South Park, Colorado. A town in crisis. Crime levels are on the increase, people’s cats are going missing, local government is a tumultuous mess of intrigue and conspiracy, the sixth graders are entirely out of control, unethical experiments are going on in the creepy genetics lab, and the phone shop has crabs. Not those kind of crabs. Maybe also those kind of crabs. Can crabs even get crabs? I dunno.
Anyway, only Coon and Friends can get to the bottom of this. Or the Freedom Pals. It depends who gets the multimedia megafranchise cash first. Also, “bottom”. Get it? Bottom. It’s a fart joke. Like almost everything else in this game.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole starts up exactly where the previous game ended, as the kids decide to swap their tinfoil antlers and mystical medieval monarchy for superhero alter-egos and their own Netflix TV series instead, complete with vulgar origin stories involving dads and moms doing you-know-what and now you’re a vigilante because parents-had-sex trauma. The Marvel vs DC conceits are obvious and inevitable, but also faaaaarts, Cthulhu, Morgan Freeman, time travel, and something deviant with guinea pigs. And you can visit every house in town and shit in the toilet, which you can’t even do in Skyrim. If you’ve watched the show or played South Park: The Stick of Truth, you already know more or less what to expect, including the abrupt and gloriously ridiculous conclusion. If you haven’t, you won’t even be reading this review, so whatever.
Much like the show, the game’s preposterous narrative extravagance also includes a lot of contemporary social satire, but its parodies of systemic racism, discrimination, privilege, microaggressions, identity politics, and other “liberal internet outrage clichés” are conscientious and even sort of poignant, and not the offensive-because-it’s-offensive stuff of edgy 4chan cringelord lolz (but I suppose edgy 4chan cringelords probably miss this). When creating your character at the beginning of the game, for example, the difficulty slider adjusts your skin tone.
“This doesn’t affect combat,” Cartman explains. “Just every other aspect of your whole life.”
Okay, but I chose to play as a white character because I’m so white like that, so I don’t know how things might’ve been otherwise, although I did subvert gender stereotypes and go with some girly pink pigtails because I’m also a cultural anarchist like that (and I didn’t realise that I could play as a female or even transgender character, because I’m used to games like that). “You’re pretty for a boy,” Butters tells me from time to time with something like love. If only people in real life were this nice. It’s not hard.
The combat system has been revamped since the first game, and now uses a grid layout and corresponding move sets that require some thinking about each character’s location between turns. Encounters are (mostly) easily resolved but perhaps too frequent, and by the end of the game, started to become somewhat tedious for me – more of an unavoidable obstacle between plot points than a meaningful contribution to the story, with only some exceptions. It’s a shame, because the multi-class design and idiosyncratic abilities are legitimately interesting, but there’s not much incentive to experiment besides slotting the most powerful skills to simply finish faster. The hilarious combat dialogue (DIABETES CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM!) almost makes up for it.
The game also froze and crashed on me several times, but much more egregiously, about 12 hours into it, I got stuck on what could’ve (and would’ve) been a game-breaking glitch that prevented progress in the main mission. I managed to, like, unglitch it with some random this and that, but not before wasting about an hour trying to work out what the problem even was. Not cool, dude.
Those complaints notwithstanding, however, the presentation is totally authentic, from the lo-fi paperware animation and ironic self-referential gags to Kyle’s cousin Kyle’s hypochondria and drunk Randy Marsh, and features cameos from almost every supporting character that’s appeared in the show since 1997. It’s like starring in your own original episode, and that’s something very special.