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South Park: The Fractured but Whole Review: Fourth Graders Assemble

Like the comic book movies it parodies, The Fractured but Whole isn't perfect, but it'll make you smile.

Review by Nadia Oxford, .

I've told and re-told the old chestnut about how part of my first purchase with my first paycheque was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Let me talk about the second half of that historic purchase: Two South Park T-shirts.

In 1997, I was as much about Trey Parker and Matt Stone's foul-mouthed troupe of fourth-graders as I was about brilliant 32-bit 2D platformers. And while I'm still in love with the latter, I fell out of love with the former about a decade later.

That's not to say I grew to thoroughly dislike South Park the way I did with, say, Family Guy. In fact, Bigger, Longer, and Uncut still ranks as one of my favorite films (let's stop the lies: The Canadian government has never apologized for Bryan Adams, and no number of mea culpas will ever be enough). I just got a bit tired of the schtick and drifted away. I even took a pass on 2014's Stick of Truth, the predecessor to The Fractured but Whole, though I suspected I might enjoy it. I just never mustered the time or energy to play.

It doesn't get classier than a fight in the VIP section of a strip club.

I was similarly "meh" over the announcement for The Fractured but Whole, and mulled over if I ought to bother. Then the pun behind the game's name hit me while I was standing in line at a bulk store, and I nearly had a breakdown in front of the cashier. That's when I figured, "Yeah, I guess I should check this out."

Deep in my heart, the ashes of my tasteless 17-year-old self still smoulder. I guess they just needed a good burst of gas to flare alight again.

Fortunately, The Fractured but Whole (and, I've been told, The Stick of Truth) is tailored for people like myself: People who aren't much interested in listening to South Park's kids echo the libertarian beliefs of the show's creators, but have a soft spot for the kids' make-believe games. As far as I'm concerned, "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers" (where Butters is corrupted by a porn video a la Gollum and the One Ring) and Good Times with Weapons (a blatant parody of anime and video game tropes that aired ages before making fun of that sort of thing was common in mainstream entertainment) is still some of the best TV ever written.

M'kay?

Similarly, The Fractured but Whole is all about fun, games, and make-believe, but with an obvious DC vs Marvel Comics flavor—and with an air of seriousness that cuts through the calls of "pew-pew!" and "laser-eye attack!" like the sharp smell of cat urine. South Park's under siege by a crime spree involving an increase in drunken brawls, petty vandalism, and a slew of missing kitties. Something foul is afoot in the quiet mountain town, but Cartman (the leader of the Coon and Friends team) is only interested in playing super hero long enough to find a particularly miserable-looking cat named Scrambles, collect the $100 reward, and use the money to kick-start Coon and Friends as a franchise.

Unsurprisingly, things quickly get out of hand. As you delve deeper into the game as the New Kid (AKA ButtLord, aka ThunderButt), you learn how to harness your unworldly farts to attack foes and unzip the fabric of time itself. You also learn more and more about your own tragic backstory. Every hero's gotta have one. That's the rules.

As you progress through The Fractured but Whole, you're allowed to call on more of your fellow heroes to help you in battle. The kids' costumes and abilities are an adorable hodge-podge of plastic, tinfoil, and Tupperware (except for the ever-cynical Super Craig, who tapes an "S" to his sweater and calls it a day), and their powers are limited only by their imagination—at least until a fellow team member calls them out for not playing fair. My go-to team is Jimmy ("Fastpass," who wields Flash-like super-speed), Kyle ("The Human Kite," who fires lasers from his eyes and has healing powers), and Scott ("Captain Diabetes," who binges on sugar to go on glucose-fueled rages. 9 out of 10 doctors recommend diabetics never do this, ever).

When fourth graders' ideals collide, things get messier than a spilled Capri Sun.

Combat in The Fractured but Whole is a mix of strategy, turn-based combat, and timed button presses. Players and foes take turns moving around a gridded field, and both sides' combatants can utilize strong melee attacks, weaker status-affecting long-distance attacks, and several buffs, debuffs, and heals. There's a surprising amount of strategy to the game's fights, especially if you play on a higher difficulty. Fights sometimes drag a bit, particularly fights that require you to fill a special condition.

Thankfully, it's easy to avoid non-scripted fights, and grinding battles isn't necessarily the best way to power up your party, anyway. Instead, crafting plays a major part in your party's strength. South Park is chockablock with knick-knacks and biohazards perfect for putting together accessories that make your team stronger. As you level up, you're able to equip more accessories that benefit your friends. The Fractured but Whole's over-arching power-up system means you can swap out fighters and not have to worry about someone being under-powered. It's very beneficial, since different encounters call for different abilities.

There's a surprising number of things to see, do, and collect in The Fractured but Whole. The main quest took me nearly 20 hours to compete, and I still had tons of side-quests and collectables to check off my "To Do" ledger. I didn't collect all 40 pieces of Craig x Tweek yaoi fanart littered around the town, nor did I help the troubled couple through therapy like I promised I would. Maybe I ought to.

Can you handle the truth of your own tragic past? No? OK, we'll try again later.

