The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Review: South Park: The Fractured But Whole

A love letter to South Park fans that doesn’t disappoint

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Having played the first South Park game, The Stick of Truth, sporadically over summer 2014, I had high expectations for the sequel. As an avid South Park fan, I tried to be as objective as possible, but believe me: it was no easy task, as this is truly a game built for the fans.

The premise of the sequel is essentially a spoof of modern superhero movie franchises. A key difference from the off is how this game embeds itself into an already established narrative within the show; the equally inappropriately titled ‘Coon and Friends’ plot, which has been the focus for a number of episodes already.

The result is that from the beginning right through to the end, this game feels like you’re featuring in your own episode — or rather series — long story-arc. Moreover, nearly everything you interact with in the world is some kind of reference to the show.

These in-jokes can be found in nearly every drawer you open whilst innocently looking for loot, in the daft songs heard on the radios and the images dotted around the town, and it’s genuinely hilarious.

I laughed hard at points when the intention was probably only to make you titter, but the world is so full of these Easter eggs that, if you’re a fan, you’re bound to find a wealth of humour outside of the story itself. This is not to say that the original game didn’t do this too, but this iteration just seems to relish the opportunity for intratextuality more than ever, doing a good job of linking you back to The Stick of Truth at points too.

On the one hand, this level of detail threatens to alienate audiences that don’t watch the show, but I think that the level of hysterics and absurdity in the humour that drives the game is so out there, I feel most players will resonate with the comedy regardless.

If there is one thing to say about this game, it is that the story itself is the main attraction. Whilst the first game hit comedic notes just as strongly, both Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the creators of both the show and the game) confessed that the video game was something they had only learned to make in the final stages of The Stick of Truth. In short, the jokes got them past the finish line.

Something similar can be said for the sequel too — for me, the highlight was by far the nonsensical plot you find yourself acting out. This time, however, it didn’t feel like the mechanics were being propped up by the humour, as it was evident in the first game that there was room for improvement when it came to the heavily formulaic and repetitive combat system and limited variety in questing.

To put it to you shortly: they certainly have improved. Huge strides have been taken to improve the combat; things are a lot more complex and tactical, with the RPG roots of the game being souped-up to take it beyond a simple turn-based system. There are even special abilities that only your character possesses, which allow for you to temporarily override an enemy’s turn — and in true South Park fashion, this is made possible by you farting.

There are many aspects involved in the combat, but the most innovative feature is the playing grid that the turn-taking format is situated on. Not only does this involve advancing across the board to reach a target, but there are many other things to consider as you navigate the grid.

Whether it is positioning yourself in the right proximity to carry out a range attack, or finding the perfect spot to collapse the most enemies possible with a multi-targeted move; avoiding certain squares on the grid to dodge telegraphed attacks, or simply figuring out that the objective is not always to attack the opponent at all; the combat system offers a lot of depth and serious thought.

One of the best examples came in a not-so-orthodox boss fight with ‘Towelie’, and I’ll say nothing more than it was one of the funniest and simultaneously challenging moments of the game. The boss fights are certainly the stars of the show, as they simultaneously put the comedy and best parts of gameplay on show.

Despite praise for the combat as a central aspect of the game — and believe me, there is a lot of combat! — there are issues with repetitiveness carried over from the first game. Although these fight sequences are leaps ahead of what they once were, there are still problems with limited numbers of moves (4 if you include your accrued special ability) and the same goes for most enemies.

The game does encourage you to combat this however, with a more advanced class system. Not only are there several archetypes to choose from, but as the game progresses you can acquire more than one as Cartman begrudgingly grants them to you, due to your “puppy dog eyes” and out of sympathy in the telling your ever-evolving, yet comically never really changing superhero backstory.

Repetition hinders a good portion of the game in truth, giving you a feeling of RPG grind with very few rewards that truly alter the game. The running joke made out of your insane power to fart is one the main culprits for this, as you acquire new fart-related powers that help you overcome obstacles or solve puzzles. After a while these puzzles become very tiresome and mainly evolve to the point of using them all at once, merely having to figure out in which order.

Another issue I found personally was that the mini-game aspects that take up a good portion of your time. It’s not that they are particularly difficult (aside from the one involving toilets, trust me; hand cramp is a genuine concern), but more so that their frequency when interacting with the environment is a bit excessive.

Regardless, these issues are not so problematic that it takes away from the game as a whole; it is a genuinely memorable game — if not simply because of how ridiculously funny it is. With multiplayer existing almost as a must-have in many games these days, it’s good to see a game still delivering on a detailed single-player experience, and one that is so different to anything else you’ll find right now. With enough run-time and replay value, it certainly warrants the purchase.

7.5/10