Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
South Park: The Fractured But Whole ditches the fantasy aesthetic of the previous game (2014’s excellent The Stick of Truth) to deliver a story that lampoons everything in the superhero genre. This time around, instead of tracking down a legendary artifact to grant their kingdoms power, everyone’s favorite fourth graders don capes and tights while searching for a missing cat, hoping that the reward money will help them launch their own cinematic universe.
You once again play as the “New Kid” in town, but you’re not as clean of a slate as the previous game. The kids all know you now and respect you as their king from the fantasy game they all played, but when Cartman decides to force everyone into playing superheroes, that respect is tossed out the window. You start as a lowly junior hero in the ranks of the “Coon and Friends” team and have to slowly climb the ladder to becoming a full fledged member.
To do this, you not only have to accomplish tasks and quests around town, you have to create a large following on Coonstagram, an obvious parody of Instagram. As you help the people of South Park with their issues, you gain the privilege of taking selfies with them, which boosts your popularity and helps your team have a better chance at getting their own Netflix series when they receive the prize money for finding the lost cat. It’s absurd and silly, but that’s South Park for you.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a few standout scenarios, the humor in The Fracture But Whole feels like a step backwards from what was delivered in The Stick of Truth. So much of the game revolves around Cartman planning out the Coon and Friends franchise, which is funny, but it beats you over the head with the same jokes over and over again. In fact, it’s actually the side quests and unexpected random encounters that contain the real laughs. Whether it’s Morgan Freeman teaching you how to freeze time with your farts, helping two of the kids with relationship counseling, or taking a dump in every toilet in town for a reward, there’s a handful of genuinely funny moments to experience. It’s just a shame that you have to sit through repetitive story missions to get to them.
While it’s still fun to explore South Park while doing side quests and missions, it’s considerably less awe inspiring as it was in the previous game. This is largely due to the fact that roughly 90% of the map is the same as it was last time around, the characters and scenarios just happen to be different. Although there are some new areas to wander into (a strip club, retirement home, etc.), the sense of discovery is lacking. However, I did appreciate some of the puzzles that can be found around town. They’re all easy and mostly rely on you calling in a friend to use their powers, but I found them to be fun little side activities that shake things up.
Although the exploration in and of itself isn’t that great, it’s still worth doing. Pretty much every home, building, and outdoors location is full of crafting components and new costume pieces. Components can be gathered and combined to create a plethora of items to aid you in combat, or to craft artifacts that can be equipped to augment your stats. The costume pieces allow you to alter the look of your hero, but they don’t provide any stat enhancements. There’s literally hundreds of these cosmetic items, so you should have no problem creating your own goofy custom costume.
The biggest change in The Fractured But Whole is its combat system. Instead of the traditional turn-based system of the previous game, this one utilizes a more tactical grid-based system, which I actually had more fun with. The size of the grid changes depending on the fight, but the size differences are rarely that drastic. The grids are usually just big enough for you to strategize, but small enough for you to get right into the fight. It might seem a little complicated for those not familiar with this style of gameplay, but the early encounters do a great job at easing you into the mechanics.
Each character has a certain amount of squares that they can traverse, same for their powers. Some characters can attack distant squares, some can attack in multiple directions, and some can only hit the square directly in front of them. This creates a tactical system where you have to really consider your options before every move. When you consider larger attacks that target multiple squares, the ability to inflict status ailments, and devastating super moves, there’s a lot of room for experimentation.
Some grids (typically boss encounters) even have special objectives that need to be completed, such as moving all of your characters to a designated area or destroying obstacles. These situations typically require you to analyze the grid and find the best way to manipulate the characters, occasionally requiring you to lead the enemy into certain positions for the best outcome. The combat system has a lot to digest, but once everything clicks it’s extremely satisfying.
Unfortunately, my time with The Fractured But Whole was severely impacted by bugs, glitches, freezes, and crashes. From the save system not working properly, fights where I couldn’t move because an enemy refused to do anything on their turn, and multiple situations where the game froze up or crashed completely, I was shocked by how many issues I experienced. I had 3-4 bugs per session I spent with the game, which is unacceptable and incredibly disappointing.
FINAL VERDICT – 5/10
As much as I loved The Stick of Truth, I can’t in good conscience recommend The Fractured But Whole, at least not on PlayStation 4. Despite having one of my favorite combat systems of the year, nearly everything else about the game is a giant disappointment. The humor feels like a step backwards for South Park, often relying on the same jokes and gags as a crutch for the majority of the game. Likewise, the actual act of being in and exploring South Park is considerably less exciting as it was in the first game. When you throw in the countless technical issues I encountered, it makes it really hard to recommend this game. If you really want to play it, then by all means, go ahead. Just make sure you play on a different platform, or at least wait until the PS4 version gets patched.
– Zack Burrows