January 29, 2020 at 7:52 AM #840
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Rating: 4.0 – Great
Outdoes its predecessor in numerous ways to deliver (almost) the perfect South Park gaming experience
One thing that remains so great about South Park, which has been on the air since 1997, is how much of the original team remains in charge of the show. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who created the series, along with many of the original staff of producers, animators, and writers, are still involved with and running South Park to this day. ItÃ¢Â€Â™s a different scenario than what animation typically sees, where the creators often leave after a period of time and hand the reins off to someone else, but it has resulted in South Park still feeling authentically like itself after all these years. It may no longer deliver as consistently as it once did, but it continues to be smart, funny, and relevant 20 years later.
Between 2014Ã¢Â€Â™s Stick of Truth and now its sequel, The Fractured but Whole, the two games have represented some of the greatest aspects of the modern South Park universe. The visual style provides a seamless transition from story sequences to gameplay, making it feel from the first minute to the last that youÃ¢Â€Â™re playing an episode of the show. If you were to put the game and the show side by side, you wouldnÃ¢Â€Â™t notice a difference in presentation, whether during gameplay or a cutscene, and thatÃ¢Â€Â™s something thatÃ¢Â€Â™s nearly unheard of for a licensed video game based on a TV series.
ItÃ¢Â€Â™s from this perfect visual template that you get to create your main character, known only as New Kid, a silent protagonist who arrived in town during the previous game and had to work his way up among the ranks of the South Park kids. A fun plot mechanic allows this same New Kid character to continue his journey, while once again giving you the freedom to custom design him, even allowing you to make him a female this time out. As with its predecessor, the events of Fractured but Whole take place in a fictional game that the kids are playing; last time it was a medieval RPG, this time theyÃ¢Â€Â™re playing Super Heroes, making this an original story that doesnÃ¢Â€Â™t require knowledge of the Stick of Truth in order to follow it. Basic knowledge of the show, however, is probably recommended to get the most out of all the jokes, with the tone and setting being most similar to that of the seriesÃ¢Â€?three recent seasons (19, 20, and 21).
Aside from the hilarious storytelling, voice acting, and music, which mirror the quality of what youÃ¢Â€Â™d see on the show, the biggest star of Fractured but Whole is the world that you have available to explore. As someone who has been watching South Park since I was a kid, itÃ¢Â€Â™s surreal to get to control a character in an open world version of the town, wandering into City Wok and seeing Officer Barbrady hanging out eating Chinese food, available to talk to. A cool gameplay feature involves you taking Selfies with various characters; take enough and youÃ¢Â€Â™ll level up in that category (which grants you EXP, as does leveling up in every category) which not only compels you to look for characters, but also to get the Ã¢Â€ÂœstatusÃ¢Â€?that then allows several of them to agree to Selfie with you. YouÃ¢Â€Â™ll encounter battles (such as 6th graders, crab people, among others) as you wander around, but theyÃ¢Â€Â™re easy enough to avoid that it doesnÃ¢Â€Â™t become a big problem. The town that you have to explore features numerous quests to take on, buildings to enter, and items to find. ThereÃ¢Â€Â™s a ton to explore, which is both a blessing and a slight curse, as going from A to B can occasionally seem like a hassle, with a Fast Travel system that (like many things) feels somehow dated in our post-Breath of the Wild existence.
The town of South Park really does feel like a living, breathing world; exploring locations like StarkÃ¢Â€Â™s Pond is incredibly atmospheric, with the nightlife accompanying the Historic Shi Tpa Town and the slums of SoDoSoPa serving as solid new additions to Fractured but WholeÃ¢Â€Â™s version of the town. Canada also seems to be available, though apparently only for future DLC. For the earlier parts of the game, Fractured but Whole feels like a host of never-ending missions to complete, characters to meet, and items to find. ItÃ¢Â€Â™s too bad that this scales back considerably as the game goes on, giving off the impression that with more development time, this often-delayed project could have better filled itself out with missions to partake in. WhatÃ¢Â€Â™s here is good, just very much centered around the first half of the game.
