If you’ve ever wanted to be in an episode of South Park, you’ll have no doubt played South Park: The Stick of Truth and most likely have your eye on the sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole.
As someone who loved The Stick of Truth, I had high hopes for The Fractured But Whole and while the game lived up to most of my expectations, it falls short in some big ways and I’m afraid there’s only so far the dark South Park humour can take the troubled game.
It should go without saying, but if you’re not a fan of South Park in general, then it’s unlikely that you’ll like the game, as it’s aimed directly at fans and if you don’t like the show, you won’t like the game.
The Stick of Truth shone so brightly because not only was it a solid RPG game, it raised the bar for fans with a well-told story, almost perfect dialogue and insane moments, some of which were so outlandish they were banned in certain countries.
Sadly, The Fractured But Whole fails to hit the bar set by its predecessor, and although it’s still a good game in its own right, it’s unfortunate that the legacy of The Stick of Truth isn’t another great South Park game.
The story takes up right at the end of The Stick of Truth and the fantasy war you waged over the Stick itself is over and now the kids are playing superheroes, pitting one superhero franchise against the other (I wonder where they got that idea?).
Personally, I simply don’t find superheroes as interesting as fantasy, but you might feel the opposite and in that case, this is great news.
If you missed the arc of the show in which they really laid into the superhero genre, a lot of the jokes will be lost on you, although I didn’t see those episodes and still laughed out loud a fair bit, but so many jokes are repeated that after hour 5 or 6, the laughs have well and truly stopped.
The animation and art style is identical to the show, so much so that people who seen me playing genuinely thought it was an episode of the show before I told them what it was. Aside from a small bit of pop-in, there was no technical problems on the Xbox One (I’ve heard the PC version isn’t as lucky).
Combat is one of the biggest changes and it was actually one of my favourite parts of the entire game, with each battle now playing out on a turn-based grid, with tons of elemental effects to play with along with items, ultimate abilities and randomly generated bonuses.
The combat is said to be inspired by South Park Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone playing a new version of Dungeons and Dragons and deciding to model the games combat more it, and while I think it will be like marmite for some, I love it.
My only gripe with the combat is that it’s too easy, and with the new style of combat, each battle takes much longer than in Stick of Truth, so you spend a lot of time fighting battles that are simply so easy, they become downright boring after a few hours.
Perhaps the games' biggest problem is that it seems to be unsure where it wants to go most of the time. The game world is huge and mission objectives are spread far and wide, with a number of paths blocked until you learn certain abilities further on in the game.
The plot moves along at a strange pace too, sometimes with single missions firing you along only to be followed by two or three missions that serve almost no narrative purpose, and the number of fetch quests and "collect all X"-type of side missions are quite annoying.
You'll regularly find yourself traipsing all the way across South Park, only to speak to a person for a few seconds and have to go all the way back straight away, it's really baffling and breaks up a story which needs all the help it can get.
The voice acting is completed mainly by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, exactly as the show is and so it's as good as you'd expect, while the overall sound design and music are both great. There's a ton of (realistic sounding) farting in the game, let's just say that.
I don't mean to be too negative on the game, because despite its flaws, I'm really enjoying my time with it. I can mess around in a giant episode of South Park one minute and jump into a complex, D&D-like RPG experience.
Combat goes deeper by giving you dual classes, perks and artefacts for extra abilities and smaller perks like being able to throw a fart at an enemy or punching them before a battle, giving you a slight advantage.
If you're not a fan of South Park, there's not enough here to win you over, but if you're even a casual fan, you'll find enough recognisable characters and places to hold your interest.
Add in a robust and fun (if a little easy) combat mode and solid voice acting with good jokes, and it's a more than decent overall experience.
It's just a shame it couldn't keep up the same level of quality and humour of its predecessor.