South Park: The Fractured But Whole brings together the best of the 20-odd year old series and mashes it together successfully with satisfying, surprisingly deep role-playing game mechanics.
The game follows on from the original South Park game, ‘The Stick of Truth’, in every way. Presenting a slick evolution of the turn based RPG game style which was much adored by fans. However, while the original was laden with references from 15 years of the classic series, The Fractured But Whole presents a far more ‘generic’ experience with less inside jokes and throwback memories, replaced with fart jokes and shock (homoerotic) humour. While this makes the game more open to non-South Park fans, the hardcore among us are left feeling a little empty, with a desire to return to ‘The Stick of Truth’ to help Lemmywinks or the Underpants Gnomes one more time.
Presentation matters a good deal here because of how it’s all set up – this is again a game-length episode of the show, so to craft that illusion in a compelling fashion it has to look right. It does. Even characters’ introductory artworks, in which they are doodled with a bit more detail, fit perfectly with how superheroes have been presented in the South Park of TV land. It nails it, and it riddles the Fractured But Whole with pure authenticity.
Speaking of authenticity: yes the humour is class.,Clever and with a witty subtext at times, at others your character pinning down Captain Diabetes and passing gas in his face in order to force his ‘diabetes powers’ to kick in so he can destroy an obstacle in your path. You know, the usual sort of thing.
You can dress, re-dress and otherwise alter your character as you see fit (race and gender included); the story will continue with you in the same role regardless of who you are as a person. It’s a linear experience with side quests aplenty, not real the Witcher 3-style open world epic, but it definitely works a hell of a lot better in this fashion, forcing the story to keep up at a decent pace and making sure you rarely get bored.
There are nods to the Metroidvania genre of games, too, in that there are many areas and challenges you just cannot complete until you’ve unlocked other powers later in the game. Cracked walls and open circuits, heavily defended “medicinal fried chicken” joints and impassable lava (it’s Lego) strewn across the streets – at first it’s just there, something you see, can’t get past and ignore. But soon enough you’re going to back to those areas with a renewed vigour, ready to blast those red blocks off the pavement. It’s simple and old fashioned, but oh so satisfying.
You don’t easily become over-powered, there’s enough enemy variety to keep things interesting and the deep South Park lore present in just about every area gives casual fans and superfans alike something to keep their attention rapt at all times.