South Park: The Fractured but Whole Preview - E3 2017
We get another look at the over the top RPG coming this year
At this point, South Park’s nonchalant attitude toward taboo topics is the show’s calling card. Matt Stone and Trey Parker have spent two decades filling their late-night animated sitcom with as much raunchy, over-the-top humor as possible, constantly reminding people that anything you care about is dumb and nothing is safe from ridicule. It’s exactly this attitude that makes it so difficult to pin down the comedy of this duo to see if it actually means anything, or if we’re watching two men forever stuck in the mindset of a college frat boy make fart jokes to the tune of billions of dollars.
If there was something that helped elevate Stone and Parker’s previous RPG, South Park: The Stick of Truth, it was the fact that the two of them, with developers at Obsidian Entertainment, had worked hard to find a style of gameplay that was a good fit for the game’s over-the-top design. But gone is the veteran studio, Obsidian, and in comes relative new-comer Ubisoft San Francisco. So Stone and Parker have tasked themselves again with bringing South Park to your console of choice, and what I played at E3 2017 was... well, it was certainly something.
I’ve never had to write a preview where I can’t say exactly what I saw on screen. I’m not under any embargo, I can talk about what I saw - but I can’t use the words South Park chose to describe it to you. So I’m going to do my best to communicate exactly what I played and try to avoid dipping into unseemly territory.
I begin the demo sneaking into a strip club through the bathroom window with Scott Malkinson, currently wearing his super hero persona of Captain Diabetes. I take a little while to get reacclimated to the game’s controls, but it’s not hard. Much like Stick of Truth, The Fractured But Whole is a pretty simple game to play. I wander the bathroom throwing my farts around (for those who didn’t play Stick of Truth, your created hero’s farts, and their ability to throw them are their special power). I throw one at a drunk man standing at the urinal and he pleads with me to stop. I throw a fart at a condom hanging from the ceiling and it splatters on the ground, its contents free to pick up.
Captain Diabetes and I exit the bathroom and walk into the main floor of the strip club. The dancers are baring it all and the men are loving it. I walk around the room throwing farts at people to see their reactions, then talk to the strippers as instructed by Captain Diabetes. Also, while walking around the room I’m able to collect more items - most of which are of a stomach churning nature. Some of these collectible items are just sitting around, waiting for me, but others required a bit more MacGyver-ing. I would assume that these items are part of a crafting system, though I didn’t do any crafting during my time with the game.
After talking to the strippers, Captain Diabetes introduces me to two men who can help us find the particular stripper we’re looking for. The men agree to tell us about the stripper after we have given them lap dances. Thus begins the lap dance mini-game, which involved my child character gyrating around on the man’s groin, occasionally farting.
Like I said, it’s hard to tell if Stone and Parker are simply trying to offend people with the imagery of little boys giving lap dances to grown men, or point out the bizarreness of this sexual content in games. The whole motif gently riffs on the visual trappings of Grand Theft Auto V, and I got the sense this wasn’t by accident. Maybe the duo are less interested how the jokes are taken, as long as they get people talking.
After my lap dances are found wanting, the guys try to beat up my character and Captain Diabetes and I get my first taste of combat in The Fractured But Whole. While much of the timing RPG elements are still in play from the first game, there’s also a grid-based movement system, similar to X-COM or Divinity: Original Sin. The system didn’t seem overly deep to me, but the pace of the fights moves quickly.
Captain Diabetes and myself escape the VIP lounge, now knowing the name of the stripper we need to find: Classi. Malkinson deduces that the best way to find Classi is to call her out on stage from the DJ booth. To do this, we must distract the DJ and my companion has a scheme to do so. He plans to make the most disgusting gin and tonic and feed it to the DJ.
Captain Diabetes and I head into a storage room where we find rat turds hidden in the shelves. Again, pretty similar to The Stick of Truth, there’s an adventure game aspect to the overworld in The Fractured But Whole. You can use farts, firecrackers, and other items to manipulate the world, solve puzzles and get what you need. After I’ve found the gin and tonic, then mix it with the aforementioned turds and some male bodily fluid, Captain Diabetes is ready to give it to the DJ.
Unsurprisingly, the DJ immediately gets sick. This allows us to take over the mic and call out Classi. The stripper reveals herself, but it doesn’t take long for her to realize she’s been tricked. We follow Classi backstage where a handful of strippers stand between us and the one we need. This leads to a series of fights, however there is the added objective that we have to hurry or Classi will get away.
Captain Diabetes has a dash attack that allows him to quickly move forward through combat and deal damage to multiple characters. I follow up with my character and try to mop up after his dash move. We fight through the strippers and are about to catch Classi, when her friend, Bootay, attacks.
Bootay is a plus-sized stripper whose main attack is to leap in the air and land on her butt, crushing anything beneath it. Again, I find myself wondering what is supposed to be the joke. Is Bootay supposed to be repugnant because of her weight? Is the unconventional butt-attack supposed to be what is funny? It’s all almost bizarre enough to be interesting, if not laugh out loud funny.
Bootay’s butt takes me out, but Captain Diabetes dash attack comes in handy again as he continues to charge through the strippers until we’ve escaped out the back. Once outside, we chase Classi into an apartment and Malkinson knocks on the door, demanding that she come back.
Instead of Classi, a man exits the apartment with a gun. He fires the gun in the air and promptly a sign falls on him, crushing him. Captain Diabetes induces an epileptic shock in order to lift the sign with superhuman strength. But he can’t do it and instead just passes out. Thus, ending my time with the demo.
I’m certainly interested to see more of The Fractured But Whole, it’s such a production of bizarre humor that I’m morbidly fascinated to see if what I played is a high point in the game’s shock-humor, or if it’s far tamer than the demo would have me believe. Stone and Parker are working on something crazy and I can’t help but see what comes out the other end.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is due to be released this October on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.