A reader compares the two most recent South Park games, and explains why he thinks Obsidian’s is the best.
Sequels can be a hard thing to get right. If the previous game had large obvious flaws then the job can be quite easy. However, more often the previous game was probably pretty good (which is the reason it’s getting a sequel) in which case how do you significantly innovate without losing the appeal of the original? It’s a thin tightrope to walk, and even a partial success can seem like failure to fans of the original.
I’ve just finished South Park: The Fractured But Whole and would like to frame what I find disappointing in it by comparing it to its superior predecessor The Stick Of Truth. I’m a massive South Park fan but found myself deflated and unfulfilled by the follow up to 2014’s effectively authentic Stick Of Truth. And having thought about it I think I can boil my disappointment down to three main reasons.
I enjoyed Stick Of Truth because it had a few simple themes that most people can identify with at its heart. You play the part of ‘the new kid’, which can be a daunting experience no matter what age you are. And the game brings up ideas the fears of moving to a new town and a central theme of acceptance, all clothed in the innocence of childhood throughout.
Yes, crazy things happen but the kids are always just kids playing a game about control of a mystical stick, the stick itself is symbolic of the mind of a child who can imbue an ordinary stick with power because they simply want it to be so. Alongside this your characters’ main aim is to accrue followers so that he will hopefully achieve that all important acceptance in the cutthroat world of the 4th grade.
As I said, it’s a strong theme and one that’s tied together by the plot and gameplay well. This contrasts with The Fractured But Whole’s pursuit of $100 to start up a movie franchise. It’s just not as compelling, it paints the children as mercenary and for me breaks the spell that underneath all the vulgarity and crass behaviour these are just kids. This feeds into my second issue.
Fantasy into reality
In The Stick Of Truth the kids were playing a childish game, this is juxtaposed with the bigger story of the deep secret surrounding the origin of your character. As a result the special powers are imaginary and fantastical. Butters’ magic hammer… is an actual hammer. Shock damage is caused by… bare electric cables. And the gross out effect is caused by throwing poo at your opponent.
The adults seem oblivious to the kids in their interactions (except when they play their part of over the top summons) and this makes the rules and understanding clearer than the fantasy in Fractured But Whole. There Lego is lava but kids can also produce actual real turrets to fight adults, who are involved a lot more in the fiction of the game. Even the summoning mechanic brought over from the previous game doesn’t sit well with the idea that the kids are playing superheroes.
This blurring of the lines between what the adults see as real and what the kids are imagining make it hard to engage in the game as the fantastical musing of children, especially when coupled with the get rich quick scheme I mentioned earlier. This has the effect of making the kids look like grifters on the make rather than innocent kids drawn into the bigger web of the story.
Set piece events
Again, Fractured But Whole comes in a sad second with the limited range of locations making the game feel smaller and less varied. In The Stick Of Truth you journeyed into the cavernous sewers, you went to an 8-bit Canada to do a bit of Zelda-esque dungeoneering, and you spent time in an underwear drawer hunting underwear gnomes and the more controversial locations I won’t go into here.
I think this shows Obsidian’s pedigree producing role-playing games. The story in Stick Of Truth seemed to have a grander sweep to it. Each night that the new kid went to bed another adventure unfolded and the bigger schemes underpinning the plot were moved forward. I was engaged and interested in the plot of the Stick Of Truth.
So, to break this down, I felt in The Fractured But Whole the themes were not as compelling, the blurred lines between ‘reality’ and fantasy were unclear, and finally there was a lack of variation in the locations and set piece events as the Stick Of Truth. I also think the move from the role-playing game pedigreed Obsidian to Ubisoft may have been a factor for the failings I’ve pointed out.
As much as this article may have come across as a lament I would prefer this to be read as a clarion call for folks who haven’t played The Stick Of Truth to give it a go. If you love the show as I do, and want a good representation of the irreverent humour and crazy off-the-wall escalating plotlines, then The Stick Of Truth is the closest you’ll come to playing an episode of South Park. So get on down to South Park and have yourself a time.
By reader Dieflemmy (gamertag)
The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.