South Park: The Fractured But Whole has finally landed, and for the most part, it’s everything I’d hoped it would be.
Let’s clarify those expectations. I wanted it to be as good as the first one, for one thing. I also wanted the combat to be a little more interesting. Finally, I wanted it to feel like South Park. Those probably seem like relatively low expectations, but we all know the deal with sequels, right? Sequels are never as good as the first one, whatever that first one is. There are exceptions, of course, but there’s a reason it’s a thing.
The second game picks up right where the first one left off. Everyone’s still fighting with swords when Cartman decides that he wants to play superheroes. Unfortunately, the New Kid doesn’t have a place in the superhero reindeer games, so all of your hard-won dominance is gone in a flash. It’s not too difficult to convince Cartman to let you play, though, and pretty soon you’re choosing a class and getting on with the super-powered beat downs.
This time around, you get to choose not only your gender, but your gender identity, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference, but choosing to be a cisgender girl resulted in several comments from various characters. Several of the kids still think I’m a boy, but when Wendy Testaburger said that she knew that I was a girl the whole time, it was oddly satisfying.
You also get to choose a weakness — your character’s kryptonite. I haven’t yet encountered mine, so I’m not certain how that will impact me. More importantly, you not only get to choose a class, you get to choose more than one as the game progresses, giving you the ability to super customize your superpower set. Don’t like your choices? Have a seat at the superhero table and swap them out to your heart’s content. At the moment, my character is a Blaster / Psychic / Gadgeteer, but I messed around with Elementalist and the Assassin class a bit, as well.
This time around, your costume is just cosmetic, so you can feel free to change up your look whenever you like. I’ve picked up a ton of costumes, and sometimes you find patterns that let you craft the various pieces of a costume. As you progress, you open up slots for artifacts that affect your various stats, but those slots aren’t based on what you’re wearing, so you don’t have to sacrifice style for stats.
Combat is more interesting, but it comes with new frustrations. There are some fun powers that can smack multiple enemies, but with an entire grid to play around on, sometimes lining the bad guys up is tricky. Foes can also come at you from multiple directions at once, and sometimes there are obstacles that you have to either go around or destroy. Boss battles come with their own rules, so they’re not just more of the same.
Combat gets gross and weird, sometimes. You do still have fart-based powers, though there are some interesting variations this time around. I have to admit, every time a sixth grader flings snot at me, I still shudder. Status effects are familiar, such as being on fire, and there are a number of ways to do damage over time. The ability to swap out your teammates means you can experiment to come up with interesting combos. You can knock your enemies back (sometimes quite far), and I still get a kick out of knocking an enemy into a teammate, who promptly takes a shot at the hapless bad guy.
There’s enough new stuff here to keep my interest. The ability to call in other heroes to help you solve puzzles is fun, though it gets a bit repetitive after a while. Wandering around South Park at night feels appropriate for fighting crime, but I keep feeling disappointed every time the game skips over the school day. Maybe there’ll be school-related shenanigans later, but at the moment, it feels like a missing piece. The town’s layout is roughly the same as the previous game, but there are new things that have been built up in old areas (though they should be familiar to anyone who watches the show).
It is a South Park game, so you know there’s bound to be a ton of offensive jokes and assorted snarkiness. Strangely, though, the general tone feels a touch subdued. I’ve laughed out loud a couple of times so far, and smiled quite a bit, but there’s something in the atmosphere of the game that makes it feel a bit off. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Whatever it is, it hasn’t put me off the game at all. I have to wonder if maybe that feeling of being wholly immersed in a cartoon environment could only work once; if, after the first game, I’m now too aware to get that caught up again. Regardless, I’m still playing, and still having fun.
I have to admit that PC Principal drives me a bit crazy on the show, but in the game, microaggressions are actually kind of fun. After PC Principal trains you to spot microaggressions, they’ll occasionally occur during combat. If an enemy spews one out, you get a free shot at them, which is something else that feels oddly satisfying.
In the first game, you had to make friends on Facebook, whereas now the focus is on taking selfies and posting them on the game’s version of Instagram. You can also take selfies at will and apply a few filters, which is a bit more engaging than the passive version of Facebook that we saw last time.
That really sums up South Park: The Fractured But Whole in a nutshell. Things are similar to the first game, but the level of interaction and customization is deeper. Sometimes a little, such as taking selfies; sometimes a lot, such as the ability to mix and match your powers from different classes or to craft your own burritos and revival potions.
I’m about halfway through the game (or, at least I think so) and so far, I’m definitely not regretting dishing out the $$ for it. It’s engaging and encourages experimentation, and, as always, half the fun is trying to anticipate what weirdness they might throw at you next.
But stay away from those fucking clowns, man.