You’ve got to hand it to Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It seems like everything they touch turns to gold. Granted it’s generally fart joke based gold, but still! Every time the duo decides to take their distinctively filthy and deceptively intelligent humour to a different medium, it just works. A few years back, the team decided to make a South Park game that they could script and design themselves at South Park Studios to ensure that we’d get a disc genuinely worth giggling over. That they made an RPG actually worth playing beyond all of the gut-clenching hilarity was a pleasant surprise. The Stick of Truth was a brilliant game and now they’ve gone and done it again. South Park: The Fractured but Whole is one of the best games of the year and it’s sure to be the funniest damn game on the market until these guys decide to do it again.
The plot, structure, and even map of South Park: The Fractured but Whole are pretty much the same as last time and thankfully that’s a good thing. For this round, the South Park gang have stopped playing wizards and fantasy to try on their superhero personas. Cartman’s goal is to make a lucrative film franchise with Netflix offshoots, others want to merely do some good in their community. That causes a rift amongst all the costumed kiddies—because why wouldn’t it? So it’s a Marvel Civil War type tale. Once again you’re a new kid with a surprisingly graphic troubled home life (seriously, it would be a downer were it not for South Park’s “get out of jail free card” cutesy cut out aesthetic and even then there are times when things feel a little overbearing) who eventually rallies together both sides of the divide. Along the way you also do everything from sneak into a strip club to make a semen soiled drink to doing battle with a certain former Subway pitchman in ways that leave deep mayonnaise stains and mental scars. South Park: The Fractured But Whole is out there, if just slightly toned down from the last one to avoid another round of international censorship.
Gameplay in The Fractured But Whole is essentially a gently streamlined RPG with all the trimmings. Combat has been updated to a grid system with character movement and obstacles. It takes a little getting used to but ultimately allows for greater variance and challenge within the endless stream of turn-based combat. It’s still not as painfully difficult as most pure RPGs, even on the highest difficulty, but that’s for the best. There’s also more customization options this time, allowing you to combine a variety of fighting classes and styles to your character as well as the ability to build items. Toss in dozens of hilarious costumes and other customization options (you’d best believe those ball chins are back) as well as a variety of hidden items and side quests (get ready to help Cartman’s mom start a questionable business) and you have a fairly robust and deep game, especially for a licenced property. All of it in some way mocks gaming conventions or delivers some sort of South Park deep cut joke. The attention to detail is remarkable. Even the loading screens boast funnier jokes than any video game deserves.
Of course, South Park: The Fractured but Whole is also a rare game where mechanics and design are almost secondary concerns. Sure the game plays great, but the reason folks will be lining up to grab insomnia-causing copies is the South Park style and humour. Good news. Trey and Matt didn’t disappoint here either. Once again, there isn’t a second of gameplay that doesn’t feel like you’re controlling a South Park episode. All the characters appear, this time updated to include new favourites like PC Principal (who teaches you how to score extra attacks for microaggressions) and the Member Berries (scattered throughout the game as collectables, often mocking the nostalgia inherent in sequels). Jokes are layered into the fabric of every aspect of gameplay, from the disgusting throwaway items you find along the way (go sifting through an abortion clinic dumpster and that’s going to happen) to gameplay tips provided by an increasingly high and distracted Towlie ranting about the government between hints. It’s a parade of giggles and guffaws for South Park fans. Too many even.
The story is as episodic and stretched as any videogame. The plot can’t be expected to live up to the tightly scripted show even if the game very much feels like a 20-hour episode. Oddly, much of the “new kid” character arc comes wholesale from The Stick of Truth including the big twist. It’s a bit of a bummer, but the execution of your troubled home life is so much darker that it’s worth the repletion. The superhero narrative becomes as deliberately convoluted and confused as the blockbuster source material, eventually stumbling into a bizarre time travel finale that easily tops the climax of Stick of Truth that underwhelmed at the finish line. There’s also some genuinely strong satire slipping in The Fractured But Whole, in particular a Lovecraft-inspired subplot about police brutality that is so good and painfully cutting it easily could have been an episode. Also, Parker and Stone have fun with allowing players to choose their own racial, sexual, and spiritual identity in ways that inevitably lead to being beaten by a gang of local racists. The way the writers use gaming identity to tease identity politics purists is very clever and ultimately inclusive in ways that might surprise those who balked at the “skin colour difficulty” controversy that hit the game a few weeks back.
Simply put, The Fractured but Hole is a joyous, even orgasmic gaming experience for any South Park fan. It’s filled with beautiful designs, engaging gameplay, and endless comedy with the brainy highs and poopy lows that made the show legend. The game is every bit an equal to its predecessor and in some ways, even an improvement. Some might consider it a mild step back given that the novelty value of a sincere and satirical South Park RPG isn’t quite as high the second time and that the team missed an opportunity to shift gaming genres once they shifted from fantasy to superheroes. That’s really the worst thing you can say about this game though.
Sure, it doesn’t top Stick of Truth, but it does provide a sequel worthy enough to stand as an equal. Hopefully Trey and Matt expand this into a trilogy, because they’ve found a pitch perfect formula to expand their iconic series into videogames without diluting the medium or the franchise (last week’s episode did directly lead into the game and both are so simpatico that it didn’t feel like gross crossover marketing, more like ambitious gross out humour crossover storytelling). In a perfect world, all tie-in games would be this good. Unfortunately, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the only content creators dedicated and passionate enough to make spin off games this strong. No one is better at making the world laugh at our absurdities through childish animation and the crudest of all humour. May these masters of fart joke satire never stop.