Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo fame once said that a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is bad forever. Well, something like that. He was mostly right, though I’ll admit that some games (No Man’s Sky, surprisingly enough, included) can improve after a shaky release through patches and updates. Clearly the developers of South Park: The Fractured but Whole decided that delays were the way to go; we were supposed to see this one launch months, if not years ago, but delay after delay struck this superhero adventure down like Kryptonite. It’s here now, for what that’s worth, and for series fans it’s a dream come true.
Villainy has come to South Park once again! Cats are disappearing! Bad guys are doing bad things! Perhaps worst of all, the franchise income of South Park’s premier super-team, Coon and Friends, is plummeting! It’s up to Cartman — er, The Coon — and you, The New Kid (or Buttmunch, or Asslord, or whatever) to get Coon and Friends back in gear and clean the town up. Villains aren’t the only problem, though, as there’s a rival superteam, the Freedom Pals, who have their own ideas for the future of the superhero scene in South Park.
This is South Park, so you shouldn’t be surprised to find that it capitalizes on a certain brand of humor. This isn’t a show known for subtlety, after all. You can expect all manner of toilet jokes, some cracks at modern culture, the works; saying that everyone is the butt of a joke here and there might be exaggerating a bit, but South Park, this game included, does manage to go places that other franchises fear to tread.
This, naturally, has led to the usual hand-wringing from the gaming literati who have decided that they’re big kids now and South Park’s humor is beneath them, but I found that The Fractured but Whole was generally at least chuckleworthy. On the other hand, it probably bears mention that you’ll need to be a South Park fan to get the most out of this one. As someone who hasn’t really kept up with the series since the first season, I found myself popping back to the wiki and checking old episodes to stay on top of some of the running gags.
What’s the actual game like, though? Well, as is fitting with the superhero theme, you’ll customize your character with numerous costumes, classes, powers and even your own self-determined vulnerability, then team up with a few other iconic South Park characters (in their own heroic forms) and get to work fighting evil. Running around town is essentially the same as The Stick of Truth, meaning you’ll be punching stuff, collecting items and looking for bad guys to fight. As the game progresses you’ll obtain new ways of messing around with the environment, like firecrackers you can throw to break things open; you’re encouraged to go back to previously explored areas to get new goodies, like stat-boosting artifacts and other collectibles.
What happens when you run into Crab People or some other nogoodnik, though? Well, combat plays out on a grid using a turn-based system. Characters can have several powers, each with defined areas of effect, and a super attack that charges up by successfully nailing timed hits. Your character is able to switch classes and thus enjoys a degree of versatility, such as being able to support as a Psychic or dish out pain as a Blaster, and they’re also later able to multiclass and combine aspects of several classes for further jack-of-all-tradesitude. Most NPCs, on the other hand, have defined roles; The Human Kite focuses on support with a little damage on the side, while Fastpass can hit large areas and heal party members. Since you can customize your own character, it’s possible to adjust your own skills to suit the needs of your team – there’s a fair amount of strategic depth to this that you might not expect from a South Park game.
The corollary to this is that the grid system, the enemies’ tendency to use telegraphed attacks that you need to take time to dodge, and your characters’ slow power progression mean fights tend to take much longer than they did in The Stick of Truth (which wasn’t especially speedy in the first place.) I quickly found that combat, despite its enhancements, was the least enjoyable part of the game, a slog to endure between cutscenes and jokes, and the game seemed to realize this and tried to spice things up by peppering each fight with one-liners. Players with a little more patience might find themselves enjoying this side of The Fractured but Whole more than I did, but for my money, the enjoyable part of this game is exploring the town and interacting with other superheroes.
Presentation-wise this one’s on par with The Stick of Truth, which isn’t a complaint at all – you can’t make a more accurate South Park game than one that looks, sounds and feels exactly like the show. That’s basically all there is to say here; if you didn’t know any better you’d think you were watching some kind of lost episode. Welcome to the future, where we actually have games that look and play just like cartoons. Enjoy your stay.
Bottom line: if you played Stick of Truth and loved it, South Park: The Fractured but Whole is more of that. If you’re a hardcore fan, here’s more of that, too. If you’re an RPG fan who’s maybe not familiar with South Park, then it’s still worth a shot, though you’ll want to be prepared for a combat system that will ask a little more than you might expect from a South Park game. All in all, the high production values and clear love put into this much-delayed adventure shine through, and in a year full of good games The Fractured but Whole remains a title that’s worth checking out.