South Park: The Fractured But Whole preview: With great farts come great responsibility

Utilizing the “Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” approach to a sequel

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

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About halfway through my twenty-minute demo of South Park: The Fractured But Whole, a Ubisoft developer rushed over to explain one of the game’s new features. I’d just wandered into Cartman’s bathroom and sat upon the toilet, and the developer desperately wanted to make sure I knew about (I think this is the correct name) Total Cheek Control.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next, but I’ll explain for those who haven’t quite grasped it. I was told to push the analog sticks in opposite directions, spreading my not-so-cherubic cheeks, and then I—ahem—defecated.

Yes, this is certainly a South Park game.

The not-so-new-kid

That should be good news for those who liked 2014’s South Park: The Stick of Truth ($16.38 on Amazon) a game so slavish in its devotion to the source material it was often criticized for relying too much on what was essentially South Park reference humor. The game was solid (and beloved by South Park fans), but filled with too many “jokes” that were callbacks to something funny from the show, not new material—strange, if only because South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were directly involved with the script.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

I’ve no idea yet whether The Fractured But Whole will avoid these pitfalls. I didn’t see near enough of the game to make that sort of sweeping generalization.

The demo did, at least, have me laughing at regular intervals. Or, at least, doing that strained sort-of “exhale hard through your nose” sort of laughter. Fractured But Whole trades the pseudo-fantasy of Stick of Truth for superheroes, sword-and-board for superpowers, and the king’s court for a secret lair in Cartman’s basement.

It’s perfect timing, what with superhero films dominating Hollywood and even their comic book counterparts experiencing a resurgence. We could use a good send-up of the entire genre.

And what little I played of Fractured But Whole delivered. We jumped around a bit, but from what I gathered Cartman and the gang are involved in a war with another group, the Freedom Pals, with both trying to win a TV series deal with Netflix. You once again play as the New Kid, an identity-less hanger-on who tries to fit in with the group.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

You’re starting from the bottom again, here. Who cares how much power you wielded at the end of Stick of Truth? That’s all gone now, and you start the game as an “ordinary citizen,” still wearing the crown and cape you won at the end of the previous game.

So your first step is to choose a superhero identity. These were one of the highlights of our demo, with each themed around iconic Marvel and DC figures. The Brutalist is a stand-in for the Thing, the Blaster is Cyclops (with an “Ionic Ass Cannon” attack that is described as a “death fart”), and the Speedster a.k.a. the Flash.

Those are the only three we saw in the demo, though there are currently twelve slots (“Gadgeteer” and “Cyborg” are some of the others, while Timmy plays a Professor X-type character). And of the three, only Speedster was playable.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

There’s also an extended sequence where you learn your character’s tragic backstory, the reason he or she became a superhero. But I won’t spoil it. It’s one of the highlights of the demo.

I would like to discuss the new combat system though, as it’s another highlight. Stick of Truth took a standard JRPG approach to combat—a turn-based system wherein each character attacked one at a time, with your only choice being what move to use next. It was serviceable, but by the late game you’d typically figure out a single strategy and repeat it ad nauseam.

The Fractured But Whole adds a new wrinkle: Positioning. Combat is now played out on a grid, with attacks having a specific range and characters moving around the grid at will. Not only is this system quite a bit more tactical, it also makes your class choice feel more meaningful.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

The Speedster, for instance, can move to pretty much any free spot on the grid—reflecting the fact that you’re fast. Other characters are bruisers, soaking up and dishing out tons of damage, but they may only be able to move one square per turn, making it harder to get them into position.

It’s a smart update, and one that made the demo’s biggest battle—a play on Marvel’s Civil War storyline—way more interesting than anything in Stick of Truth. Whether it stays enjoyable over the course of the entire game I’m not sure, but it’s definitely a start.

Otherwise what I saw was very similar to Stick of Truth—that is, walk around the town of South Park, click on golden things, accrue stupid inventory objects (like “semen sample” and “toilet safety harness”) and listen to silly one-liner quips. The only difference is that this time those quips are, no surprise, superhero-related more often than not.

Bottom line

The Fractured But Whole is basically the “Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” approach to a sequel, and that’s fine with me. The Stick of Truth may not have been as cutting and smart as the TV show at its best, but it was a perfectly good game and full of excellent fan-service moments for the diehards. That’s quite an accomplishment when it comes to licensed video games, and I’ll happily play another.

Look for The Fractured But Whole (and toast whoever dreamt up that title) when it releases this December.

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