The second RPG adventure in South Park The Fractured But Whole, takes the action from the Game of Thrones medieval stylings of The Stick of Truth to full-on superhero franchise wars with favourites such as The Coon, Mysterion and Human Kite.
The boys are no longer playing a game amongst themselves, the whole town is involved in deception and intrigue – this goes all the way to the top. The story plays out over a week, like its predecessor, however this game is far bigger and with plenty of available customisation.
Freaks and Geeks
Let’s start with the player. You get to choose personal attributes like skin colour (which has an affect on gameplay) and hairstyle/makeup/clothing. At this point, you have not specified a gender – that comes later through several awkward moments with Mr. Mackey. In the place of The Stick of Truth’s outfit-based-abilities system, this time the player can equip costumes for cosmetic reasons only – so whatever bizarre combination you want to use won’t affect your battle strategy.
For that, you get to pick both classes (with associated battle powers) and equip Artifacts, which enhance your stats and abilities. Of course, each of these are stupid or crude, with options such as Crack Baby DNA and the Ebony Volumiser giving a little chuckle while you maximise your bonuses.
Each class choice develops your character’s backstory, which – with intentional irony – is scripted and totally generic. Technically you pick up from where The Stick of Truth left off, so your character is defined by that night you walked in on mum and dad.
Everything else though feels very organic, finding other townsfolk by bumping into them in familiar locations, through to the way you handle battles – all feel like you are in control. The way the town and your abilities unfold are both brilliant (in the reward for developing your character) and annoying (in that some encounters and collectibles are blocked until specific points in the game, more on that later).
When you get to expand your horizons, either through selecting your racial and ethnic background, or channelling the power of microaggressions (thanks, PC Principal) everything you do adds to the gameplay and can help (or hinder you) in unexpected ways. A gang of rednecks attacking each time I confirmed my gender fluidity was a nice twist.
Just in general, the little touches added throughout – from witty dialogue in battle, to Kyle’s cousin gatecrashing, and even the occasional passing of cars which interrupts battles – everything has been carefully crafted to make the experience feel constantly fresh and authentic.
The battles themselves are fantastic – as the new grid-based attack system is wonderfully implemented. Battles are highly varied, with encounter special conditions, layouts and environmental effects adding layers of challenge and depth to the simple superhero powers you deploy.
No longer can you find that magic combo of costume and attack which works for pretty much every battle – now you have to adapt to the specific enemies and battlefield. Some battles, especially the boss battles, have hilarious yet infuriating quirks that require careful though (or several retries).
For my playthrough, I turned the combat difficulty up to maximum. This is a separate setting, distinct from the general difficulty affected by your skin colour (causing certain NPCs to react differently or attack you).
For the most part, this was fine… until I got whomped several times by Raisins girls. They are sneaky, violent little bastards and I really hadn’t expected to blitz through criminals and superbaddies, only to get scratched to death by a waitress with claws. A couple of attempts later, I was on my way. Aside from a few tricky bosses, and an encounter with a Taco shop owner that I left ’til the very end, the rest of the game is challenging but manageable on the hardest difficulty.
Plenty of shit
When you aren’t battling, you can take your time to enjoy one of several entertaining diversions, such as toilet mastery, involving twiddling and tapping some finger-bending combinations to get the perfect poop.
Collectables also feature heavily, with a number of ongoing sets to pick up with varying degrees of complexity and weirdness – from Yaoi illustrations to Big Gay Al’s lost cats – if you enjoy a fetch quest then you can spend hours exploring the town picking everything up.
The only issue is that most are locked until you obtain certain buddy abilities or fart powers – yep, farts are huge in this game – but with areas requiring constant retreading to use newly-unlocked skills, it can get slightly tedious. Especially as the game is broken into day and night cycles over a week and you can only earn certain achievements by obtaining items before they get locked out later on, it sometimes feels like you have to revisit areas when you get the chance.
It doesn’t detract from the overall experience, and most of the time it is fairly obvious where the next major story progression will take place, and at least you can visit places to mop up on followers and toilets once you finish the main story.
Don’t think your shit doesn’t stink
While the game has introduced a host of new features since the predecessor, with a shiny new phone-style UI to manage most character options, there are some aspects which were slightly obscured.
Only once I had used half of my permanent allocation did I realise that ”Summons” are limited use – even though you can craft them, it only shows you within the sub-menu that you will only ever get five-ten to craft.
Another annoyance is one of the achievements can only be unlocked through specific selections, so although you can change virtually every aspect of your character, a second full playthrough will be necessary to obtain them if you don’t play with the right skin tone and combat difficulty from the start.
When I played, the game has a few little glitches, including some moves not displaying correctly, several pointless turns in battle after all enemies have been defeated, and a few other minor issues.
One final minor annoyance is the sound, as apart from the toilet music and some of the regurgitated songs from the TV show, the sound is often bland and fairly forgettable.
These minor issues haven’t stopped me playing – or significantly detracted from the overall experience – but just hold the game back from an almost perfect joy.
Gonna have myself a time
The story itself only gets better, building to an exciting end game in a cohesive and thrilling finale. The way that each day opens new avenues (and surprise enemy encounters) gives a sense of added tension as the game progresses.
The finale is possibly an opinion-splitter but I loved it: ending in exactly the way as if the same events had occured in the TV show. Afterwards you can finish off quests, get those final few followers and get your trophies up to 100%, which is possible in one playthrough with the right starting selections, and should take around 30 story- and humour-rich hours.
Not forgetting that most of your progress will be farting, shitting and childishly lapdancing your way to victory, all without your character actually uttering a word. The game plays out through your actions in such a simple way that most encounters are inevitable but somehow feel staged just for you.
Being able to bring your own wacky mix of outfit, party and ability options made the game so much more engaging and entertaining. I had a total blast and I’m strongly considering a second playthrough using a different starting class. With plenty more content planned, which I would also enjoy given the tight battle system, then I look forward to more South Park gaming for the foreseeable future.
With a few little issues preventing a top score, this is a very good game, and possibly one of the funniest games ever created.