E3 2017: Hands On: South Park: The Fractured But Whole (PS4, 2017)

Oh god, this game is so going to be banned in Australia. Yesterday I spent half an hour with the upcoming sequel to Ubisoft’s successful South Park RPG The Stick of Truth and based on the sequence I was shown … yeah, there’s no way this thing gets through the OFLC unscathed.

The game itself goes after the current trend of superhero popularity in the same way the original went in on fantasy video game tropes. emo begins with your avatar New Kid and Captain Diabetes, who I’ll remind you are children, barging into a seedy strip club looking for a particular stripper with information about their quest.

To find the stripper, the kids first must start gathering information to figure out which stripper it is they need to shake down. In pursuit of this, they take a pair of falling-down-drunk businessmen into a private room for a lapdance.

Again. These children, that you control, are giving grown men lapdances. And farting on them, because, sure, of course. When the men figure out that you are not, in fact, strippers, their next move is to try and beat you up.

Up to this point, the game had been playing exactly the way the The Stick of Truth did. Same visuals, same context-sensitive icons when exploring the environment, same pitch-perfect recreation of the show. But this point was where the demo introduced one of Fractured‘s more interesting mechanical changes — combat is now far more positional, allowing you to move around the battlefield, taking cover and using movement squares to put yourself in or out of danger depending on your desired move. It’s a really smart change and one I quite like.

Once the businessmen are dealt with and reveal which stripper it is you want to speak to, the kids discover she’s still in the back. They decide to lure her out using the DJ but the DJ won’t co-operate. They then mount a plan to get the DJ so drunk he’ll do what they want. After piecing together a truly foul beverage made up of whatever liquid they could find, they feed it to the DJ who is promptly poisoned and passes out. Captain Diabetes jumps on the DJ mic and calls the stripper out. Confused, she comes onto the stage to lambast him, mistakes the kids for cops trying to arrest her and does a runner.

What follows is a sequence that sees you and Captain Diabetes battling through a literal army of strippers to get to the one you want. After getting through about six or seven of them, they bring in a new combat element — enemies that move in real time while the regular combat phase remains turn-based. A gigantic (read: grotesquely overweight; to say this game is unkind to sex workers is both an understatement and utterly unsurprising) stripper appears from the back of the room and begins chasing you forward through the stripper ranks, forcing you to think more about moving ahead than stopping battle the herd before you.

Playing this game in the sweltering back rooms of the Ubisoft booth with my handler was an interesting experience. I had to wonder how she felt about the game she’d been demoing all day in which the many, many women are nothing but degraded for laughs. It was a little uncomfortable actually. Don’t get me wrong, there were some genuine laughs in there but a lot of the time I felt like the two of us were staring at the screen, uneasy.

In this regard, though it shows off a number of new and important mechanics, it’s possible Ubi just picked the wrong sequence to show us. I do look forward to seeing more of what Fractured has to offer, but when the demo was over, I felt a little relieved to be let out of the booth.