Game Review: South Park: The Fractured But Whole

Trey Parker and Matt Stone are at it again, in this followup to The Stick of Truth. It leads the question to be asked yet again: can the off-beat, sarcastic and frequently obscene humor of four kids and their hangers-on in a quiet mountain town be wed to RPG mechanics and have everything come out awesome?

Well… in some respects, yes. I will say there were quite a few moments that had me genuinely laughing hysterically, and during most of the conversation, cutscenes and exploration I had a smile on my face. All the characters are true to the show, and you’ll encounter nearly every favorite at some point. The graphics and sound are on point, looking just like an episode of the show, and the characters and combat mechanics they give you to play with encourage experimentation while still letting you mostly play with your favorites.

The script is well done, and there are quite a few nods to the fact that 90% – if not more – of what’s going on is in the kid’s heads, while they play an elaborate live-action game of superheroes… my personal favorite is how, if you are in combat on the streets of South Park, occasionally the fight will be interrupted by calls of “Car!” At these moments, all the combatants will trudge back to the sidewalk and glare sullenly at the oncoming traffic – usually being insulted by the driver – before returning to their original positions and allowing combat to resume.

In Stick of Truth, the kids were playing fantasy; Fractured But Whole starts that way as well, as you step back into the boots of King Douchebag and move to settle the war currently brewing between the Elves and Humans of Kupa Keep and the invading Moorish. Cartman, however, has other plans; Scrambles the Cat has gone missing, surely a sign of a town-wide crime spree, and only the Coon – and his assorted super pals – can save the day. That leads to all the kids switching to superheroes and heading out to save the cat… because there’s $100 in reward money that will help them – or perhaps their rivals, the Freedom Pals – kickstart their franchise, Cinematic Universe style.

All well written, coherent – at least as much as South Park is capable of being – and with a surprising amount of sidelines to play with – such as “Fartkour” with the Human Kite and playing Flappy Bird – if you replace the bird with a rainbow-farting unicorn carrying a fish ghost to heaven – Fractured But Whole spends the first 15 hours or so entertaining.

Then you get to the end. Or rather, what you think is the end.

The last several hours are an exceedingly painful slog that feels like it’s being drug on for no purpose other than to pad the runtime. There were a lot of complaints regarding the length of Stick of Truth, and I can’t help but feel much of the last act is in response to that; I’m not certain why. Sure, Stick was kind of short, but it did what it needed to do, and it knew when it was time to exit, stage left.

Fractured doesn’t. You perform a daring nighttime raid on Scramble’s assumed location, have a truly epic boss fight with some unique mechanics, and save the cat. You’re done, right?

Nope. Not quite. Then you have to go somewhere else, and endure roughly five “boss level” encounters in an area that seems designed to just keep forcing you to summon your friends and lacks much of the brilliance of layout or little details that you’d gotten used to. Then you have yet another epic boss fight. This one takes forever, and honestly the best way to win is spam heal and chip away at it. It goes down… we’re done, right?

Nope. Then you have to race from location to location – no fast travel allowed! – following a chain of clues to lead you to the real villain. Another grueling boss fight ensues. Yay! Triumph! Triumph?

Nope. Then you have to go on a fetch quest, endure the most frustrating fight I’ve seen in nearly any RPG, do another fetch quest, and then engage in a fight that will likely take a half hour or longer… assuming you don’t screw it up near the end and have to start all over.

Are you done? Well, shucks, why would you be? A little more jogging around South Park, and then you get to the actual last boss fight, which is, for all intents and purposes, the one you did three fights ago, just with two of them. To be fair, the dialogue during this one and how it’s finally resolved is some of the better stuff in the game, but I don’t know that it was worth the trouble of getting here.

As it stands, the game’s fairly great until that last part… then bogs itself down and makes you hate every time the “fight starting” animation comes up. If I was going to give it a rating up to the first assumed “last” boss fight, it’d be a solid 9.5. The plot, design, graphics and sound are all amazingly well done, and the combat system being a little clunky and irksome – fights with “turn timers” for certain boss moves are the worst offenders, though thankfully there’s not many – is really the only detriment, assuming you’re a South Park fan.

But dat ending, dough. If you account for that torture, it drops down to more like a 7. Yes, I found it that annoying. There were also approximately five times the game crashed during the last slog, and audio started desynching fairly frequently. The final cutscene and the opportunity to pick a fight with Morgan Freeman jump it up a bit, but the net result is 7.5. Worth playing if you’re big on South Park or don’t feel like the grim seriousness of Assassin’s Creed: Origins but still want some RPG entertainment, but not something that’s going to convert any new fans.

In case it might be relevant – bug-wise, anyway – I was playing on PS4; unknown if there are similar problems on Xbox One or PC. And yes, I was insane enough to grab all the Yaoi and fight Morgan Freeman, so I have a shiny new platinum on my gamercard; more than welcome to follow or send a friend request to Ashande, if you are of a mind.

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