There is perhaps no better antidote to the current resurgence of political correctness than South Park. Born amid the previous PC wave of the 1990s, the show has never relented, through 20 years of comedic ups and downs, in slaughtering every sacred cow it encounters. And when it’s at its best, it’s hilarious.
South Park: The Fractured but Whole — get it? “but whole”? — is the show in video-game form. Like its 2014 predecessor, The Stick of Truth, it allows players to create their very own South Park character and join the rest of the gang on an outrageous adventure driven heavily by cinematic cut scenes in the style of the animated series. Last time around, the famously foul-mouthed kids were playing out a fantasy in the mold of The Lord of the Rings; this time, they’re making a superhero franchise.
This is National Review, not GameSpot, so I’ll keep the obligatory video-game-nerd aspects of this review brief. In most ways the new game keeps to the mold of the previous one. The setting is once again the town of South Park, which is understandable considering that’s where the show usually takes place, though a change of scenery might have been nice. And once again, your characters’ epic battles are hashed out in a “turn-based” system, in which your team and the bad guys take turns attacking each other, with Paper Mario–style gimmicks (such as timed button presses that make your attacks more powerful) to spice things up. The biggest change is that each fight now takes place on a chessboard-style grid à la Final Fantasy Tactics, so you have to position your fighters in addition to choosing which attacks they’ll use. All of this is competently executed, creating a nice challenge that rarely crosses the line into frustrating, though I did encounter technical glitches here and there.
Far more important is that this is a 15- to 20-hour romp through the world of a show that countless conservatives and libertarians of my generation have grown to love. It’s not exactly hard to detect the anti-PC and pro-free-market themes that appear in South Park alongside the crass jokes: Andrew Sullivan coined the term “South Park Republican” in 2001; City Journal’s Brian C. Anderson published a book called South Park Conservatives four years later; one year after that, Reason magazine ran a cover story called “South Park Libertarians.”
Reason’s viewpoint is probably the closest to South Park’s own. There’s a lot of toilet humor in the show that will put off social conservatives. There’s a bit too much of it in The Fractured but Whole, too, if I’m being honest, and I say that as a 14-year-old boy in a 33-year-old man’s body. But just below the game’s (incredibly flatulent) surface lies the true spirit of South Park, a pox-on-all-your-houses mentality in which the things people hold dearest are the things that must be satirized mercilessly. Matt Stone, a co-creator of the show, once summed it up this way: “I hate conservatives but I really f***ing hate liberals.”
This is a game in which your character, a small child, will have to fight off two Catholic priests in a dark room. It’s a game where people treat you worse if you choose a darker skin color, and where police are over-the-top racists. (“If we were all black cops and our jails were filled with white people, no one would say a word!” one protests.) It’s also a game where you play “Catch the Microaggression,” trying to sort out which innocent comments are technically considered offensive, and where you have a series of amusingly awkward conversations with your guidance counselor about your gender and sexuality — and have to fight a team of rednecks outside if you identify yourself a way they don’t like. It’s a game where you find a bonus item called “Potential Human Life” in a trash can outside an abortion clinic called Unplanned Parenthood. If you go inside, you can talk to a woman who says she’ll let you feel the baby kick, in what she makes clear is “a limited-time offer.”
And of course it’s a game that shamelessly mines and manipulates ethnic stereotypes for laughs even as it pillories bigots. There’s a sassy black stripper, a Chinese man voiced with an intentionally crude and offensive accent, and Hispanic laborers hired to fight alongside you. No one escapes the playful wrath of South Park: The Fractured but Whole. Easily triggered? Don’t play it.
This is a time when liberals are lashing out at every perceived violation of the social-justice-warrior code and shutting down speeches they don’t want to hear, and when conservatives are starting to get in on the action too. The message of South Park — above all, “lighten up” — has probably never been more vital, and The Fractured but Whole delivers it loud and clear.