Last year at Gamescom, I had a quick play-through of South Park: The Fractured But Whole. For the most part, it was a tutorial level, but it still showed that the sequel to The Stick of Truth maintains the same irreverent brand of South Park humour, but also puts more focus on offering deeper gameplay.
Fast-forward a year, and I got to take The Fractured But Whole for a much longer spin, which included that same opening section. It was immediately clear some tweaks have been applied to the code. There’s more to interact with, more to do and collect and, basically, more depth in the gameplay so you’re not primarily playing for the laughs.
Those laughs are still there, mind you, and usually at their best and biggest when the game veers into full-blown irreverent territory, but there’s also a solid RPG experience that splices old-school charm with newer mechanics. Turn-based combat has been boosted with a fighting grid, for instance, but there’s also incentive to switch different combatants in and out of your fighting squad (once you unlock them) across different encounters.
The full town of South Park is there to explore again, but while you can head off the beaten path somewhat, it’s advised to stick to the main objectives at the beginning as higher-level enemies lurk at key junctures. Enemy factions will sometimes appear out of the bushes for attempted sneak attacks, and if they land a real-time hit, they get to have the first turn in the turn-based combat. The opposite is also true, so quick reactions are sometimes as must if you want to have the edge.
The main way to level-up, at least in what I played, was to amass Coonstagram followers. You do this by taking selfies with townsfolk, with a limited range of faces to pull and filters to apply. Not everyone is willing to have a selfie with you, though, and you need to complete certain side objectives or achieve certain ranks for some of them before they’ll connect with you.
For certain South Park townsfolk, this means completing specific tasks at an exact time of day, while for others, it means snatching collectables as you complete other objectives. Those who like to explore every inch of South Park will be rewarded with additional side quests, and extra laughs, even if the bulk of these earlier locations seem to be (at the very least partially) locked off to low-level players.
My main motivation for playing The Stick of Truth was the irreverent humour. In The Fractured But Whole, that same shotgun approach to comedy where nothing is sacred is a pleasant backdrop to the kind of RPG gameplay that makes completionist players want to nab everything. As one of those players, I was constantly keeping track of all the little side activities and quests I was accruing while chasing down the main quests.
There’s also a distinct Metroidvania approach to different areas, with several systems that incentivise you to return to once you’ve unlocked whatever is required to get past them. For instance, the first one was the option to manually aim and throw mini-explosives for destroying cracked objects, or for making particular things fall from the ceiling (though these only rewarded me with components for crafting, which I never got around to using).
I’ve deliberately avoided talking too much about the specifics of the jokes because I don’t want to ruin them for you. For the ones that I experienced a second time, they didn’t resonate as much as they did the first time, so this is definitely the kind of game you want to go in playing without knowing the punchlines.
Suffice it to say, South Park fans, or even lapsed fans like me who tend to laugh at inappropriate things, will be very entertained by the dialogue alone. The fact there’s a genuinely engrossing RPG experience built atop that, means that The Fractured But Whole is ticking the right kind of boxes.