The new South Park game is finally here! We had to wait extra long time for South Park: The Fractured But Whole, the sequel to the wonderfully hilarious RPG the Stick of Truth. So was it worth the wait? Does it live up to the hype? Is it funny? The answer to these and other questions is a resounding, “Eh, meh?” This our South Park: The Fractured But Whole review.
Yes, much like the last and current season of the namesake show that spawned the RPG series The Fractured But Whole has it’s moments of amusing antics but ultimately it’s hard to find the real cohesion or message of the game. That’s not to say the game doesn’t improve upon its precursor in any way.
For what it’s worth the gameplay itself is improved upon when it comes to the core combat. Instead of the straight-forward turn-based attacks in the original, they’ve now added movement to battles and a plethora of classes for your character. You can beat people down as a brawler, use psychic abilities to slow or confuse enemies as a mentalist. As you progress your options grow wider and you really get a chance to customize your character how you’d like. You’ll get a few summons to help along as well, like Kyle’s dad who shows up cheesed out of his mind and drops bombs from his Heavy Metal-style animation airplane, and you can use a macaroni star of David to have Moses heal your team.
There are also quite a few special objective matches where you’ll have to do things like take out a captain or escape from a room before your team is killed by a horde of senior citizens or smashed to death by an obese stripper. And there’s a decent variety to the types of enemies you’ll encounter as well. City Wok ninja assassin’s, Raisins Girl, and an army of chaos decked out in cardboard and tinfoil are just some of the enemies you’ll run into. Some can summon more bad guys, others may just charm you into beating up your own team. You’ll still get a little bit of that old “lather, rinse, repeat” towards the end game.
But while combat is a noted improved, that’s not what I was really playing this game for. Stick of Truth may have had a combat system that felt a bit tacked on, but the story was epic and had me laughing my ass off constantly. Was it vulgar? Yes. Was it inappropriate? Yes. But it knew how to do it in a clever and creative way. A way where the satire and humor really shone through. You could tell it was a labor of love not only for the dev team but for South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone as well.
Stick of Truth drew upon the memberberries of the entire TV show’s run in order to bring fans and players an experience that put them in the odd, absurd world of South Park and let them experience it for themselves. This is a more of a Dane Cook style joke about memberberries than an homage though.
I’m not saying there weren’t moments that didn’t make me literally laugh out loud. But I’d just need my fingers to count them. No toes. There’s plenty of stuff in the main plot that’s great, like the shots at Marvel and DC’s film franchises, the new kid’s origin story, and your battles with Professor Chaos are high points. Even side quests like helping Tweek and Craig with their relationship problems (and hunting down Tweek and Craig Yaoi hidden throughout the game for Craig’s dad was also worth a chuckle). You get to shove all sorts of stuff up your butt, which is always nice. And one America’s greatest actors shows up with his soothing, docile voice to help guide you.
But a lot of what makes this game lackluster has to do with the many jokes that don’t land. For instance, it tries to make some sort of statement involving race and maybe have a little commentary about Black Lives Matter and gender roles in society. But, just like recent South Park eps, it’s hard to tell what they were really trying to say one way or another. And that’s because the punchlines are muddled.
And as much as I like taking low blows at Kanye West, this game takes what I’d consider a really distasteful shot at his dead mother. I mean, there’s so much to make fun of there and they somehow find a way for me, a cynic, a fan of vulgar jokes, to say “Oh, dude. No!” I think what the writers of this game didn’t seem to grasp is when a show like South Park tells jokes involving stereotypes or gender, there is usually a satirical or talking point to it. A point that it’s usually getting to that you should see beyond the stereotype. There’s a commentary.
And it’s also another point that makes me really confused since while I feel that what I’m saying is reasonable criticism of what the game does with some the NPC characters, your actual character is totally gender and ethnically fluid. This is one of the few games that let’s you do something like that and it’s worth noting. But when thrown in with some of the features it’s just such a mixed bag.
And I think that what really hinders South Park: The Fractured But Whole more than anything is the story does not take things to the epic scale the first one did. The gravitas and imperativeness of saving the entire world are not there like it was in Stick of Truth. Which is a bummer because these superhero characters were so great and this could’ve gone for a way larger scale. It’s good that they focused on making combat better, but honestly, I didn’t play the first game for the combat, I played for the story. It’s kind of weird as a critic to think that a game like this would’ve gotten a better review with less focus on the combat and more on the plot, but that is indeed what I truly believe.
With all that said I’m a firm believer that humor is subjective and I’d be willing to admit that you could have different tastes and find this game to be way more hilarious than I did. But I also thing that I’ve been a fan of South Park for a long, long time and played the crap out of Stick of Truth, so it’s not like I didn’t want this game to be good. So maybe you play it and you laugh and I’m totally cool with that. But for me, this feels like an unfinished symphony that could’ve used a few more punch ups before performance.