When South Park: The Stick of Truth launched in 2014, the world wasn’t necessarily expecting greatness. After all, this was a game that had been through multiple developers through its tumultuous history, plus South Park has never been synonymous with great video games. Fast forward to 2016 and we know full well that it’s entirely possible to make a fantastic South Park game, with The Stick of Truth being perhaps the funniest game of all time and a wonderful example of how to make a ten-to-twelve hour RPG. Whether or not its sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, can capitalize on the fact that The Stick of Truth took everyone by surprise remains up in the air, though. After an awkward showing at E3 2016 and a delay into 2017, it seems as though the gaming world has forgotten about the upcoming Coon and Friends role-playing game.
The fear is that South Park: The Fractured But Whole will be a sign of the demise of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s iconic animated comedy franchise. South Park can only continue appealing to its core audience for so long, with its recent move to a more continuous format on the main series generally receiving mixed feedback. Because The Stick of Truth served as the massive piece of fan-service that longtime followers of the franchise had always been dreaming of. Now that we’re onto the second game in this new wave of South Park RPGs, how far can fan-service carry us? After all, there is way more love for Chinpokomon and Manbearpig than there is for PC Principal and his band of fraternity brothers. If The Fractured But Whole turns out to be a title that’s more concurrent with the TV series as it’s airing, will it be able to capture our hearts in the way its predecessor did two-plus years ago?
The dream scenario would be that South Park: The Fractured But Whole peppers in the new content with a whole host of throwbacks to fan favorite moments. There are far too many memorable throwbacks in The Stick of Truth to even begin to try and think about what hasn’t been done yet, but there’s something to the idea of using the past to surprise us in the present. South Park: The Stick of Truth was successful because it subverted our expectations on what both a game in development hell could be, as well as what a South Park game could ideally become. Comedy, as a medium, inherently fails when you can see a joke coming from a mime away (unless, of course, this is intentional). If we’re going to go around the same town and see the same basic crew of characters, some of the deepest cuts would go a long way. Think about it: you’d probably chuckle pretty hard if macaroni sculptures were combined with two men in a hot tub for some sort of early season power joke.
Not only does South Park: The Fractured But Whole have the tall task of living up to being the sequel to perhaps the best comedy game ever, but it also now has to deal with a pretty crowded spring release season. Being a title that released in December, no matter how many games had come out beforehand, it looked like this would have been a fantastic Christmas vacation game. Now, The Fractured But Whole is set to launch in Q1 of 2017, a quarter that currently has, among others, Persona 5, For Honor, Ghost Recon Wildlands and Horizon Zero Dawn all set to hit store shelves. This is to say nothing of the fact of all of the cool independent games that we all know will end up flooding our digital libraries during the first portion of the year. South Park: The Fractured But Whole definitely has a whole lot working for it, but for it to be as successful as its predecessor, it’s going to have to rely on the franchise’s roots.