Review: South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a game designed to lighten up a divided populous through crude humor and tight gameplay
Truly one of a kind these days.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole has had a bit of an inauspicious development in the public eye. Not only was the game delayed multiple times, but its subject matter has always rubbed at least one person the wrong way, and with public sensitivity at an all-time high, there were some legitimate concerns that the game might be censored. While it’s impossible to know whether or not it actually was without being behind the scenes, I’m happy to report that South Park: The Fractured But Whole is not only hilarious, but it is as crude in its humor as it has ever been. And weirdly, in this divided America we live in, The Fractured But Whole might just be the game to get the masses to lighten up.
Fortunately, The Fractured But Whole doesn’t stop at its content; it’s also a pretty deep RPG that continues to add new wrinkles to its systems. Battle plays out on a small grid and each turn you have the option to move one of four of the children into a position to attack, protect, and/or heal up.
As usual, here’s what you need to know about South Park: The Fractured But Whole.
Battle isn’t overly complicated, but there’s enough here to satisfy the balance between strategic and accessible.
Your moves are determined by a set of three primary abilities and one super move that is usable only when you’ve charged it up. Each child comes with their own skills, and specialize in different areas. Players can only customize their own character, The New Kid, but The Fractured But Whole never rides its battle system to the point where it ends up feeling repetitive.
You start the game by choosing a single class as either a Speedster, Brutalist, or Blaster. Each of these classes has their own strengths and weaknesses, affecting things like movement, physical attack strength, and attacking from a distance. Whatever you don’t choose will be compensated by South Park’s established characters, leaving it up to the player to figure out a regular rotation. You can swap the kids in and out anytime at your leisure, as well as the Move Sets your character takes into battle once you unlock the game’s subclasses.
The Fractured But Whole also re-contextualizes a classic JRPG mechanic where the player can attack the enemy before battle occurs to gain a turn advantage. Instead of slashing a sword or moving in from behind, players can punch and/or fart on an enemy in the overworld. Doing so will stun and “Gross Out” (South Park’s version of poisoning) the enemy. It’s not an overly complicated bit of strategy and not doing those things doesn’t mean you’re in for a tough fight, but they are a nice bonus, both for their humor and what they bring to the game’s playbook.
No special treatment here. The Fractured But Whole targets everyone across the political spectrum.
The great thing about South Park is that no matter how hard it rode its subject matter, there was never a sense of political bias. And in the liberal-heavy game industry whose messaging, while well-intended, can quickly grow stale, The Fractured But Whole is, for lack of a less overused cliche, a breath of fresh air. Ubisoft’s latest romp through the small Colorado town goes after anyone it sets its sights on, playing on the stereotypes that everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) naturally concocts in their minds as a result of ignorance.
You want racist alt-right Rednecks out to kill anyone that doesn’t fit their vision of what the world should be? You got ‘em. Want a triggered social justice warrior that injects a never-ending barrage of “micro-aggressions” in desperate defense of different groups of people to satisfy their own failing ego? The Fractured But Whole has that too. Oh, don’t forget the child rapist priests that just want to “give you a shoulder rub” in the back room of the local church. That’s a boss battle which involves anal beads and a devastating flagellation attack.
Suffice it to say; if you are easily offended, The Fractured But Whole probably isn’t for you.
All hail the mighty fart.
In case you haven’t been paying attention to The Fractured But Whole’s pre-launch advertising, seen an extended run of South Park episodes, or just put two and two together when examining the game’s title, farts play a massive part in the experience. They aren’t only for show either, although they also function as such as you can pass some rather nasty gas at any NPC walking by and they will react accordingly. As mentioned above, farts can give you an edge going into a fight, but they also present new ways to traverse the environment.
The New Kid can team up with friends to access new areas of the world that are at first presented to the player as impossible to reach. For instance, teaming up with Scott Malkinson’s alter-ego, Captain Diabetes will allow The New Kid to fart in the captain’s face to give him super strength. Captain Diabetes can then use his power to remove obstacles or create pathways to previously inaccessible areas. Each one of these areas also contain a reward or two, many times a new costume, so it’s always worth it to use the abilities.
Despite all its crassness, The Fractured But Whole does a great job capturing the imagination of a child.
We all remember what it was like to play in the street with the neighborhood kids. Well, at least 90’s kids do. Our imaginations filled in the blanks. The grass was safe; the road was lava or vice versa. The Fractured But Whole doesn’t forget to add a sense of poignancy, however fleeting it is between the flatulence. Even while battling, the kids speak as if they are consciously playing a turn-based role-playing game. “Oh hey! It’s my turn already?” one might say. Or when one of your foes is defeated, they will eventually open their eyes, get up, and run off of the battle grid to wait out the rest of the turns.
Every now and then battles will pause as the kids flee to the sidewalk to let a car pass by. These are the little details that South Park: The Fractured But Whole throws in to remind us that no matter how vulgar their mouths, they really are just a bunch of kids playing with their imaginations. Of course, the seriousness stops on a dime once the game takes you to such locations as the dressing room of a strip club or a dark back room with pervy priests. Apparently, the adults play by the same rules as the kids, but it’s all good.
I have a hard time finding fault with South Park: The Fractured But Whole, so I can safely say it is among the best games I have played in 2017. Like it’s predecessor, it masters the basics of the brand and delivers a game that improves upon the core experience of The Stick of Truth and is something that both longtime fans and newbies can quickly get into.
It’s also a bit ironic in that for how much The Fractured But Whole targets specific demographics of people to poke fun at, in doing so it relegates everyone down to the same playing field. No one is safe from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and that’s the way it ought to be.
Over more extended playthroughs, the humor becomes a bit stale from playing off of similar gags. Don’t get me wrong, fart jokes are lovely and all, but there’s only so many times I can pass gas at an NPC before the novelty wears off. Fortunately, it takes a great many farts before that happens.