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South Park: The Fractured But Whole review

Rival superhero franchises go to war.

Our Verdict

A slick RPG with superb tactical combat, a detailed world to explore, and a gleefully crude sense of humour.

Need to know

What is it? A superhero-themed RPG set in South Park.
Expect to pay £40/$60
Developer Ubisoft San Francisco
Publisher Ubisoft
Reviewed on GTX 1080, Intel i5-6600K, 16GB RAM
Multiplayer None
Link Official site

While 2014’s magnificent The Stick of Truth skewered Tolkien, Skyrim, and high fantasy, The Fractured But Whole is an anarchic send-up of superheroes—from comic book cliches to endless money-spinning movie franchises. You play as the mute New Kid, whose heroic deeds in the previous game are forgotten because, well, the kids are playing a different game now. Tutored by the Coon (alter ego of Eric Cartman), you begin your adventure as a lowly sidekick and must earn the right to establish your own superhero brand and Netflix series. Yet no matter how hard you work, he’ll still always refer to you simply as buttlord.

The Fractured But Whole (named as a reaction to retailers refusing to stock a game with the word ‘butthole’ on the cover) is an accessible RPG with a wonderfully fun turn-based combat system. The fighting in Stick was cool but lightweight. Now it’s deeper, richer, and more strategic, with some brilliantly designed battles that require genuine tactical thinking. There are buffs, debuffs, elemental magic, and summons, as well as dramatic, superbly animated ultimate attacks. And a new grid system adds extra complexity, with chain attacks, knockbacks, and powers that force you to think about where characters are positioned on the battlefield.

Morgan Freeman runs a Mexican restaurant and will sell you ingredients to craft health-restoring burritos

Environmental hazards mix things up further, with exploding chemical barrels, pools of lava (actually piles of red Lego), and a dad with the power to freeze (well, ground) your party forcing you to think carefully before each turn. It’s one of the most enjoyable combat systems I’ve ever encountered in an RPG, and honestly, who expected that from a South Park game? There’s a hell of a lot of combat, but it’s so varied and consistently surprising that I never once got bored of it. And it only gets better as the New Kid unlocks more powers, including building automated turrets, encasing people in ice so they miss a turn, and calling in rocket-firing drones.

Your class dictates your powers, and you can eventually have up to four at once. My own New Kid's primary class is Blaster, which gives him fire-based ranged attacks that inflict burning damage. Next I became an Elementalist, which lets me conjure up healing dolphins. Then I added Gadgeteer to the mix, which allows me to build a decoy to distract enemies that explodes when destroyed. And, finally, Plantmancer to grant me useful healing and revival magic. Experimenting with these varied powers in battle results in some interesting combos, allowing you to create a distinctive play style.

As for the story, it concerns two rival superhero franchises: Coon and Friends and Freedom Pals. Your stablemates include Super Craig, The Human Kite, Fastpass, and the Coon himself, who each come with their own combat abilities. The Human Kite can buff allies with a protective shield, while Super Craig’s powerful punches will knock enemies back a few squares on the grid. On the other side are Mysterion, Doctor Timothy, Tupperware, and Toolshed, who you fight in Civil War missions and, occasionally, reluctantly team up with. This rivalry is the focus of much of the storyline at first, although a greater evil emerges that raises the stakes and threatens both groups.

When you’re not fighting you’re probably exploring the streets of South Park. Getting the opportunity to freely wander around the town, entering buildings and talking to people, is a thrill for any fan of the show. And there are countless items, puzzles, jokes, and side missions to discover, which makes poking around in every house and store worth the effort. I also love how wildly customisable your character is. As you explore you frequently find bits of costume that you can mix, match, and recolour to create your own unique superhero. This system has no bearing on your stats or anything else, but gives you a nice feeling of ownership over your character.

Establishing Coon and Friends as South Park’s foremost superhero franchise involves becoming popular on Instagram-spoofing social network Coonstagram. When you meet someone the option to take a selfie will sometimes appear. Take the snap and they’ll follow you back, although some people will ask you to do something for them before they agree to a photo. It’s a strangely compelling distraction, and an opportunity to meet some of South Park’s vast cast of characters, including Mr. Hankey, Randy Marsh, PC Principal, and Morgan Freeman. Incidentally, Freeman now runs a Mexican restaurant and will sell you the ingredients to craft health-restoring burritos.

Because The Fractured But Whole is so full of surprises and unexpected twists, I have to avoid talking about some of its best features and moments. It's best if you discover them yourself. But if you love South Park, this is another faithful adaption of the series. The story is the only real weak link, with the pace occasionally grinding to a halt, satire that, surprisingly, lacks bite, and a general feeling of predictability—bar a few moments that are South Park at its crass, anarchic best. You may also find everything outside of the combat a little too familiar if you played The Stick of Truth. Otherwise this is a streamlined, imaginative, and enormously entertaining game.

The Verdict

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

A slick RPG with superb tactical combat, a detailed world to explore, and a gleefully crude sense of humour.