Super Imagination Squad
If you were to ask me if I’d ever see a South Park RPG before the release of Stick of Truth, I would have probably wondered out loud whether or not it would have succeeded. Thankfully, the care and attention that was put into that title paid off for Ubisoft when it dropped back in 2014. This was largely due to the fact that it successfully blended the raunchy, offensive humor of the source material into an RPG that could stand up to other titles in the genre, with the mechanics and gameplay to match. Thankfully, enough faith in the long-running show and it’s cult fanbase gave way to a sequel: South Park: The Fractured But Whole.
One major difference this time around is that Obsidian was not tapped for development for this sequel. Instead, Ubisoft San Francisco accepted the challenge to match the quality that Stick of Truth set up. This isn’t to say that series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker weren’t any less dedicated on this release, either.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is set for release on October 17, 2017 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC/Steam at a base price point of $59.99. The Gold Edition of the game (which includes planned DLC) will set you back $89.99. The PS4 version was played for this review.
Fractured But Whole picks up where Stick of Truth left off, as you once again assume the role as “The New Kid” wandering into a battle at the “Kupa Keep” located in Cartman’s backyard. In classic Cartman fashion, the gears shift from “playing fantasy” to “playing superheroes” once he learns that a pet of his has gone missing. He also seems concerned with starting his own Marvel Cinematic Universe-like franchise that’s centered around his own elementary school-age Avengers, and his crew of poorly costumed heroes, helping him in his quest to act as superhero/vigilante throughout the familiar mountain town. This is just part of many fourth wall breaks throughout the game, and it’s actually pulled off well.
One major strength that Stick of Truth had was that it was essentially like playing out a season of the show, and Fractured But Whole doesn’t mess with that formula. Much of the crude, offensive, yet smart humor from the show makes its way here. I often found myself laughing at a lot of these jokes, and many encounters were just flat-out crazy (in a good way).
Par for the course for South Park, they poke fun at everyone and everything. One minute they’re poking fun at Tumblr culture, the next you’re fighting a bunch of rednecks. No-one is safe from scorn, so you might want to keep that in mind. Admittedly, I can’t call myself a superfan of the show by any means. However, there are plenty of references and callbacks to keep you on your toes as you play, and you will run into many of them. You have to hand it to Stone and Parker, they know their universe.
If you know the show, then you know what to expect from a visual standpoint. You’re not going to get detailed character models or complex effects thanks to the animation style the show puts forth, which is crude and simplistic by nature. This works in the game’s favor, as the framerate usually stays a consistent 60 FPS throughout. The variations of attacks do give the game an opportunity to get a little flashy, but it succeeds in staying true to what it is.
Looking at sound, nothing really changes much from Stick of Truth. You’re still getting the same voice cast, music is still sweeping and serviceable, and the dialogue is still on par from what you’d get from the show. Battle banter does get a repetitive after a while, which does work against itself as you find yourself in combat pretty frequently. Other than that, it’s hardly what I’d call terrible.
‘Member That Move?
Speaking of battles, any sort of experience with turn-based RPGs will work in your favor here. You’ll be able to gain combat advantage by swinging into an enemy in the field, and you’ll be able to choose your combatants before you engage proper. Now, there will be times where your team will be limited in numbers, but more often than not you can choose who you want to throw into the fray. The battle area bears resemblance to Mega Man Battle Network’s in combat layout, but how attacks and other moves pan out will vary throughout the grid. You’ll be able to plan out your attack and strategically place yourself, and you’ll also be able to see where your attacks will land before you execute them, giving you a bit of an upper hand.
Strategic planning is further enhanced with a turn order list at the bottom right of the screen. If you’ve played a Grandia game, it’s basically like that. Oftentimes you’ll be using quick-time events to execute moves, and it does get a little annoying at times. Absorb enough attacks (and occasionally succeed at a QTE), and you’ll fully charge an Ultimate bar. These do vary from character to character, and most of them live up to the name visually and tactically. Depending on which of the six classes (and later subclass) you choose as New Kid, you’ll be able to use different ultimates. Thankfully, the Ultimate meter can be used by anyone on your team, as some Ultimates are better than others. Speaking of moves, they are naturally class-specific. Because your Coon and Friends crew all possess different moves and ultimates, you’re largely free to pick a class that suits your playstyle and use your team accordingly.
TimeFart abilities are also something worth pointing out. You’ll obtain these naturally as you progress, and can be used in and out of combat. In combat, you’ll be using these abilities to do things like cancel out moves and stopping time. Outside of combat, you’ll be calling upon your allies to alter the field to do things like get items and reach places once inaccessible.
One major aspect of the game is obtaining artifacts, and there are many ways to go about this. Sometimes you’ll find them scouring for items in the field, some you can craft, and others you’ll obtain in battle. Getting these trinkets are important because they are tied to how much Might that New Kid will have. You’ll initially only have one slot, but more will unlock as your Hero Rank increases. They’re presented as toys and random trash, but the game stresses having a specific might in combat. Thankfully, it’s not a make-or-break situation if you plan out your attacks and strategize appropriately.
Something also worth noting is the apparent importance of a social media presence. “Coonstagram” (basically Instagram) replaces Facebook this time around, and taking selfies with the townsfolk will help increase your online influence. Some people require certain actions to be completed or are limited to certain classes, but each add will basically play out like actual social media in some aspects.
Crafting is surprisingly robust, but simplistic at the same time. Scouring the game field for random junk (which is something you should do) will give you the ability to craft consumables, artifacts, and other things. While finding some items to craft something plot-specific can be a pain, it’s nice to be able to see what you need to grab to accomplish what you want to do.
Have Myself A Time
I think it’s safe to say that Fractured But Whole does a great job of highlighting the strengths of its predecessor, and doing enough to keep things fresh for this surprisingly deep yet accessible series of games. Thankfully, the love and care that went into Stick of Truth is on full display here and the presentation is largely fantastic as a result.
You will find yourself laughing quite a bit at every ridiculous encounter you’ll come across, and those worried that this game may not live up to what came before it should rest easy. This is a trip into the mountains well worth taking, even if you missed out on its predecessor.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Ubisoft for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.