As for the main story, it goes through a slump near the midway point, but thankfully it picks back up again for a hilarious, horrifying conclusion. I spent a lot of time trundling blearily through South Park's streets (travel is slow, even with Fastpass' checkpoints), but I spent a lot of time laughing at its one-liners and background gags, too. There's no other RPG quite like it—other than Stick of Truth, of course.

I think The Fractured but Whole wouldn't suffer if it had a few hours knocked off it, but at the same time, I'm kind of sad to be done with it, too. It made me feel a little nostalgic for the latter half of the '90s, when society's biggest scandal was a show about a bunch of kids saying "Ass." If you liked Stick of Truth, it only makes sense to start playing superheroes (elves are totally lame, you guys). If you're like me and you have a long-dormant fondness for South Park, you'll likely enjoy it, too.

If you don't like South Park at all, though, walk away. Then keep walking until you hit Canada, buddy.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Sound: The Fractured but Whole has atmospheric music worthy of a superhero movie trailer in addition to innumerable one-liners that don't repeat too often, thankfully.
  • Visuals: South Park isn't a pretty show, but it's a visually interesting one. Same goes for The Fractured but Whole. The game is indistinguishable from the cartoon, right down to every last corner of every last cut-out character. The character's special attacks have suitable comic book flare, as do the menus, though said menus feel cluttered as a consequence.

Like Stick of Truth before it, South Park: The Fractured but Whole plays like an episode of the show. One of the good episodes, mind you, that's more about the kids interacting with each other than politics. Though it drags at times, The Fractured but Whole carries a sweet, twisted charm that makes it hard to resist if you're similarly twisted. It's still not recommended for anyone who never found the show funny to begin with, though.

4 /5

South Park: The Fractured but Whole Review: Fourth Graders Assemble Nadia Oxford Like the comic book movies it parodies, The Fractured but Whole isn't perfect, but it'll make you smile. 2017-10-16T10:48:00-04:00 4 5

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Comments 11

  • Avatar for ArugulaZ #1 ArugulaZ A month ago
    The graphics look better in this one, judging from the images. I mean, it's not like it's terribly straining on a modern game system to reproduce the visuals of South Park, but this looks like it does a better job than the Stick of Truth did.Edited last month by ArugulaZ
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  • Avatar for FalcoT #2 FalcoT A month ago
    0 mention of the difficulty slider?
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #3 nadiaoxford A month ago
    @FalcoT I'm pretty sure Ubisoft already said the skin-based "difficulty" slider doesn't actually adjust the game in any meaningful way, despite initial reports that it does. I played on the default skin setting myself. Actual combat difficulty is adjusted in the game menu.

    As for the "message" behind the slider, that's getting into story spoiler territory, but police brutality and societal discrimination towards black people is definitely addressed in the game. Can't say more than that, though.Edited last month by nadiaoxford
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  • Avatar for FalcoT #4 FalcoT A month ago
    @nadiaoxford I don't know, even if you're not discussing specific beats it still feels like you can make a judgment about how the game handles the societal issues at work. I greatly enjoyed Stick of Truth but will likely pass on Fracture But Whole because I'm turned off by what I've heard so far regarding its handling of race; additional context would make me reconsider.
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  • Avatar for Sturat #5 Sturat A month ago
    @FalcoT Yeah, the character names of the Coon and Fastpass don't give me high hopes, and neither did the E3 preview with unintentional child molestation. I'm not saying people should never break taboos with jokes about race, disabilities, or even sexual assault, it just rubs me the wrong way that the creators of South Park feel entitled to do it when other people's perspectives would be a lot more interesting.
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #6 SIGGYZtar A month ago
    @ArugulaZ Yeah, Stick of Truth, despite its cartoony visuals, was a burden on my PS3 slim and crashed a few times in my playthrough. But I attribute it to Obsidian's works then. I pray Fractured but Whole doesn't do the same with my PS4.Edited last month by SIGGYZtar
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  • Avatar for dr134 #7 dr134 A month ago
    I'm not your buddy, guy!
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #8 nadiaoxford A month ago
    @FalcoT Didn't Stick of Truth have Kyle as a "High Elf Jew" who becomes more powerful as he suffers, though? It wasn't a sensitive game by any means, and neither is Fractured But Whole. I don't think that necessarily renders all its messages moot, but I'll be tackling the more political stuff in another piece.
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  • Avatar for FalcoT #9 FalcoT A month ago
    @nadiaoxford I didn't appropriately consider how the first game also had issues, which is a fair point. If you are planning to talk about the political stance of The Fractured But Whole separately, then I look forward to that article.
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  • Avatar for ArugulaZ #10 ArugulaZ A month ago
    @SIGGYZtar I've got a Tiger Woods golf game that acts the same way, taking way too long to load and giving me fits on my PS3. Maybe it's scratched, I dunno.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #11 Flipsider99 A month ago
    @Sturat Of course they're "entitled" to do it! Everyone's entitled to make their piece of art with their point of view and their own social commentary. What do you mean by "other people's point of view would be more interesting"? What other people? I think the creators of South Park have proven to have a pretty interesting and worthwhile point of view on social issues.
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