South Park: The Fractured But Whole (Switch) Review
2014’s The Stick of Truth was a success because of one thing: the intense involvement of South Park creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In fact, in something of a surprise, Obsidian’s involvement in the mechanical RPG side of things took a back seat to the wild ride presented by the duo. Every inch of the game oozed their creative involvement, to the point where, in terms of quality fan service, The Stick of Truth is perhaps the best TV show/game collaboration ever. It contained everything a South Park fan could want, from a fully realised and explorable map of the town itself to the often disgusting yet hilarious hijinks you got up to (some of the scenes were deemed so bad taste that they had to be changed for the game to reach classification in Australia).
The question then needs to be asked, what else could another South Park RPG offer? The answer, I’m afraid, is not much that approaches the quality of the first. It’s not that The Fractured But Whole is not enjoyable as a South Park artefact, but that most of it has already been done, and better. We have a reworking of the first game’s map, this time with new puzzles to work through using various fart-related powers, a reworking of the first game’s battle system, all tied up with the general feeling that Matt and Trey’s involvement in this game was decidedly less than it was for the first. The main clue for this is the humour, it’s just generally flat, and although you might be encountering characters and gags from South Park’s vast catalogue of episodes, they just aren’t implemented in a way that feels genuine or “touched” by the two brains behind them.
There are a couple of things that impressed me about The Fractured But Whole. The first is the way in which the theme of kids at play is reinforced. For example, you’ll often get interrupted during a battle by the call of “Car!” and step onto the curb to wait for an irate driver to pass by before continuing your fight. Or you’ll encounter adults who are constantly bewildered by what you damn kids are up to. The second thing is the way battles take place in the actual environments that they start in. Rather than transport you to a “fight space”, you instead get to throw down in whichever place you happen to be, from the footpath to a strip club to the dark, dodgy-priest-filled room of the local church. These environments sometimes throw up specific in-battle challenges, such as tree roots that block your attacks (but which you can also use as shields). Again, a simple concept done well.
Gameplay consists of mostly walking around town (or fast travelling once you’ve visited posts and activated them), rummaging through drawers and fridges, crapping in toilets (there is a mini-game for this tied to the achievement-like progression system) and engaging in battles. Most shops and houses have little Metroid-like puzzles that you won’t be able to complete until all your powers and companions are unlocked via the main missions. These invariably involve fart powers of some kind, which leads us to the most disappointing aspect of the game, it’s humour. While I won’t try to claim that South Park is the epitome of intelligent comedy, it does possess a certain vein of wit and comedic juxtaposition that can elicit an out-loud laugh now and then. Seeing as The Fractured But Whole feels like it was largely written by the Ubisoft team with Matt and Trey called in to provide the voices, everything just feels a bit lame and juvenile. It doesn’t help that the toilet humour never lets up, with every new power being tied to farting in some way, from a rectal zephyr that can turn back time (and cancel an attacking opponent’s move during battle) to Farkour, an eye-rolling version of parkour where your character uses bottom burps to jump up to places and/or break his fall.
As far as RPG elements go, costumes and powers are now independent of each other, so you can customise your hero’s look however you want, even if it’s the total opposite of the thematic powers you wield. Costumes can be bought from vendors throughout town or crafted from plans that you loot. And although you are initially asked to choose a class, with specific powers in battles, you are eventually able double, triple and even openly swap in mixed powers from all the different classes by the time you work through the campaign.
Levelling is tied to in-game achievements, which grant you XP on completion of tasks (such as crapping in toilets *sigh*). You then get awarded open DNA spots in which you can slot relics, powerful items with specific stat bonuses that you can either craft, buy from vendors or get awarded during general gameplay. Most of the time, you’ll want to just equip the most powerful relics, but you can customise your character quite a bit to be powerful in one element over another if you so choose. It’s a nice, open system that unfortunately never really becomes necessary given the game’s battles are rarely much of a challenge, regardless of your build. The battle system utilises a grid system and although there is some depth to a few of the battles, it never becomes fun enough to be a focus. Rather, battles are an opportunity for a few gags to be given and to earn some XP before the next iconic South Park environment or character encounter.
This Switch port works well in portable mode, looking and sounding like South Park in nearly all respects. However, docked mode looks decidedly less vibrant. Despite some research, I was unable to find resolution specifics for docked mode, but I’d bet my Cheesy Poofs it’s less than 1080. Whichever mode you choose, you’ll experience less than ideal loading times between environments, which would be bearable every now and then, but when the game revolves around exploring dozens of houses and shops it soon becomes a bothersome frustration.
While this might all sound overly negative, I did have fun with The Fractured But Whole, it was just a different kind of fun than I was expecting. The environmental puzzles kept me interested, while the humour and South Park-ness was a letdown. It would have been nice to get a port of The Stick of Truth as a double bill here, but in the absence of that superior South Park experience, this will have to do. Just be sure to set your humour expectations to toilet level.
While The Stick of Truth was an okay RPG with incredibly strong South Park glue to bind it together, this sequel is the opposite: a competent and at times engaging game with the left-over bits from the tube.
- Dense, puzzled environments
- Exploring South Park itself still fun
- Lengthy campaign
- Noticeable drop in humour quality
- Long loading times between environments