Until South Park: The Stick Of Truth, the cartoon had games roughly as crude as its animation. It turns out that anything South Park needs Trey Parker and Matt Stone ruthlessly overseeing development, and their presence on South Park: The Fractured But Whole is somehow even more visible here. If the first game was a playable episode of the show, this is not an episode of South Park, but an infinitely configurable episode where you choose the jokes.
The plot is a mix of superhero satire and make-believe. Cartman is trying to build a multimedia empire around Coon and Friends, and, despite the fact that nobody would ever pay to watch their planned giant film series, the kids are fighting over who gets the first movie. Into this innocent world stumbles your hero, the New Kid, and, yet again, it turns out something genuinely awful is happening in this Colorado hamlet that the kids completely misunderstand.
The game itself expands on the original turn-based RPG play. You’re now on a grid, and location matters in your strategy and your farts can control time. It’s not particularly complicated stuff, although frankly the design feels better suited to a tablet or a Nintendo Switch instead of a console. But the game itself is mostly second banana to exploring a giant interactive version of the town and watching the game rewrite itself on the fly.
Much like Stick of Truth, everything about The Fractured But Whole is note perfect to South Park, and the game is packed with an absurd amount of sight gags, references, and little bits from the show. What really stands out, though, is just how much you can mess with the game. True to their word, the “difficulty setting” (i.e. which race your character is presented as) really does change how you’re treated by the other characters in the game. And who’s in your party makes can change, drastically, just about everything you see and hear. Put Cartman and Wendy on the same team and they’ll rip into each other; swap out Cartman for Toolshed (that is, Stan) and Wendy is full of compliments.
It makes the game a lot more replayable than it might be otherwise, at least if you’re a fan of the show, and it makes you wonder what you’re missing with your particular set of choices. It’s an intriguing display of writing skill in that anything you can throw at the show’s team, they’ve got something for. In some ways, it also blows up game design. Anybody who plays games long enough, or who studies how games are designed, quickly learns that video games are a sleight-of-hand act, giving you the illusion of choice while tightly controlling everything. And that’s here in the design, but in the story, it’s just the opposite. You pick pretty much everything, and while it doesn’t change the overall arc of the story, it changes almost everything else to some degree or another.
If you’re not a fan of the show, the game’s central flaw is there’s not much here that will change your mind. This is, very much, for people who love the show and everything about it. But if that’s you, this game can be made just for you.