Throughout the ages (well, more like the last few years), a war has waged in an attempt to find the answer to a single question: are video games art? We often find triple-A games trying to emulate film in an attempt to gain recognition and credence with the general public, and a number of games do this extremely well. The Uncharted series does an incredible job of making the gamer feel as if they’re playing through a movie. Last of Us gave us as many feels or more than most zombie/horror movies. Spider-Man 2 made us feel like we were actually Spider-Man, but that example is cheating because it’s an adaptation of the Spider-Man 2 movie and has the mystical power of nostalgia. While each of these examples does a great job of being reminiscent of another form of art, one game stands above all in bringing its players into the world of its pre-established intellectual property (IP). This game didn’t look towards film for inspiration. No! It turned to a small, sleepy town in Colorado. A town called South Park.
This article isn’t really about whether or not video games should be considered an art form (this author argues that they definitely should be), it’s actually about South Park games. When South Park: The Stick of Truth came out in 2014, it changed the way games based on a series should be done. Let me tell you right off the bat that this game is fantastic. Never before have I played a game that felt so akin to actually being involved in the events of an IP. Example: one of the first things most people will say after playing the game is that it’s almost exactly like playing through an episode or movie of South Park. You can definitely tell that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were heavily involved with the production of the game, they instill the very essence of the animated series into what practically is a playable multi-episode extravaganza. While the game has its imperfections, it definitely exceeded my expectations — ones that were set in part because the video game industry generally tends to under perform when making games based on television or movie properties.
The game wasn’t short by any means (I ended up playing it leisurely for close to 30 hours). I was definitely disappointed when it ended, though. It was great, but considering it was a based on a TV show, I didn’t really expect any type of continuation. Luckily, this year’s E3 proved me wrong. Along with the slew of other news that came out of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Ubisoft announced the upcoming sequel: South Park: The Fractured But Whole. If you haven’t gotten a chance to watch the trailer yet, I’ll just leave it right here and give you a couple of minutes.
In true South Park style, the trailer comes in hard and fast with its trademark humor, already mocking the previous game and breaking the fourth wall by acknowledging its weak combat system and demanding nothing lower than a 9.5 on Gamespot (lofty goals!). And let’s hope that those cut scenes were all rendered in-engine, because those graphics are legit. All joking aside, the trailer sets up The Fractured But Whole to be a strong sequel to an amazing game.
Rather than continue with the fantasy LARP that stylized the first game, The Fractured But Whole shifts the tone by pitting the kids against each other as their superhero and supervillain alter egos, which South Park regulars will recognize from the show. We already know that the game will be an RPG with players once again playing as The New Kid, but with Ubisoft at the developers helm rather than Obsidian, we may see a change in game mechanics – especially since the combat system was specifically called out in the trailer.
The superhero theme still lends itself well to The Stick of Truth’s turn-based team fighting mechanic, but better weapon and level balancing will give players more challenge and contribute to a more satisfying game overall. While I doubt combat will stray from its original turn-based mechanic, the superhero theme would also fit wonderfully with a sidescrolling fighter. Think Street Fighter style scuffles once you engage an enemy and calling in your partner, whether it be Stan, Cartman, Kyle, or Kenny, to switch it up or use their special ability when you need to. Of course, this is all conjecture, but I’m sure we’ll definitely see some improvements to combat.
The Fractured But Whole will also see a change in character dynamics, which is something I’m looking forward to. During my play through of Stick of Truth, I saw little reason to use any partners save Butters or occasionally Stan. With Butters shaping up to be the “main” enemy, I’ll have a reason to pair with other characters, resulting in a more balanced or diverse team.
The game doesn’t have a release date yet, and I’m taking that as a positive. Many games, especially in the past couple of years, have been released far before their time and definitely should have spent more time in beta and QA. If The Fractured But Whole borrows from The Stick of Truth’s mechanics and game feel, the back-end should be relatively simple, but I’m more than fine with waiting extra time for studio to fully develop the story and background characters.
Overall, I’m really excited for South Park: The Fractured But Whole. The trailer itself acknowledges the weaker aspects of the first game and will hopefully do well to improve upon them. And while I loved the fantasy/LARPing theme of the first game, I love superheroes and am excited to see how they’ll use them to keep the game fresh. Who knows when the game will come out, and by then, I’m sure we’ll have at least slightly more information on it. In the meantime, I’ll be playing The Stick of Truth again because it’s a fantastic game, but really, it’s because I do what I want.
Lolz, Fractured But Whole.
Are you looking forward to South Park: Fractured But Whole? Who really killed Kenny? Why did it take so long for Taco Bell to go to South Park? Let us know in the comments!
Photo credit: Ubisoft Entertainment