South Park: The Fractured but Whole Previews

Another set of hands-on previews for Ubisoft's comedic RPG sequel South Park: The Fractured but Whole have reached the web, so it only seems right to whip up another round-up. The game appears to be pushing the boundaries for non-politically correct humor even further this time around, which is refreshing to see in 2017.

We begin with, where there is some commentary from associate producer Kimberly Weigend, too:
"When we submitted to the age ratings boards, we didn't know what was going to happen, but we're really happy to report that they're letting everything through for all the countries so every country that plays this game is going to get the same experience," she told us.

The implication is that perhaps the new game is tamer in its humour than the previous outing, but Weigend assures us that this is not the case.

"We really didn't hold anything back with The Fractured But Whole," she says. "We worked very closely with Matt and Trey to tell their story - and they obviously don't hold back as well."

That is to say, it seems to take everything The Stick of Truth did well – namely, making you feel like you were playing a 12-hour version the brilliant two-decade-old Matt Stone and Trey Parker-scripted animated series – and fix the areas that needed improving. Those areas are, primarily, the combat system and the class system.

In The Fractured But Whole, whose premise involves the kids of South Park Elementary pretending to be Marvel-vs.-DC-style dueling superhero cinematic universes, the Paper Mario-style turn-based combat has been given added depth, primarily in the form of a grid system that governs both movement and attacks during battle. The tutorials do a good job of walking you through the finer points without feeling overwhelming – no doubt with an eye towards catering to The Stick of Truth players who are otherwise not RPG die-hards – and they don’t drag on overly long. The fact that I’m currently playing Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, another turn-based strategy offering, no doubt helped make my transition even easier.

PC Authority:
The real joy in The Fractured But Whole doesn't come from the RPG dressings themselves, but the way they've been built around the universe of the TV show. For example, one of the first tasks you're given is to add followers to your Instagram-like Coonstagram account. This involves pestering people to have a selfie taken with you, and results in a feed of characters' posts and comments on each other's pictures. It simultaneously provides an impulse for exploring and “collecting” various people in the town; serves as a communication hub for quests; and is a funny pisstake of the social capital given to Likes and follows.

The player is free to wander into almost everyone's home, and much of my hands-on time was spent poking around for environmental jokes in people's drawers and bathrooms. You're also able to use their toilet via a thumb-pad-twiddling mini-game, which is diverting but gets old quickly. There also isn't a great deal of variety in the homes, at least in those opening hours, so it will be interesting to see how The Fractured But Whole mixes up its environments later on.

All jokes aside (not for long), we were under the impression that the character customisation was a bit limited at first glance, with a selection of basic clothing and appearance options to select, but it turns out this is just a starting point, as you'll be finding more gear and customisation options as you go on your heroic journey, so it's just a case of being patient.

After we kitted out our character with the attire we wanted, we headed out as the king of the realm (those who played The Stick of Truth will be familiar with this), with incredible powers to match, and got a quick taste of the new grid-based combat before we enter Cartman's back yard. At this point, Cartman enters as The Coon and informs us of a terrible crime wave of cats going missing, at which point the theme switches to superheroes, the gang go into the Coon Lair, and we're left at the bottom rung again. That's life.

Critical Hit:
What’s impressive is how The Fractured But Whole locks everything so neatly to its boosted, more overtly RPG structure, right down to how your guy manages his life via numerous apps on the smartphone. The game finds cool ways to twist familiar ideas from the real world and meld them with gameplay features, such as the Fidget Spinner that serves as a performance enhancing artefact. It rewards exploration and experimentation with an ever-evolving hero that reflects playstyle, avoiding the monotony that might otherwise creep into the combat.

Turn-based brawls served South Park style are never likely to be boring, of course, but to further enhance their potential there are allies to recruit, each one bringing unique talents to the fray. Super Craig, Human Kite (Kyle), Mosquito (Clyde) and Fastpass (Jimmy) bring more tactical options to take down Sixth Graders and members of the Raisins gang. Human Kite, for example, can place a protective shield over a buddy, while Fastpass speedily intervenes.

Game Revolution:
The buddy system has been expanded too. Before most fights, you can pick up to three allies, each with their own distinct stats and movesets. Since it no longer locks you into one class, I picked a mix between the offensive-heavy Brutalist and element-driven, well, Elementalist and made sure to select party members that would fill out my personal weak spots. Choosing my abilities and crew was extremely liberating and opened up a ton of possibilities and I hope it continues to expand and evolve in the later hours of the game.

The buddy system was not only added for the combat, Weigend told me, but also to more aptly fit the game’s superhero motif. Trading in Game of Thrones for The Avengers, South Park has been overtaken by the infatuation of comic book films and the culture surrounding them. While Cartman sees this as a way to get his movie and TV franchises off the ground, it serves as a way to get the kids of South Park to dress up and fight as their favorite characters as they follow each other on Coonstagram to recruit people. However, like The Stick of Truth, a larger, more insidious plot was hinted at, but I’m assuming that part of the story won’t start developing until a little later on.

And then GameSpot has this "priest fight" gameplay video that you might find compelling.