Thankfully though, the main quest is ultimately compelling throughout. Starting again at the bottom of the totem pole and tasked this time with working your way up within the ranks of CartmanÃ¢Â€Â™s Coon and Friends band of super heroes, your journey takes you all over town, including into the headquarters of rival super hero group Freedom Pals. The story never fails to entertain. Fractured but Whole sticks with turn-based combat mechanics, but this time brings them into a decidedly more SRPG style, where you control your charactersÃ¢Â€?positions across a grid and take turns attacking or moving or defending. Though IÃ¢Â€Â™d fully expected to prefer the more basic turn-based battle mechanics of Stick of Truth, Fractured but WholeÃ¢Â€Â™s combat quickly grew on me, to the point where I may even be compelled to check out other SRPGs down the road. You get to pick a character class, but the gameÃ¢Â€Â™s flexible about letting you change it and develop your character in a variety of different ways as the adventure goes on. Everything you do grants you points that level various stats up, (Toilets properly used, characters SelfieÃ¢Â€Â™d with, items found, items created, fast travel locations unlocked, etc) and once you level up a stat, that EXP is then sent to your character, allowing him or her to equip new artifacts that increase the stats for all on your combat team.
The mechanics are simple enough that people, including those not familiar with SRPGs, can easily get the hang of them, but I found Fractured but Whole to occasionally present a fairly solid challenge, requiring me to rethink my strategy or my characters used in various situations in order to take down a strong boss. The moves during battle often require time-based input from the player, always keeping things interesting and allowing you to knock enemies into others or into your own characters for extra damage. ItÃ¢Â€Â™s all surprisingly satisfying stuff. Other characters are used well as you explore, with numerous locked areas and puzzles requiring you to use another charactersÃ¢Â€?Fart Powers (such as KyleÃ¢Â€Â™s Fartkour, which lets you leap across large chasms) to get through them. Fart-based powers also play a role in battle, keeping things interesting and often helping to provide you with the upper hand.
ItÃ¢Â€Â™s a game that, in equal measure, encourages exploring but also doesnÃ¢Â€Â™t demand it. Fractured but Whole is much more quickly-paced than its predecessor; that gameÃ¢Â€Â™s more aimless moments, like a sequence in space that felt like it went on forever, donÃ¢Â€Â™t take place in the sequel, leading to an experience that feels more focused but at the same time less adventurous. The storyline plays it fairly close to your typical Marvel origin story, focusing on your character developing as a Super Hero while not really venturing into surprising territory until towards the very end. ItÃ¢Â€Â™s only in this area that Fractured but Whole disappoints when compared to its predecessor, as you have a cast of great super heroes and excellent writing, but by the end feels like it should have built to more than we ended up getting. There are great moments, many of them, and hilarious situations, but compared to its predecessor, Fractured but Whole ultimately feels less exciting and rewarding in the plot department once the credits begin to roll.
As mentioned earlier, the quests available to you similarly thin out as the game goes on, which not only reduces your need to explore the town, but also makes your character much slower to develop, with my team hardly evolving at all in the final 5-8 hours of this 30 hour or so adventure. These flaws donÃ¢Â€Â™t by any means ruin the experience, but they do prevent it from feeling like all of the potential from this great concept was realized, especially when youÃ¢Â€Â™re informed that youÃ¢Â€Â™re below the recommend level for a quest, yet other quests to advance your level seem to be non-existent. There are other nitpicks here and there; the real time elements to the combat system, where bosses will occasionally invoke real time aspects, shake things up but often feel more tedious than fun. The small text in the menus isnÃ¢Â€Â™t especially well-suited to this type of real time combat, forcing you to tear through them hoping to select an item before the boss takes his next devastating turn.
But these are fairly minor flaws in what is otherwise a great experience. South Park: Fractured but Whole presents a more focused, if a little bit less crazy, way to experience the show compared to Stick of Truth. The world of South Park has never been more fun to explore, and the SRPG battle system is accessible enough for beginners but at times challenging enough for everyone else, serving as a major improvement. The amount of side content available seems conspicuously absent in the final third of the game, and the occasional real time elements of the combat system could have been less frustratingly implemented, always seeming to surprise you on boss battles where dying forces you to fast forward through tons of barely-skippable cutscenes.
But in terms of playing through an episode of the show, complete with all the great characters, crazy writing, fun settings, and solid music, while at the same time delivering a legitimate open world SRPG, Fractured but Whole completely delivers. The story is the one area that doesnÃ¢Â€Â™t hit the absolute heights of Stick of Truth, but otherwise this is the better game and wholeheartedly recommended to fans of the show.
Long live South Park.
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