ZP reviews South Park: The Fractured but Whole.
So another year is lolloping to a close like a walrus rolling inexorably down a hill towards a threshing machine, and there's only one week left for catch-ups before the end-of-year festivities. But what, of all the games I never got around to in 2017, most deserves a last-minute second look? Some indie darling? Something that proved influential in retrospect, like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds? Or perhaps a game where one of the goals is to find all of the toilets and deposit in each one a big, smelly, farty poo? I think we all know the answer to that one, so yeah, South Park: The Fractured but Whole. There's actually a clever joke in that subtitle; did you spot it? "Fractured but whole"? That's right! You can't have something fractured and whole at the same time! Oh, the mind-bending feats of wordplay of those clever young whippersnappers who make South Park! Clever middle-aged whippersnappers, rather; middle-aged whippersnappers still making a living out of poo jokes. My goodness, my glass house is sparkling delightfully in the morning sun! What a nice day to indulge in my favorite hobby of projectile mineralogy!
So why didn't I review South Park: The Traumatized Anus when it came out? I did play it, but I just kind of stopped midway through, partly because I was having trouble thinking of things to say that I hadn't already said about the last game, Stick of Truth. It's the same town, you walk around it (or rather, hop around it, 'cos the animation's so crude, it's recovered from subterranean hydrocarbons), the plot concerns all the kids playing a big make-believe role-play together that eventually starts blurring with the real world, and a lot of toilets get pooed in.
But I came back to the game last week and finished it because in the intervening time, I took it upon myself to watch all the episodes of South Park I hadn't seen - after all, I had to justify my Hulu subscription somehow - and having caught up, you know what? The show's still pretty good. Yeah, obviously, it's not as good as it was; that's the nature of the beast. It's fun to swing a dead polecat around your head, but it's not going to be the same after you've had to stitch the dead polecat back together ten or eleven times. But it's holding together as well as can be expected for an adult cartoon with 20+ seasons; certainly a fuck-load better than The Simpsons, which is currently best equivalized to a man being dragged behind a car as it does donuts in Times Square, losing more and more bits of skin and flesh with every spin while he screams and screams and upsets the children, but just won't fucking die!
But yes, having caught up, I could understand all the new characters and changes in South Park, like how those two lads have gone gay all of a sudden, but that's sort of the first problem with Fractured Bum Tits Poo-Poos, that it feels a lot more reliant on the player's foreknowledge of the show than Stick of Truth was. Stick of Truth's plot was self-contained enough that I could get into it despite not having watched South Park since my last circumcision, but Damaged Sphincter is literally a direct continuation of a couple of episodes of the show, where the kids play as superheroes. Seems a bit optimistic to expect us to have seen the whole show in this age of endless competition for our eyeballs between YouTube, Netflix, video games, social media, going outside, Mrs. Braithwaite's bathroom window. As much as the fact that my first attempt to play Broken Botty led to me seeking out the series again kind of proves that cross-promotion works, not everyone has as much free time as me because they have real jobs, and probably haven't murdered all their friends.
But let's get back to the game. Having been made King of Fantasyland after the events of Stick of Truth, our custom protagonist suddenly finds his, her, or its world shattered when his, her, or its friends tragically decide to play something else, and we must reinvent ourselves from the ground up as a superhero, superheroine, or super... thing. You embark on a quest to find a lost cat, uncover a hidden conspiracy of people sticking their faces in cats' arses (which is another thing that's going to fly completely over your head like a severely-withered dead polecat if you haven't watched the relevant episode), and there's a prolonged running gag about "my goodness, aren't there a lot of superhero franchises in popular culture these days?" But don't be turned off if you think it's going to be nothing but that kind of biting, lofty-minded satire, because the protagonist's superpower is the ability to fart so hard that they warp reality. Thus is the tone set, and the tone sounds like this: (the sound of a raspberry being blown for three seconds).
Gameplay-wise, it's like they took the Stick of Truth gameplay and streamlined it in a tree shredder. The main thing you do on a moment-to-moment basis is loot every container in the room with a yellow highlight; it's like a urine fetishist's Christmas morning. But where in Stick of Truth, you'd have to look at the list of stuff in each piss-box and select "Take All", now everything gets automatically hoovered into your pocket as soon as you open it, which effectively cuts your workload in half at a stroke.
But that's not all! There's quite a sumptuous bounty of features that Fractured but Whole doesn't have anymore: equipment, equipment upgrades, perks, all coming soon to a landfill near you. What you get is, you pick a character class, your class gets three attacks and a super attack, and that's your lot. How your character improves is that every few levels, you unlock a new slot into which special patches can be placed, which is a surprisingly deep system and requires quite a bit of thought, but here's a brief beginner's tutorial: if you see a patch with a number on it that's higher than the patch you've currently got, equip that patch instead. Now for the advanced lesson: once you've unlocked two patch slots, equip the patch with the second-highest number on it. If you're having trouble figuring out how numbers work, try punching yourself in the balls the same number of times as each patch and then equip the patch that made your balls hurt the most, close sarcasm quotes.
I'd say the only place the gameplay of The Mutilated Sphincter has evolved any is in the combat, which has gone from the simplistic row-based system to a flashy chessboard affair, where we take turns to move our guys into optimal positions to use different attacks that all affect unique patterns of squares. But don't be too intimidated by the need for grand strategy, because you can also do a big, stinky fart in the enemy's face that means he misses a turn and you can freely punch them in the face a few times, which I've found personally gratifying, because whenever I played chess with my brother when we were kids, he'd always accuse me of making that rule up. Frankly, though, the combat often felt like a chore, and it's not the mechanics' fault; it was that the lack of equipment or perks or much else the game had to reward me with made me getting into random battles feel like I wasn't doing much more than wasting two minutes of my life.
In the end, the big picture is this: I can think of several standout memorable moments from Stick of Truth - the alien abduction, the retro RPG section in Canada, that bit where you get shrunk down and have to avoid being squashed by your parents fucking. But very little stands out in my memory of The Injured Rectum; I remember it as a prolonged sequence of going to places and fighting some dudes, and I remember that the game's final boss fight took place about half an hour too early, and then events just trundle along for a bit before the story just sort of peters out and abruptly ends, leaving me feeling like the gerbil in my asshole had suffocated to death before I'd even brought myself off.
So that's Fractured but Whole: it's Stick of Truth, but not so much. Bit of a dowdy note to end the year on, really, so here are some pictures of ladies' bottoms.
- The bottom line: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Images in this credit sequence brought to you by a Google image search for "tight pants"
- The gerbil likes it up there really because the candles keep it warm