, but it started slower than I anticipated. Most of the town opens up early on with some areas and items hidden behind barriers. And these only become available after progressing through the story and gaining the help of a buddy to move the object blocking your way.
The most notable and biggest change to gameplay is the combat. Combat is still turn based, but it occurs on a grid which has you move your characters around enemies and other obstacles. This means using enemy placement as well as teammate placement to your advantage during battle. For example, a new attack type causes knockback which sends the enemy backwards. Knocking them into your teammate, into an object on the grid, or even into another enemy grants bonus damage. This is a much appreciated added layer during combat.
Another change is made to the way you enhance your character and teams’ strengths and that’s through using Artifacts. Unlike the first game that had you equip gear to raise your stats like swords or armor, Fractured But Whole is focused on raising your Might level. The Might level determines how on par you are with the mission. The Artifacts also give bonuses to 6 different sub categories like Status Effects, Knockback and Critical Hit Bonus. You focus on raising your Might as well as bonuses that complement your play style. This change also means you can wear any costume you wish and places the focus on character powers and how they work together.
The main story missions are all generally strong but what really shines are the side quests. From helping out a troubled relationship to assisting someone getting back to work, these side missions are extremely engaging and hilarious. This is one game I actively decided early on I wanted to see all of these quests to the end just because it meant interacting with these characters more. And that’s a running theme in Fractured But Whole: the urge to see everything it has to offer because it’s just so enjoyable to play. Everything is an ode to the fans with tons of Easter Eggs and call backs.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a major step up from Stick of Truth in terms of gameplay and combat. The story lacks the same amount of major moments and truly shocking sections but that doesn’t mean what’s here isn’t fantastic. There’s still enough stand out sections and the improved mechanics means Fractured But Whole feels better to play overall. The story feels safe to start but quickly comes into its own as it finds a groove and never lets up. A true joy and another strong entry this year for potential buyers to consider in a busy Holiday season.
Also available on: PS4, PC.