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August 2018

South Park: The Fractured but Whole

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: Oct. 17, 2017


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'South Park: The Fractured but Whole'

by Thomas Wilde on June 17, 2017 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

With crime on the rise in South Park, the town needs new heroes to rise! Eric Cartman seizes the opportunity to save the town and create the best superhero franchise ever. Players become a member of Coon & Friends and fight for fame and their place beside the other kids.

Pre-order South Park: The Fractured but Whole

I need to reconsider my life choices.

Somehow, everything I have done, thought, and imagined in my life has brought me to this point, where I get to write a preview about a game where I, in the role of a 10-year-old superhero, had to give a drunk strip club patron a lap dance.

I've mentioned this to a few people since it happened, some of whom were "South Park" fans, and their reaction has more or less been, "Yeah, that sounds like 'South Park.'" I'm way behind on the show, but apparently it got insane when I wasn't looking.

South Park: The Fractured but Whole is a follow-up to The Stick of Truth, with writing by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and with Ubisoft filling in for Obsidian Entertainment. The idea here is to take as many indiscriminate swings as possible at modern superhero fiction, with the game's primary plot involving a "civil war" between camps of warring superhero kids in South Park, and with the game's E3 2017 trailer featuring a none-too-subtle shot at the Fox "X-Men" franchise. Once again, you play as a nameless newcomer to South Park, called "Sidekick" or "New Kid" by most of the characters.

I got to play about 30 minutes of the game at Ubisoft's booth. I laughed, I'll admit it, but it was also pretty gross. The new kid and his associate, Captain Diabetes, had to infiltrate a strip club in search of a specific dancer, but they didn't know quite who they were looking for. That required them to sneak in through the bathroom window, talk to several of the dancers, and then trick two drunken businessmen into mistaking them for very short strippers, then taking them to the VIP lounge for a private dance.

Yeah. That happened. I am making none of this up.

The exploration and puzzle-solving mechanics are actually pretty interesting, though. Anything you see in the game's environments that's yellow is something you can interact with, either by walking up to it and pushing a button, or by holding down L2 to enter a targeting mode. That lets you hit distant objects with a thrown firecracker or an explosive fart (it's that kind of game), which can set things on fire, break fragile objects, and startle animals and people. There's a little bit of old-fashioned adventure game logic in there, as well as some nicely detailed environments.

When a fight starts — like when the two drunk guys realize you are not tiny exotic dancers — the game turns into a tactical RPG. You can move freely within each character's range, and use three different special moves to inflict status ailments, knock enemies into other squares, or move your characters quickly. Your character has a couple of different ways to slow down enemies, costing them actions and their spots on the game's initiative meter, while Captain Diabetes is a straight-up bruiser who can plow through several units in front of him at once.

As it turned out, that became useful very soon. Once I found out who I was after, I ended up in a pitched battle against a seemingly endless army of exotic dancers in their dressing room, all of whom were running interference for the woman I was after. It was less important to deal with them than it was to catch the woman, so Diabetes's mad rush skill let me cover a lot of ground quickly. Then, when their most dangerous ally showed up, a large and dangerous woman who inflicted fatal damage to every hex around her every few turns, I needed Diabetes's rush just to stay one and two steps ahead of her. For a game about foul-mouthed superhero children, Fractured but Whole can be surprisingly challenging, and I was lucky to make it through the fight intact.

I'm guessing I'm not the target audience for this game, or for the show, since I spent a lot of my time with South Park: The Fractured but Whole grossed out or feeling vaguely uneasy. On the other hand, due to my informal market research, this is exactly what fans of the show are looking for, with the added benefit of some robust systems for both exploration and combat. If you can handle the humor — and I really, really can't! — this works as both a long episode of the show and as a decent tactical RPG.

I'm going to go shower for about six hours.

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