August 6, 2018 at 6:49 PM #1397
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Rating: 3.5 – Good
Let’s fighting love
South Park: The Stick of Truth was my Game of the Year for 2014. The game perfectly translated one of my favorite TV series to video game form that also felt like a love letter to RPGs. Considering how much I loved The Stick of Truth, I was disappointed when series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker said they were done making video games. So imagine my excitement when South Park: The Fractured But Whole was announced at E3 2016. A couple of delays later, I finally got my hands on the game, and I have to say, I have some mixed feelings about it.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole’s biggest change to the gameplay formula established in the previous entry is its new combat system. Whereas The Stick of Truth played like a foul-mouthed version of Paper Mario, The Fractured But Whole employs a more tactical style of combat. Characters fight on a grid, and so positioning matters and players have to think strategically with every move they make.
This new tactical combat system is significantly deeper than the combat seen in the first game, and it results in more entertaining and rewarding battles. The Fractured But Whole’s strategic depth extends beyond the actual in-combat action, though, as players also have to be smart when selecting which teammates to bring into battle, and which superpowers to use against their opponents.
Over the course of the game, players, who play as the "New Kid", will recruit a variety of teammates from the South Park series. All of these characters have superhero identities that give them special skills, and while most of these superpowers stay in combat, sometimes they are used to interact with the town of South Park as well. These "buddy abilities" as the game calls them do allow for a few clever puzzle solving moments at first, but the frequency at which you have to use them is annoying, especially since the mini-games are the same each time and the animations are long. It doesn’t help that most of the puzzles have fairly obvious solutions, which makes the buddy abilities feel even more repetitive to use.
Part of the problem with buddy abilities are the somewhat lengthy animations associated with using them. Every time players call on a buddy, they have to watch their same entrance, use of ability, and exit each time with no way of skipping anything. Long animations also hurt the combat at times, as Ultimates take awhile to use, as do summons. These scenes are really entertaining the first few times you see them, but they get old quick and end up bogging down the experience as the game goes on.
Players will see these animations an annoying number of times over the course of the game. And that’s really a common thread throughout The Fractured But Whole. Players can expect to do a lot of the same stuff, seemingly in the name of padding and artificially lengthening the game.
Players often have to repeat objectives or go through similar story beats, sometimes in the name of a joke," but it really hurts the pacing overall. As a result, there are some sections of the game that are a slog to get through. This is disappointing as The Stick of Truth was notable for its tighter design that didn’t have much filler or padding.
The Fractured But Whole’s repetitive nature is hard to shake off, especially for those that played The Stick of Truth to death like I did. This is because the town of South Park hasn’t changed all that much between the first game and now, so those that thoroughly explored the original may be bored this time around. Granted, there are a few new locations to see as well as some areas that look different thanks to events on the TV show, but there really isn’t enough variety in terms of exploration in this game.
I think it’s clear at this point that there was a lot about The Fractured But Whole that I thought wasn’t done as well as it was in The Stick of Truth. However, there are ways it improved on the first game. As previously stated, The Fractured But Whole has a deeper and more rewarding combat system, plus there is more side content and more rewarding side quests to complete. While the main quest has artificial lengthening, The Fractured But Whole is still a meatier experience than its predecessor, and players should be able to squeeze more hours out of it as a result.
In general, all the side activities in The Fractured But Whole are a step up from before, including its collectibles. An issue I had with The Stick of Truth was its missable content, but The Fractured But Whole doesn’t have that problem, allowing players to complete side activities and earn achievements at their leisure.
Gameplay-wise, The Fractured But Whole has better side quests and combat than the original game, but much weaker puzzle solving and exploration elements. It also doesn’t stack up when it comes to story or humor. The Fractured But Whole does have plenty of sharp, satirical humor that is balanced well with gross-out gags and fun references for the show, but it also has a lot of repetitive jokes and long stretches where there’s just nothing funny going on.
Again, this can be mostly blamed on the game’s artificial lengthening that hurts the pace overall. It may also have to do with the game’s superhero premise, which has been done on the show multiple times and just doesn’t feel special at this point.
The game’s plot, by the way, deals with the South Park boys creating rival superhero groups with the hope of selling their creations as cinematic universes. An episode of the TV show actually serves as a prequel to the game, though it can be skipped entirely and players won’t feel like they’ve missed out on anything. The plot itself has some surprising revelations here and there, but overall the story just feels like it’s never going to end and players will be ready for it to be over in the last few hours.
The last few hours in The Fractured But Whole are really weak in general as the game’s repetitive nature will be even more apparent. A lot of the dialogue is repeated ad nauseum to the point that it starts to grate on the nerves. The game also has some technical problems in one of the last boss fights that amount to game-breaking bugs that will force players to restart the lengthy battle repeatedly.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is not as good as The Stick of Truth, but fans of that game should still check it out. The combat is a lot deeper and more rewarding, plus there’s a lot more to do and see in the crazy, podunk little mountain town of South Park.
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