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Just like every game this month, South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a sequel to one of our 2014 Game of the Year contenders. We loved the first game Stick of Truth, one of the best license adaptations ever (it’s up there with Batman: Arkham Asylum), but that does mean that The Fractured But Whole has a lot to prove. So what does Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Ubisoft – now on development duties as well as publishing – have to add? Superhero parodies. Perfect.
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I don’t want to ruin too much of the story since both surprise makes for the best humour, and knowing about it is utterly irrelevant to your enjoyment. It’s funny and ridiculous, which is all you need to know. In a nutshell, the South Park kids are now playing superhero rather than fantasy (the opening scene where they switch is wonderful) and they only have one goal: to get a superhero franchise up and running. To do this they’re trying to find a lost cat with a $100 reward, but their efforts are, of course, complicated by factors external and internal (literally).
While I didn’t expect The Witcher 3 in terms of storytelling, I was still disappointed by the storyline in The Fractured But Whole. Previous game The Stick of Truth got progressively more insane and epic, bringing in aliens, Facebook conspiracies, Nazi Zombies, and even trips to Canada. The Fractured But Whole stays resolutely South Park-bound and is nowhere near as crazy as it needs to be. It’s rather low-key for the most part, with Butters’ Professor Chaos chapter the most epic the game gets – I’d rather that have been the finale, frankly, since he’s the comic book supervillain of town. What the cops are up to is big, silly, and full of social commentary, but it’s not as fun.
Even the exploration isn’t quite as much fun. Yes, it’s a perfect re-creation of South Park and you can explore every part of it, meet most characters, and can go in every building too. But the last game did that too, so this time it doesn’t feel quite as special. It’s still a lot of fun and all the comments are different, and I like the Metroidvania-like use of the various Fart Powers (can’t believe I just wrote that), but the ‘wow’ factor’s gone. Worse still, it’s actually more cumbersome, as there’s now no Run button, and Fast Travel is almost as bad as just walking as you have to endure a cutscene and actually get to a Fast Travel point before you can use it.
Fortunately the combat is much better, replacing the JRPG style of the first game with a board game grid similar to The Banner Saga, with characters able to move around and do one action every turn. All characters have completely different move sets, with various areas of effect, bonuses, and strength, or buffs, and building up a cool effective party is part of the game’s fun. I mean yeah, Super Craig punches really hard, but Captain Diabetes gets armour every time he hits and Call Girl has a great long distance attack. Effective Blocks and Attacks build to a Super Power which one character can use, and everyone’s got a different one so you have to take that into account too. It’s very tactical!
Then there are the actual fun elements, like character conversations during fights, backgrounds having an effect (outside the cinema is probably the best), and Microaggressions, gained by talking to PC Principal, where you get to immediately punch someone if they’re offensive in a non-PC way. Fights can stop to let a car drive past, and many battles have unique elements like barriers, explosives, or gimmicks like escaping or, er, sitting fire to Towelie’s weed stash to make him less aggressive. The combat is never less than entertaining, which honestly goes for the whole game really.
Performance & Graphics
OS: Windows 7 64 Bit
Processor: Intel Core i5 2400 / AMD FX 4320 or equivalent)
Memory: 6 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560Ti / GTX 650 / GTX 750 / GTX 950 / GTX 1050 / AMD Radeon HD 7850 / R9 270 / R9 370 / RX 460
Storage: 20GB Available Space
Additional Notes: 720p @~60FPS
Funny thing about this game. It looks exactly like an episode of the show, which means graphics and animation are simplistic and perfect as they are, so you don’t really need a mountainous PC to run it. It’s meant to look slightly crappy, so graphics settings are minimal and there’s really no reason it shouldn’t run butter-smooth.
And yet… it suffers from a ridiculous and occasionally unplayable amount of slowdown at certain points, and far too often. It’s unpredictable when it’ll happen, but usually in cutscenes or while using certain powers in combat. The whole game goes very laggy and it’s very noticeable. Our test PC sports an AMD FX-6300 Six-Core Processor, 16 Gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti 4Gb, and Windows 10 64-Bit, and it suffered though this simplistic-looking game. Fortunately it happens only occasionally, and this is the type of game where a second or two of lag doesn’t make much of a difference to gameplay, but it’s still annoying – and baffling.
One thing we haven’t mentioned is just how funny it is. The answer is “very”, but if we’re being honest it’s once again not as good as The Stick of Truth. That game, honest to god, made me dislocate my jaw because I laughed so hard. The Fractured But Whole frequently has laugh-out-loud moments, but never to that degree! This is hardly a criticism though since it’s still 10x funnier than any other game this year. Furthermore it’s surprising how emotional it gets in some points, such as when The New Kid’s terrible home life is laid bare, or during the break-up (and, thankfully, reconciliation) of the show’s MVP gay couple, Tweek and Craig.
As for how South Park it is? Very. If you’re a fan of the show you’ll be in heaven as there’s references everywhere (we finally get Crab People!), even if most of it skews towards more modern episodes of the show. The show itself even set it up with a prequel, so it’s mostly up-to-date, although there are a few really recent things that don’t make it in (or barely feature) – such as Cartman’s girlfriend Heidy and President Garrison. The highlight for us though is in continuing our own character from Stick of Truth, and building on them. I loved created my own South Park-style superhero, but I more loved revealing my character as a girl and slowly making her more feminine as the game went on.
SOUTH PARK: THE FRACTURED BUT WHOLE VERDICT
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is an excellent sequel and the funniest game this year, but it’s simply not as good as The Stick Of Truth. Even ignoring how unique the first game was at the time, the storyline was more epic, the locations more varied, the jokes jaw-dislocatingly good in that game. This one is great, always funny and usually pretty disturbing in that South Park way, but the superhero storyline kind of peaks with Professor Chaos and that’s not even halfway through the game. Fortunately at least the combat is far better and never less than entertaining, and fights can get really inventive and very tactical.
If The Stick Of Truth was an all-time classic episode of South Park, The Fractured But Whole is merely a very good one. Still, this is the one with Tweek x Craig, which is always excellent news. Hopefully Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Ubisoft will get it right again in 2020 with South Park: This Time They’re Playing Star Wars.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Either the amazing fight against Professor Chaos, or the superb way Mr Mackey counsels Tweek and Craig.
Extremely funny, and surprisingly emotional too in parts
Combat is vastly improved, with a lot of tactics in play and plenty of gimmicks (and humorous comments) to keep things interesting
A lot to do here and it’s at least fun all the way through
Gets the South Park franchise completely perfect, really feels like you’re shaping a new character
With the exception of combat, The Stick Of Truth is better in every way. Humour, exploration, storyline, none are bad but not as epically great as the last game
Bizarre random slowdown and lag on PC in both cutscenes and gameplay