Surprising no-one, I’m sure, but I have been a big, big fan of South Park (Stone and Parker, 1997 to present) since it first started airing on television. Over the years, the show has gone from strength to strength and, even though the last couple of seasons haven’t been as good as others (the show’s fascination on giving Randy such a large role at the expense of the kids is a little annoying), I still make an effort to tune in when new episodes air and appreciate how Matt Stone and Trey Parker have tried to do new things with their controversial series to spice things up a bit. South Park has, however, had a tumultuous history when it comes to videogame adaptations. Back in the day, for some unknown reason, the show was first adapted into a first-person shooter; South Park (Iguana Entertainment/Acclaim Entertainment, 1998) allowed players to control Stan, Kyle, Kenny, or Cartman as they traversed a number of landscapes practically swamped in fog as they battled against a slew of enemies inspired by the first series of the show. It was…okay…but hardly evocative of what the series was known for. Following this, South Park dabbled with a videogame genres, including a quiz/party game in South Park: Chef’s Luv Shack (Acclaim Studios Austin/Acclaim Entertainment, 1999) and a pretty entertaining kart racer with South Park Rally (Tantalus Interactive/Acclaim Entertainment, 1999), before striking gold with the fantasy/RPG genre in South Park: The Stick of Truth (Obsidian Entertainment/Ubisoft, 2014).
Stick of Truth benefitted from three very simply ideas: simple but surprisingly deep controls and turn-based gameplay mechanics, a close collaborating with Stone and Parker on the content of the title, and presenting itself as a continuation and extension of the show. If there was one thing going against Stick of Truth, it was that it was too short; I was perfectly happy with how easy the videogame was, as it meant playing through as a breeze and extremely fun, but it definitely felt like it ended a few hours too short. Luckily, Stick of Truth was received well enough to justify a sequel; it took a while but we finally saw this in the form of South Park: The Fractured But Whole (Ubisoft San Francisco/Ubisoft, 2017), which was directly tied into season twenty-one of the show. Picking up pretty much the very next day from the ending of Stick of Truth, Fractured But Whole sees the boys ditch the fantasy game they were playing in favour of creating their own superhero franchise; your avatar, the New Kid, is then drafted into Coon and Friends and charged with proving himself (or herself…) once again.
The Coon and Friends have a simple objective: find the lost cat, Scrambles, and be the most successful superhero franchise in town. Opposing them are the Freedom Pals, who want exactly the same thing but refuse to follow Cartman’s lead, and various other enemies such as the Sixth Graders, the malevolent Crab People, homeless bums, ninjas, and waitresses from Raisens. However, due to the New Kid’s very real superpowers and mysterious origins, the kids soon become embroiled in a plot by Mitch Conner to take over the town using cat pee and end up travelling through time in order to set things right.
Technically speaking, Fractured But Whole isn’t much different from Stick of Truth; all of South Park is once again available to explore, with some new additions like SoDoSoPa, the Shi Tpa Town, and Mephisto’s laboratory, and some exclusions, such as the South Park Mall and Canada. The town is full of non-playable characters, including all of the recognisable and familiar faces from the show, and you are encouraged to interact with them all to gain access to side quests or take a selfie to post on Coonstagram, increase your followers, and therefore improve the reputation and reach of Coon and Friends.
The turn-based mechanics of Stick of Truth return but with a twist; the awkward move wheel and restrictive battlefield are gone, replaced with a simple horizontal interface and a grid that players can freely move about. The party has also increased from two to four (or even five or six, in some cases), allowing for more varied combat, and attacks can be targeted against groups of enemies across the grid to deal additional or knockback damage. It’s a great overhaul that allows for a real sense of strategy and thought to be put into early battles; once you have levelled up enough and mastered the game, however, battling becomes less about strategy and more about using the most powerful attacks to sweep the opponent as quickly as possible. The gameplay remains as simple as before but, as with Stick of Truth, the mechanics cane be surprisingly deep. Players can pre-emptively fart on or strike enemies for a turn or combat advantage, inflict bleeding, burning, vomiting, freezing, or confusion upon opponents, and are encouraged to use a variety of different abilities to win battles. Some enemies, for example, are immune to status afflictions; some bosses cannot be attacked directly and must have enemies hit into them to damage them; and some battles involve the player being pursued by an invincible opponent.
As before, players can choose from a number of classes, now based on popular superhero tropes; the New Kid can be a Brawler or a Speedster, or maybe you’d prefer to be a Cyborg or a Psychic. Each brings different abilities to the combat and results in a funny little training simulation in which Cartman amends and expands upon your simple and crude backstory. Eventually, as you progress, you can dual and even multi-class, gaining access to every available class and all the moves associated with each. You can only assign three moves and one super move, however, so choosing what suits your play style is key. Battling earns you experience points, a handful of cash, items, Artefacts and DNA Strands. As you do no equip weapons like in Stick of Truth, these last two can be equipped to the New Kid to increase or decrease certain attributes (Strength, Health, etc) or affect your abilities, and those of your party, in combat. Eventually it comes down to equipping the most powerful of these but your experience may vary; I always favour boosting attack power and health over speed, but there’s plenty of choice here.
You can also buy and/or pick up various items and junk all around the town to be used in the game’s deep crafting system; this is where you will craft health, revives, power-ups, mission-specific items, and even Artefacts. It’s fun to explore and pick up everything you see and the cost of crafting these items decreases the more you play and the more you invest. You can search every square inch for yaoi pictures of Tweek and Craig, which replace the Chinpokomon collectables from Stick of Truth, unlock buddy assist moves to clear lava (red Lego bricks) and reach new areas, and learn new fart techniques to assist you in opening new areas, advancing the plot, or for use in combat,
The player is given complete freedom to design their avatar from the ground up; the New Kid, silent as always, is completely customisable, from the type of hair or headwear you want to the superhero outfit and gloves. You are also tasked with filling out the character’s profile; this involves talking with Mr. Mackey at various points to determine your gender, race, phobias, and sexual orientation; while these don’t necessarily massive impact how the game is played and can be altered at any time, choosing to have a black avatar is set to be the game’s Hard mode, which is fitting for South Park’s controversial sense of humour. Fractured But Whole is a big, involved title, easily answering my desire for a long gameplay experience through the main story campaign. While the plot is arguably not as strong near the end (the finale just kind of…happens…and the game ends), the story is an enjoyable and fun experience. Just wandering around town, looting through people’s houses and playing the toilet mini game is a blast and, like before, it really is like playing an episode of the show.
This time around, we also got some quite substantial downloadable content; not only can you unlock addition costumes and gear from Ubisoft’s Club, you can also pay to download a combat simulator and two additional story-based campaigns. One sees you uncovering a mystery at Lake Tardicaca, the other sees you battling vamp kids at Casa Bonita. Both are lengthy and involved, bringing new character classes and abilities to the entire game, and well worth the purchase. Also, if you’re lucky enough to buy the game with the code inside of it, you can download a digital copy of Stick of Truth when you purchase the title, making this a no-brainer for any South Park fan.
In the end, Fractured But Whole is everything Stick of Truth was and more. Some things are missing or not as prominent but the additions far outweigh the exclusions; the environments, characters, and writing are all classic South Park, making for an extremely fun experience, especially if, like me, you prefer your RPGs to be a brisk stroll rather than a jungle expedition. This is the way videogame adaptations or tie-ins should be produced, being as close to the source material as possible while still being accessible to all players, making for a win/win experience all around.