Games Review: South Park: The Fractured But Whole (PS4, 2017) is a hilariously addictive RPG adventure

When you first jump into South Park: The Fractured But Whole, you pick up from where the last game, The Stick of Truth, and the last episode of the TV series (Season 21, Episode 4 “Franchise Prequel”), leave off. The boys have stopped playing a Lord of the Rings style quest and are now building their own “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, playing Superheroes and Villians as the Coon (Cartman), Professor Chaos (Butters), Mysterion (Kenny) and more enter their world of make believe, only to unravel some sort of criminal underworld as things get really, really out of hand. Because this is South Park, and that’s just what ten-year-olds do.

Like The Stick of Truth before it, the brilliance of this game lies in the fact that it looks and feels like you’re watching an episode of the show. A very, very long episode of the show. With some twenty hours of gameplay — twice that of its predecessor — there’s a lot to get through. At the time of writing, I believe I’m about 75%  through the game — but as I’ve spent as much time exploring the world and trying to find every secret room and crevasse that exists throughout, the length may be misleading. Either way I’ve still got a bit to go, so you may see this article updated slightly as I finish it throughout the week.

Graphically, the game is slightly improved from Stick of Truth. You’ll get more characters on screen, and there is a lot more detail in the background which sometimes even interact with the gameplay. But there’s not much you’re going to see different with their signature cut-out graphics. Really where the game takes advantage of the console upgrade is in the multitude of options that lay before you. Unlike The Stick of Truth, which pretty much had one path to follow, with a couple minor paths of deviation early on, it feels like every decision you make to your character’s “character sheet” can warrant a completely different game experience. And there are a lot of decisions to be made.

Each of these decisions heralds a different reaction — be it the gender you choose your character to be or the order you choose to do things. Go downstairs when you were supposed to go upstairs and you’d get a text on “Coonstagram” from one of the characters telling you you’re a moron for going downstairs. Had you not gone downstairs first you wouldn’t ever have received the message. In this way the game is much more diverse and replayable than the first. How “dark” was the skin your character? Which class did you choose? Which characters did you have in your team? Every decision you make warrants different dialogue and some ever so slight variation of the storyline. I’m already looking forward to playing it through again as a different character, with a different level of difficulty, and really seeing how that changes up the dialogue, the story and the gameplay.

So what of the gameplay? Well Ubisoft really have taken everything up a notch. The grid and turn-based battle system is a vast improvement on the original, and your character has so much more customisation. There are no less than twelve superhero classes, the number of which you’re able to hold at any time growing throughout the game, which yield dozens of abilities. As you grow your character, you add extra “artifacts” to your body which gives you more “might” and essentially levels you up. A new “inspection mode” also gives you some fart-based buddy powers which prove pretty entertaining. Eventually, your farts – aided by Morgan Freeman (because, of course) – will even help you bend the fabric of time, which adds an interesting element to the game, and creates a few decent puzzles throughout. The time-bending features seem to blend together the gameplay of Life is Strange with Bioshock Infinite, but rest assured that no one has ever done it with farts before. 

Little things really add to the whole experience, too. Having cars drive by and stop a battle, the driver yelling profanities at the kids to get off the damn road – and then fighting continues again. It’s clever. The level of satire surrounding the Marvel/DC Universes is pretty phenomenal too. I shudder to think how many pages of script were produced for this game. And the changes to the town since the last game – both mirroring what happened in the original game, as well as what’s happening in the TV show – makes this a worthy sequel. Look out for PC Principal, Shi Tpa Town, SoDoSoPa (at Kenny’s House) and more. Oh and there are plenty of Member Berries around, too. But getting around quickly remains an option – now you have “Fastpass” with Jimmy instead of the ride with Timmy, to get around the town between different checkpoints. With tonnes of side quests and a buttload of destinations (pun intended), this definitely comes in handy as the game progresses. 

Now some of these quests do get a bit repetitive, as does some of the action – even with all the customisation. This is mainly due to a limited number of comments that some characters are able to make; but just when you think you’ve heard it all, a character comes in with something hilarious and you’re reminded just how much detail, and how much dialogue, there is within the game. But it’s something the game does seem to struggle with at times, at least on the Playstation 4. I had moments when one piece of dialogue would start, before it seemed to realise I had a different gender and it changed. There was even a moment when I walked in on duplicate Cartman Moms, each telling me different things. These sorts of glitches are surely to be sorted in future patches, and just show how complex some of the dialogue decisions are within the game (and likely how these decisions were being made up until the very last minute).

Even though I haven’t finished the game yet, I’m starting to wonder, as I did last time, is the end of the game really the end of the game? With The Stick of Truth, it seems the makers went straight into creating a new game entirely, rather than delivering a DLC, however there are some hints in the game that they might approach things different this time around. Head up to Trump’s Wall on the Canadian border and you’ll find a pal, friend, guy sitting up top, offering no assistance in giving you access to the Great North, which was famously and hilariously 2D the last time around, and saying, “Look guy, maybe we’ll do a DLC or something, but for now fuck off!”, as a MIDI version of “Blame Canada” plays in the background. Well, here’s hoping they deliver on that, because with only 10 episodes a year, this would be a strong avenue for Trey Parker and Matt Stone to continue to pump out content throughout the year – something I’m sure most fans would happily pay for.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this review was written, the details of the show’s Season Pass has been confirmed, with a number of DLCs scheduled for 2018, including a plotline involving Casa Bonita and a new class which looks set to bring Mint-Berry Crunch into the game. The character was seen in some early promotions for the game but disappeared closer to release. It seems we now know why! Still no word on whether the wall to Canada will open up or not, however.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole is not a perfect game. There are glitches and some gameplay does become repetitive. But ultimately what they’ve done here is taken The Stick of Truth – which was a hilarious and enjoyable game in its own right – and made it longer, better and even funnier, with the sort of replay value that was missing the first time around. There are better RPGs out there, sure, but fans of South Park are going to eat up every minute of this gut-wrenchingly funny game, which is without question the best TV adaptation ever produced for a games console, and may just be the funniest game ever made.

Now let me publish this review so I can get back to playing the game.

Score: 9.0 out of 10
Highlights: Incredible, offensive dialogue that doesn’t hold back, and a ridiculous storyline that is up there amongst the most entertaining that South Park has ever offered. Replay value is strong and the level of detail in the audio is remarkable.
Lowlights: Minor glitches and some repetitive gameplay.
Developer: Ubisoft San Francisco
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: 17th October 2017