Video Games Hands On: South Park: The Fractured But Whole (PS4, 2017) may be funnier than its predecessor

Last month I had the chance to spend a couple of hours with South Park: The Fractured But Whole, a game which literally picks up from where the last game, 2014’s The Stick of Truth,¬†left off. The boys are still playing wizards, and as The New Kid, your quest to impress your classmates continues — all the while being introduced to the game’s new grid-based fighting system (battling a giant cardboard dragon, naturally). Cartman being Cartman, he throws a wrench in your plan, arriving from the “future” to launch a new game for the boys, part of a bid to kickstart a new superhero universe, and save a few cats along the way.

NOTE: The following article contains minor spoilers discovered in the first two hours of gameplay. All information provided is based on the early PlayStation 4 build of the game we played.

But before you can get started, you need to design your character. With this process comes one of the game’s first hilarious yet sure-to-be-controversial gameplay moment. After you dress your character, a process in which you’re offered slightly more variety than in the previous game, you choose your skin colour; the darker you are, the more difficult the game becomes.

Yep.

Though I didn’t take the game up to its highest difficulty, I wouldn’t put it past them to throw in some police brutality if you crank the difficulty up as far as it goes. As Cartman’s voice over reminds us, “this doesn’t affect combat, just every other aspect of your whole life”. If you’re thinking “I can’t believe they went there”, you’ve clearly never watched South Park. And we haven’t even met the child molesting Priests who use Rosary anal beads as weapons yet! Ah, this is going to be go wrong, and so much fun.

The town itself hasn’t changed too much since the Stick of Truth impressed the last generation of consoles. Visually there are some differences though; more characters will appear on screen and the town’s sight lines extend much further than in the past. Of course there are some extra areas, and some updates have been made to reflect the show. Such as Kenny’s house, which is now the dilapidated SoDoSoPa from Season 19. You’ll also find new alleyways and locations like “Raisins”, South Park’s Hooters parody.

The game starts with a prologue video about time travel, The Coon and a missing cat … and then you go for a crap to become a “Deuce Master.” Different toilets offer different levels of difficulties as you rotate both joysticks to perfect your number two — though it’s not yet clear what any of that actually accomplishes. What it does show is that this game is set up to improve upon and advance every aspect of the game that preceded it. Another example? There’s a lot more farting now. Triangle will let out a massive fart, and R2 a small one, letting you fart on passers by. Of course there’s the battle element, and the early battle against the giant cardboard dragon shows off some of the new fart-based attacks, as the kids exclaim, “Wow. Did he just fart on a Dragon?”. On the PS4 controller, square offers a swipe, and the touch pad opens up your phone, which is packed full of apps, including “Coonstagram”, which requires you to take a tonne of meaningless selfies to gain “followers” as the first task in the game – with more being loaded on as the game develops.

Once the game switches from the Stick of Truth storyline to the Superhero mode, your “New Kid” needs to choose a “backstory” and obtain a detailed character sheet that proves Matt and Trey play way too much Dungeons and Dragons, as you choose between three classes for your character. You can be a “Speedster”, a “Brutalist” or a “Blaster”, the first focusing on fast paced movements and attacks, the second on hand to hand combat, and the third on attacks from further away. Unlike the colour of your skin, this choice definitely affects gameplay.

As you start to gain followers on Coonstagram, you start to find quests – some are requisite to move the story along, others are side quests; the map accessible by pressing L1 at any time, helping you choose where to go, and pinpoint your next mission. Think of Grand Theft Auto in respect to this approach. In the short time I played the game – which is expected to be twice as long as it’s predecessor – I helped Kyle get rid of his cousin (“I’m baaaaack”), bumped into Randy who gave me a quest involving his car, I took down a 6th grader and a found out that Craig’s dad is really into Yaoi, with 10 drawings found around South Park. The game develops on the storyline found in the TV show, where Tweek and Craig? developed a romance and have since broken up. Much of the Yaoi is inspired by their love, as it was in the show.

Morgan Freeman helps you craft a burrito as you’re introduced to a “crafting” app, and you can add “artefacts” to your body, like a fidget spinner that everyone loved for five minutes. You get more slots as you develop your character – making this a fairly detailed RPG by any standard. The turn and grid based battles, meanwhile, offer three challenge levels giving different amounts of advantage to the good guys or the bad guys. And once you choose your “kryponite” (I went for “old people”) that will again affect gameplay. Gameplay which may have you running around from rapey Priests, which is where I left the game.

The first impressions of the game are very positive — The Fractured But Whole offers everything we loved about Stick of Truth and cranks it up to 11. The gameplay is much more advanced and detailed, and no less funny. In fact, based on these two hours I’d say it’s even funnier. Given the breadth of recent inclusions in the game – like the fidget spinners – it’s easy to see why they kept delaying it. Not just improving gameplay, no doubt, but making sure the references were as up to date as possible. I’m counting down the days until I can return to the South Park world, and you should too. Until then, the new series premieres on Comedy Central in the USA this week! Last time around they incorporated the game storyline into the series, so it’ll be interesting to see if they do the same here, as the game is released during the 21st season run.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole hits stores on October XXX and will be available on PS4, Xbox One and PC. This preview took place on a PlayStation 4. The game has been classified R18+ in Australia, where it will be released completely uncensored.