South Park: Fractured Butt Whole
Platform(s) Windows, XBOX ONE, PS4
Release Date: October 17, 2017
In South Park: The Fractured But Whole, the fantasy theme of its predecessor gives way to the equally popular subject of superheroes, parodying the current state of comic book-to-film oversaturation we see today. This shift is complemented by the change in the combat system, which proves cerebrally satisfying despite the juvenile sight of your main character using flatulence to overpower and outsmart everyone from ninjas to a red wine-enraged Randy Marsh. And when you add town exploration that awards practical character benefits, the resulting game is a delightfully fart-tinged journey that delivers satisfying gameplay and surprising absurdity in equal measure.
Like many South Park episodes, The Fractured But Whole's story kicks off with Eric Cartman cooking up a self-serving scheme: the search for a missing cat so he can use the reward money to fund a movie franchise for his troupe of superheroes. Yet, this is South Park after all, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that what develops goes way beyond a simple feline rescue. We're talking about police corruption with Lovecraftian twists and having to stomach debased attacks by pedophile bosses. As you once again play as the New Kid, you promptly join Cartman's team, Coon and Friends, engaging in a host of bizarre stories that play fast and loose with crude humor and sensitive topics alike.
This is South Park through and through, where outrageous and unpredictable plot developments contrast against the day-to-day goings on of seemingly normal suburbanites. There's also the typical smattering of references to recent real-life events, from the Black Lives Matter movement to Morgan Freeman running a taqueria. But the game follows the franchise blueprint of lampooning pop culture and society without in-depth commentary, typified by the non-combat difficulty slider where being black is supposedly the hardest setting, and being white is the easiest. It's an opportunity to present something meaningful left half-realized as a flyby gag.
Seemingly more care was put into the game's more benign comedic touches, starting with game title itself. 'The Fractured But Whole' isn't a mere excuse to hide 'butthole' in a game title; it's also a clever take on Captain America: Civil War, relevant since the game's story involves two rival superhero teams. The Fractured But Whole is a consistent chucklefest where genuine laugh out loud moments are spread thin, which is forgivable for a playthrough that can last over 20 hours. Thanks to fast travel, completing missions comes at a steady pace, which means you're only minutes away from a new scene that would warrant a chortle at the very least. That could be Mr. Mackey's disturbing inquisitiveness about your sexual preferences or the City Wok staff moonlighting as ninjas. And even in the more private settings of a stranger's bathroom, the minigame of dropping a deuce offers its own flavor of hilarity.
Your arduous rescue mission is filled with hostile encounters against everyone from sixth graders to the elderly. As a welcome change to the precision demands of the Stick of Truth's RPG-inspired mechanics, Fractured But Whole employs tactics-style combat, prioritizing strategy-driven thoughtfulness over adept reflexes. While those new to tactical RPGs won't have to worry about the intricacies of terrain effects or improving chemistry between squadmates, you're nonetheless rewarded for thinking a couple turns ahead. Moreover, the modestly sized combat grids give the initial false impression that only rudimentary battle planning is needed for success. In actuality, these sometimes cramped spaces force you to think carefully on how to efficiently navigate your characters around the field, ideally to capitalize on their powers.
It's a superbly balanced combat system that values smart thinking while also offering the flexibility of personal preference when choosing your character's class and abilities. Whether you like supporting and buffing friends or want to be the most powerful tank possible, you can complement your strengths with the many superfriends you amass over time. While it's a stimulating challenge trying to make a great team, it's even harder to come up with a bad one. For every hero that has a potent attack that can knock back enemies, there's a buddy who can heal and buff. Another advantage is the accessibility of craftable health-restoring mexican food. This can turn the bulk of encounters into easy victories, though The Fractured But Whole offers its share of optional encounters above your fighting weight--as measured by your squad's Might level--not to mention a number of challenging boss fights.
Growing your team's Might is inextricably tied to every bit of forward progress you make, whether that's wrapping up a story goal or completing the myriad side quests assigned by familiar townsfolk. From building a follower count on social media via the Coonstagram app or collecting gay romantic manga for Mister Tucker, experience earned through those missions accumulate to increase your levels and unlock slots for Might-boosting artifacts.
As you head to any map-marked objective, the various unexplored homes and businesses along the way are well-peppered with practical crafting items and side-mission collectables. Thanks to a number of quality-of-life conveniences, exploring seldom feels like a chore. Accessible drawers are well-marked with yellow handles, backpacks you've sifted through remain open, and when you've completed various collection missions, you're rewarded by the quest giver immediately, saving you the trip to physically hand the goods. These benefits far outweigh The Fractured But Whole's slight annoyances such as not knowing what attacks in battle result in friendly fire and the tiny font of your app updates.
Aside from exploration and battles, South Park is loaded with environmental puzzles that--while hardly brain teasing--can elicit more than a giggle depending on how a hurdle is overcome. The most challenging obstacles are surmounted by your legendary farting abilities and select friends you can call in for an immediate assist. By combining your flatulence with the flight ability of Human Kite (aka Kyle's superhero persona), you can reach higher, previously inaccessible areas. Toilet humor transcends to depravity when you fire Butters' rodent out of your butt, launching it to reach and sabotage open electrical panels. While The Stick of Truth had its share of gassy gags, this sequel doubles down on farting as an essential multipurpose game mechanic, powerful enough to bend space and time at your whim. Not only does it prove useful in solving puzzles, it's also invaluable in preventing enemies from using their turn in battle.
Much like The Stick of Truth, The Fractured But Whole can be appreciated as a standalone adventure, accessible to those who've fallen off the TV series over a decade ago. Fans who have kept up will appreciate the handful of recent call backs to the show plus at least one timely spoof that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone previous said they would not tackle. And if there's one aspect of the show that hasn't changed in its 20-plus years, it is the endearing qualities of the kids' reality-breaking imaginations. This is best exemplified in the classic pronouncement that the floor is lava, which is represented by initially impassible red building blocks strewn throughout the town.
The Fractured But Whole succeeds as an interactive South Park mini-series, while effectively emulating the show's current style of adult-targeted entertainment and satirization of political correctness. In other words, it's consistently amusing and provocative without the edginess the series used to be known for. Both the game's combat and explorative strengths effectively bridge the many comical plot developments, which range from mildly amusing to downright hilarious. It's an accomplishment that this game will wholly entertain devoted fans while delivering a heap of jokes that won't fly over the heads of casual viewers.