South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Who it's for: Fans of the TV series looking for a great interactive installment
Console: Xbox One, PS4, PC
The game opens with the main character on a toilet, doing what one does in this most private of situations. It's a mini-game requiring the right button presses and stick movements to accomplish the deed, and it quickly sets the tone for the whole game.
"South Park: The Fractured But Whole," makes its intentions obvious from the outset — to give players a greatly extended, uncensored, interactive episode.
All of your favorite (and some quite obscure) characters from the TV show that the game is based on appear. The show's major locales are all intact, and the game world opens up before you, consistently revealing secrets and pushing the story forward.
While the last game, "South Park: The Stick of Truth," featured a fantasy setting, this one shifts into a superhero movie, led by Cartman and his obliviously named alter-ego, The Coon (half space raccoon, half animal handler — don't ask).
The change is appropriate, as kids rarely stay with the same game day after day. The way cowboys and Indians gives way to cops and robbers, "The Fractured But Whole" leads us down a different path than "Stick of Truth," complete with different powers, characters, settings and even a different battle system.
It's genuinely difficult to tell where the kids' imagination ends and the weirdness of "South Park" begins. The characters seem to have real super powers, fighting everything from sixth-graders to redneck adults and pedophile priests. But sometimes during a major battle, the action will pause so everyone can get out of the street to let a car go by.
It all makes perfect sense in the context of "South Park," which is why these games work. It's also why they can push the bounds of socially acceptable content, veering into racist, sexist, scatological humor that would get people fired from most jobs.
Make no mistake — even more than the show, the game is strictly for adults only. And if you don't appreciate the franchise's biting satire and parody, then this isn't for you.
Those who do appreciate the game's sensibilities will find a lot to love here. The twisty, bizarre story beats lead to laugh-out-loud dialog at every turn. It's the funniest game you'll ever play, hands down.
In addition to the new setting and superhero theme, the new battle system works amazingly well. Each character has numerous attacks, able to create different patterns on the battle grid. Like a simple strategy RPG, you must pay attention to where enemies are on the grid, what squares your move will affect and how it plays into the larger scope of the battle.
While not as deep as a game as "Fire Emblem" or "Final Fantasy Tactics," you must think a couple moves ahead and consider how to wrangle the enemies as much as the best means to defeat them.
Your main character — still the New Kid — gets to choose a character class at the beginning and gets the option to "multi-class" a little later in the game, opening up a number of different attacks to equip, depending on the situation. Additionally, each character sports an ultimate attack, which pulls from a shared pool of energy. Choose the right one, and fights become a little easier.
The battle system really enhances the game, adding a surprising amount of depth to the one area "Stick of Truth" kept exceedingly simple.
There are a couple of places "Fractured But Whole" stumbles though. The game starts very slowly. It's fun wandering around town, but there isn't any urgency at first, making you wonder why the kids are taking their new quest so lightly. It serves a purpose, allowing players to learn the more complex systems and to carefully define their character. But it could have picked up the pace a little.
This is no longer a problem about halfway through, so those with a short attention span should really go along. The destination is worth it.
There's also the problem of the tiny text. There's a lot of reading here, and on my 55-inch TV from 12 feet away, I struggled and strained to read a lot of what was coming across. That was a real bummer, as I found myself skipping some of the random messages, which I am sure were quite funny.
Overall, "South Park: The Fractured But Whole" is a fun, hilarious RPG romp. Its few flaws don't detract from the game's overall quality. "South Park" fans will love it.