I was hugely excited for the release of South Park: The Fractured But Whole having been a fan of the show since I was seven and unable to understand the majority of the jokes in it; a particular episode involving the owner of the mobile library having sex with chickens went completely over my head at the time.
So excited then, that I had to watch a video on Youtube containing the first X amount of minutes of the game before I got my grubby mitts on my copy.
Thus, when it came to me starting the game and trying to unlock the door to the Coon and Friends lair, I already knew the password from watching the video. I tried my luck and inputted the code (F***-You-Mom) without exploring Cartman’s room. Unfortunately, I was then greeted by Cartman dressed as Bill Belichick – head coach of the New England Patriots – calling me a cheater and referring to me as Tom Brady. As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, this in parts made me laugh, but mainly got me cursing Tom Brady’s name once again as a massive cheat.
The point of this early anecdote from the game is that it instantly wanted me to know that this game had a set path for me to take, and would ridicule me if I tried to deviate from said path. This is all very much in keeping with the humour of South Park in the sense that no gender/race/religion/business is safe from their brand of humour. But I was concerned with just how far it was going to restrict me, when so many other games appear to be putting player choice front and centre in contrast.
But I at least understood why the game felt like it wanted me to play their way; because if I did it my way, I would miss most of the humour and not get the true South Park experience. I could argue though that sometimes it felt like I was watching an interactive episode of South Park as I almost had a breadcrumb trail between objectives. All this aside though, I was still having a thoroughly good time and regularly laughing along, and any fan of South Park will not be disappointed. My concern is that a person playing this that did not have an interest in the TV show would feel too restricted, because the payoff of the humour would not hit home as hard.
The story takes place instantly after the previous game, The Stick of Truth, with the humans and elves continuing their all-out war after destroying The Stick of Truth. But, quick as a flash, Cartman gets bored and quickly changes into his superhero alter-ego, The Coon. The rest of the kids follow and, playing as The New Kid again, you now need to come up with an alter-ego of your own.
The Coon is keen to get his superhero franchise off the ground in what is a clear nod to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and he sees a missing cat poster offering a reward of $100 as the perfect way to do so.
The episode tie-in for the game, season 21’s aptly named Franchise Prequel, explains why the group have a massive falling-out that creates a civil war between Cartmans’ Coon and Friends group and Timmys’ AKA Doctor Timothys’ Freedom Pals. What then follows is typical South Park with the story going off in complete tangents that make little sense in relation to where they started, but are consistently funny. It doesn’t quite keep up with the same bizarre story from last time – one involving aliens, suppository nuclear device and an aborted Nazi zombie foetus – but this is still very much a South Park story, if slightly more grounded.
Due to the tangents, some of the boss battles are dropped in from out of nowhere and were always a pleasant surprise. I won’t spoil the surprise of who the main antagonist is as this is not revealed until a decent way through the game, but due to some of the side quests the game features you will find yourself facing some very familiar faces including Sheila Broflovski, Butters’ dad Stephen Stotch and Red Wine Drunk Randy Marsh.
These battles all take place in the new and very improved battle system. This is now a much more tactical affair incorporating a grid system and position-wise it is absolutely critical where you stand. Your attacks highlight which squares will be hit before you unleash them. It isn’t ground-breaking in its design but it certainly gives the battles a bit more juice than The Stick of Truth.
Another change is how you boost your stats. Gone from the first game is the stat boosting outfits and weapons, though you can still customise your appearance, and in its place is the cheekily named ‘Might’ level, clearly ripping on Destiny’s ‘Light’ level. It works in the same premise also, allowing the player to equip artifacts in different slots to boost your overall level. There is still EXP to be gained and levelling up occurs, but additional levels only add more slots for your artifacts. Thankfully though, there is no grinding to be had to reach the higher levels.
A few subtle changes exist in the game world, but for the most part it is the identical setting from The Stick of Truth. Kenny’s house now resembles the SoDoSoPa district that featured prominently in season 19 of the show and Shi Tpa Town has updated the top left corner of the map. The mall that was destroyed during The Stick of Truth is closed off, but other than that this is very much an identical map layout which is understandable given the nature of the games – but it still feels disappointing somehow.
One thing that has been removed completely though is the sprint function, and in the early stages, as fast travel points are some distance away from each other, this feel like a crucial omission.
New gameplay elements include the ability to control and manipulate time through the power of flatulence, referred to in the game as TimeFarts. Playing as The New Kid, you will quickly discover your expelling of gas holds tremendous power, not just to control time but to help remove blockages in the world, fire hamsters across long distances and even help reach places that would otherwise be out of reach. It’s TFBW’s way of again restricting access to areas until the necessary technique has been unlocked, a staple of many games, but done in the typical South Park way.
Sometimes though, these TimeFarts do not work as intended when in the middle of the battle, and on numerous occasions have resulted in me having to restart the game. The animation will start up when I input the correct button prompts, but then will not progress any further. Other times these have not worked at all, and a quick readjustment to my battle plan has been required.
TFBW has 35 achievements in it, and unlike the first game, none are missable. There is one difficulty based achievement that requires you to complete the game on the hardest difficulty but like the first game, you can become very overpowered quickly if you complete the sidequests as you unlock them so this will not prove too difficult.
It is a little bit longer than the first game too, but the laughs remain consistent throughout so it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Despite the massive overhaul to the battle system and more subtle changes elsewhere, TFBW feels like a very safe sequel to The Stick of Truth. It’s still a great journey with characters that fans of the show know and love, but I am unsure why this game was delayed so much when it appears to have re-used a lot of the assets from previous. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed my time jumping back into South Park and this is a very good game, but between this and The Stick of Truth, I won’t be screaming for a third game in this series unless it changes pretty much everything.