In The Fractured But Whole South Park is No Match For Ubisoft

In The Fractured But Whole South Park is No Match For Ubisoft

first_imgStay on target Despite its deeply, deeply lame centrist politics, I enjoyed quite a few episodes of South Park during its impressive 21-years-and-counting run on Comedy Central. Who can deny the pleasure of watching crude cardboard cut-out little boys dunk on Scientology or hang out with a towel that gets high? So while I never played much of 2014’s South Park: The Stick of Truth, I was glad it seemed to finally be the high quality, ambitious, faithful, loving, crass, creative, reverently irreverent AAA video game South Park always deserved.But the road to Stick of Truth wasn’t easy. Not only did it suffer numerous delays but the South Park team and their development partners at Obsidian had to keep the role-playing game alive even as the original publisher THQ imploded. Ubisoft finally carried the game over the finish line. So I’m as shocked as anyone that three years later we now have a sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Yes, they’re talking about buttholes.However, after playing the latest epic South Park game, I think I understand why it exists. This is a game about superheroes, but Cartman’s Coon and Friends are no match for the publisher whims of Ubisoft.South Park: The Fractured But Whole trades the fantasy setting of its predecessor for a comic book theme. Wizards and elves and whatnot maybe lend themselves a little better to classic RPG mechanics. But I preferred the more imaginative powers of the different dual-spec superhero classes like “Cyborg” and “Brutalist.”The new theme also presents plenty of new opportunities for comedy. The game can make fun of the cynical superhero movie boom, planning out sequels and spin-offs and Netflix shows and civil wars on cold spreadsheets. But it also lets the boys act like genuine little boys, putting on costumes and imagining operatic battles surrounded by Lego-block lava before pausing to avoid a car. South Park the show operates on those different levels all the time, but putting them in a game gives The Fractured But Whole (like The Stick of Truth before it) an almost EarthBound quality.As befitting superheroes, the combat this time is also much more dynamic. Instead of just sticking to your lane, combatants move across a small grid during the turn-based battles. Different attacks have different range options. With the right Mario RPG timing, My blaster character could shoot a fireball a few squares away whereas Captain Diabetes’ headbutt charge would deal loads of direct damage and push him forward. There are a fair amount of tactics to consider, and that’s before you get into status effects like “burning” or “grossed out.” Soon enough you’ll also learn your most powerful skill, the ability to fart through time and nullify enemy turns, taught to you by taco entrepreneur Morgan Freeman.If The Fractured But Whole had just stopped here, it would’ve been cool. It would’ve been a fine light RPG with a nifty combat system giving you just enough interactivity within what’s essentially a giant episode of South Park. But it doesn’t stop. Every choice to puff up The Fractured But Whole into more of a Video Game TM, choices I have to believe came from the Kings of Content Colonies at Ubisoft, makes it more tedious to actually play. It makes me just want to watch the prequel episode of the show that leads into this along with some cutscenes on YouTube.The game is loaded with all of these slow systems and sub-systems and mechanics and menus you access with your in-game smartphone. I think the goal was to give the game the depth you’d expect from a big RPG, but it distracts from what’s actually enjoyable about inhabiting the South Park world so expertly recreated here in video game form. I don’t want to gather scrap metal and craft different fidget spinner artifacts to buff my character. I don’t want to cook consumable meals to stay healthy. I don’t want to expand my social network through selfies.These systems have a thick and entertaining enough South Park wrapper to help them go down easy. The gags aren’t always fantastic, but they come in fast and frequently. One of your summons is Moses from Super Best Friends. There’s a recurring minigame about pooping in every toilet you find. The fast travel system is powered by Jimmy Valmer. Filling out your character sheet with different background details is actually relatively sensitive about racial and gender identity (potentially more so than Ubisoft’s own Far Cry 5). And achievements never let you forget that the foes you’re vanquishing are just sixth graders, pervert priests, and creepy child waitresses at a Hooters knock-off.But all of this charm can’t distract players from the incessant padding. The Fractured But Whole is like twice as long as The Stick of Truth for no real reason. The pacing isn’t too bad. The game is split between daytime free-roaming puzzle sections around town and nighttime linear gauntlets at locations like a strip club complete with thicc boss fights. And the game never misses a chance to mock its own questionable gameplay conventions. This is the same show that put out a brainless free-to-play mobile game called Phone Destroyer. However, preemptively acknowledging that gameplay may be bloated and boring doesn’t actually make up for that bloat and boredom. The expansion feels cheap and artificial, not earned with meaningful gameplay enhancements. Sometimes less is more anyway. A show that produces new episodes in seven days should know the value of working fast and with discipline.So why is the game like this? We can’t know for sure, but my guess is that realizing the game could never be as fresh as the original, Ubisoft instead took the steps needed to mold the franchise’s formula into something the publisher could continue to consistently make for potentially years going forward. Even the fact that the game largely uses the same open, adventure game-ish South Park world of Stick of Truth makes it feel like sequels in other Ubisoft products like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and Watch_Dogs. Also, while the game of course features the voice talents and creative input of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the game was developed internally at Ubisoft San Francisco. This time, someone else took a sequel from Obsidian and not the other way around.I’m the guy who kind of wishes South Park the show would end soon, so I’m not really looking forward to the idea of annualized South Park video games from Ubisoft. South Park: The Stick of Truth was a legitimately cool surprise licensed game success, and while South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a fine follow-up, I’d hate to see such a strong debut slowly drained of life and turned into a never-ending AAA walking corpse. Just call it “Batman: Arkham Syndrome.”View as: One Page Slides1/51. South Park: The Fractured But Whole is the superhero-themed sequel to South Park: The Stick of Truth, the acclaimed RPG based on the hit Comedy Central cartoon.2. The new combat system lets players strategically position themselves on a grid.3. Try out new superhero classes like “Cyborg” and “Brutalist.”4. While the South Park world is funny and charming enough, the gameplay in The Fractured But Whole is saddled with too many tedious sub-systems and mechanics you access with your in-game smartphone.5. Overall, we’re not convinced South Park RPGs needs to be Ubisoft’s next big annualized franchise.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. 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