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Review: South Park: The Fractured But Whole (Nintendo Switch)By The Strat Man At 29.04.2018 16:42

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Developed by Ubisoft San Francisco, and published by Ubisoft in collaboration with South Park Digital Studios, South Park: The Fractured But Whole picks things up a day after the events of Obsidian Entertainment's predecessor. In truth, it's a very similar experience for the most part, with a core emphasis on exploring the open-world town and turn-based combat. The town itself is near-identical to The Stick of Truth, besides some very minor aesthetic tweaks, which makes logical sense, since Matt and Trey agreed upon an official layout for the town for the original instalment. However, this doesn't exactly do the title any favours from a gameplay point of view. Most turn-based RPG sequels would expand or have entirely new worlds to explore, so treading the same ground will undoubtedly feel a little underwhelming for fans of the original.

On the other hand, this will have freed up a lot of resources to focus on other areas. For one thing, there's a hugely substantial amount of dialogue, with some truly brilliant interactions with the residents of South Park to be had. So much of it could be missed if the player doesn't explore meticulously, and engage in all the side-quests. The Fractured But Whole, as expected, is rich in references and show lore, which fans will enjoy seeking out. There's plenty of superhero satire, too, as this time the kid's focus is on Cartman's superhero clan, The Coon and Friends, and their rivals, the Freedom Pals. In addition, there's more commentary about videogames, too, carrying on from The Stick of Truth. Some of that, unfortunately, is less effective the second-time round, but there's still some seriously funny stuff in there. Only South Park has the licence to be as bold as having the difficulty increase the darker you make the skin colour of the silent protagonist, New Kid.

The turn-based combat system has been upgraded from its predecessor, too. Characters can now be moved around on a grid, which varies in size and often features environmental hazards, all of which adds new tactical elements to battles. Different attacks have varying radii and quadrants that they affect, too, so positioning each member of your team well can often be the difference between failure or prevailing. There are ten different classes of superhero to be unlocked, which you can flick between at will by visiting Cartman at The Coon Lair. The initial choice is between the Brutalist with expert melee damage, the Blaster with ranged attacks, and the Speedster with fast moves, but the later unlocks, like the Assassin and Gadgeteer, are much more interesting. Things start off relatively simple, but progress at a pleasing rate. It's also a pleasure listening to Eric's impatient and impudent explanations.

Not having to commit to any single character type certainly keeps things fresh throughout the twenty-hour journey, and New Kid eventually gains access to all move types. It is a shame, though, that there's no scope for levelling up or upgrading from within these classes, and that team-mates don't develop at all. As such, while the combat setup is more versatile, one could argue that the mechanics (or at least character types and classes) are somewhat under-developed. On the other hand, there are more variant gameplay scenarios when compared with The Stick of Truth. These mostly occur during, but aren't strictly limited to, boss battles, which are substantially more complicated and engaging than previously. The player's team may have to get across the battlefield before the enemy reaches them, or the avoid lego-brick lava, and there are plenty of hilarious battle-changing events, such as random out-of-turn attacks, to keep things interesting. Then there are just the stupid gags, like a passing car forcing the kids to suspend their game and get off the road.

Overall, there's enough here for things to feel new, but there aren't many wholesale mechanical changes. One notable addition is New Kid's time-fart abilities. During combat, these powers can be used to pause time to inflict extra damage, bypass an opponent's turn, as well as summon former iterations of New Kid to join the battle. In the open-world, these gas-derived powers are also quite central to progression. Then there are artefacts, which increase the player's stats and attributes with various bonuses. Up to nine can be attached at one time, and they are split into major, minor, epic, and DNA categories. These are a compelling way to mix and match for a tactical advantage, and while there's plenty to be found, it's perhaps not as rewarding as a class-upgrade system would have been. On the other hand, it's in-keeping with the non-committal design choices made elsewhere, which ensures player experimentation continues throughout.

On the more mundane side of things, New Kid can also now craft things like healing burritos and quesadillas, as well as costumes and more artefacts, with items found in the world and during battle. It's a nice streamlined system, which doesn't over-complicate anything, but does facilitate some interesting side-quests and cool character buffs. Elsewhere, Coonstagram is South Park's social media-feed, which New Kid must use to amass selfies, wrack-up the followers and keep tabs on residents of the town. Of course, invariably folk will need to be convinced to take a selfie with New Kid, but it's a funny way to gain influence in the town, which has been well implemented. Elsewhere, there are a host of toilet mini-games to seek out and beat, which are as crude as you would imagine, and are accompanied by 8-bit style scores, and… take advantage of the HD rumble. There's also Yaoi art of Tweek and Craig all over the town, for the collector fans to hunt down.

The Fractured But Whole rarely misses an opportunity to poke fun at the state of games today, and at the immensely popular superhero universes. While its observational humour is as clever and satirical as in an actual episode, it is perhaps more overly-indulgent with general themes than it should be, at times. The turn-over from production of the show to airing happens incredibly quickly, allowing it to be very current and sharp-witted at the right moment. By contrast, a lot of this title's humour seems to be deliberately more generalised, in order to prevent it feeling dated at any point in the near-future.

Similarly, a lot of its low-brow qualities, such as fart jokes and other cheap laughs, are less effective due to a lack of timing and increased persistence. These issues are the only things that somewhat break the illusion that you could be watching an actual episode. However, overall, it's highly impressive how polished and fluid the experience is, and how authentic it is to the show. There wasn't really a way to avoid to these issues, and what it loses in that regard, it makes up for with unique opportunities for commentary on videogames and interactivity.

Thankfully, it runs extremely well on Switch, for the most part, with only a few minor slow-downs in busy areas whilst playing in handheld mode. The loading times do seem to have increased, and possibly some have been added, but they are by no means an issue (as has been suggested by some). It's also worth mentioning the fantastic superhero-influenced score, which really underpins the kids' imaginations expertly and really complements the excellent voice work, too. It was provided by Nicholas Bonardi, the lead audio designer at Ubisoft San Francisco, but with significant input from the show's composer Jamie Dunlap. Superhero fans can appreciate the score's strong allusions to music of the Dark Knight Trilogy, X-Men and The Avengers. This is something not many people would anticipate being up to the same standards as the show, but it certainly is.

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Final Score
[i]South Park: The Fractured But Whole[/i] is an excellent RPG that adds a hefty amount of mechanical depth to improve upon [i]The Stick of Truth[/i]. Admittedly, some of the gaming commentary is less effective if the player has experience with the previous instalment. However, there are still plenty of surprises and enough side-splitting moments to make it a must-buy for any fans of South Park, especially if seasoned gamers, too. While the storyline itself isn't quite as clever as something from the show, the jokes and dialogue meet the same standards. The kid's move from fantasy to super heroes pays off, although if there's a third adventure, it would need to deviate more substantially from its predecessor. It's a shame the existing DLC couldn't have been included as standard, but at least the Switch version runs without issue for the most part, and wasn't delayed for too long. Overall, this is an excellent port.

8

/10

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