South Park: The Stick of Truth was the best game of 2014, and maybe the most memorable game of the decade. Sure, it wasn’t the biggest seller – it didn’t change the industry, or define an era – but, it surprised me in all the best ways. It played like a classic RPG, felt exactly like an extended South Park episode, and it made me very happy.
Follow-up game South Park: The Fractured But Whole isn’t as good as The Stick of Truth. It can’t be. A lot of what made it great was it’s out of the box creativity. Okay, it wasn’t that original – we had seen the same mix of fearless social satire and fart jokes in South Park for years – but no one ever expected to see it played out so perfectly in a videogame.
This time around the expectations are much higher. From the beginning, South Park: The Fractured But Whole doesn’t feel as insane, original, or fresh. Which isn’t fair, because it’s extremely well made and enjoyable, and is certainly more polished than the first game. But since when has South Park ever worried about being fair?
You begin by creating your character, which is strange because you’re the same “new kid” you were in the Stick of Truth. The game begins almost immediately after the first game ends. As the war rages between the Drow Elves and the Humans, Cartman decides it’s time to play superheroes. He becomes The Coon, and with typical Trey Parker and Matt Stone restraint The Coon is always pronounced with the same racial loading of an angry old white man sneering it in an eighties film about civil rights.
Yes, the game still goes to some very uncomfortable places – not just in having two of its main characters called The Coon and The Human Kite. One of the most satisfying early moments is when you choose your difficulty. The darker your character’s skin, the more difficult the game. Or as Cartman’s voice-over explains, it doesn’t affect combat – just every other part of your life. As with all the best comedy, it’s funny because it’s true.
There are plenty of other challenging moments that will sneakily get you wondering what kind of person you have become – especially when you take a moment to think about what it is you’re laughing at. Seaman turns up, just so everyone can say “seaman” a lot; most of the priests are paedophiles, and the ones that aren’t roll their eyes and ask if they can ever leave a child alone in the church; the pre-teen girls from school work at the Hooters-esq Raisins restaurant, in singlets and full make-up. I mean really, how the hell is Hooters an actual thing? Of course, because it’s South Park there are also a lot of gay jokes. Strangely enough the mini-game you play every time you sit on a toilet gets progressively more challenging, and isn’t offensive at all.
The combat has been tweaked since The Stick of Truth. It’s still a classic turn based RPG that requires a bit of tactical thought. Played out on a battle grid, you can use an item or perform an action. Each time your team takes damage it fills the ultimate meter; when it’s full you choose which team member’s ability to unleash. You can choose up to three friends to join your battles against the likes of drunk Randy, a really fat prostitute, or a really fat Raisin girl. Yep, you can add body shaming to the other uncomfortable moments.
Unlike the first game, the combat mostly leans towards clever, rather than disgusting – but you’ll still get snot flicked at you from time to time. My favourite super friend is Wendy Testaburger’s mysterious Call Girl. Equipped with many devices, when Call Girl isn’t doxing enemies or whacking them with a selfie stick she’s unleashing her ultimate power the flash mob. Like Call Girl, most of the super character designs are cute and very clever. That’s not to say The Fractured But Whole doesn’t fully deserve it’s R16 rating, if only for the volume of fart related gameplay.
If you played The Stick of Truth you’ll know the new kid’s weapon of choice is the fart. In The Fractured But Whole it reaches a entirely different level of power. With your power you can perform co-op moves with teammates to reach hidden locations and collectables. As you progress, your farts become even more powerful; enabling you to manipulate time – a hint perhaps at the direction of the next Life is Strange game.
So, is there actually anything wrong with The Fractured But Whole? There are two kinds of people in the world – those who think farts are funny, and those who don’t. I’m not sure if they’re funny enough to base an entire game on, let alone two. Also, it’s a classic RPG with classic gameplay, and we all know “classic” means “old.” Shock value also contributed to the first game’s success somewhat. Without it, does The Fractured But Whole as great a game?
I’ll say it again; it is entirely unfair to compare The Fractured But Whole to The Stick of Truth. It’s developer Obsidian’s own fault for making such a great game in the first place. If you look at it in isolation The Fractured But Whole is a super little game. It’s funny, smart, and throws itself gleefully into the world of popular culture. Although calling it little does it a bit of a disservice. As well as heaps of costumes, there are a variety of collectables to hunt down, plenty of South Park regulars to friend on Coonstagram, and super friends to unlock and team up with.
In the end South Park: The Fractured But Whole makes me very happy, and I do think farts are funny – at least funny enough for two games.
Dene received a digital copy of South Park: The Fractured But Whole from Ubisoft for review.