By the end of South Park: The Stick of Truth, the New Kid (known to some simply as “Douchebag”) became a hero and a king, the most powerful character in the town-spanning fantasy game concocted by the kids of South Park. But everyone knows the best heroic journeys start from nothing, so South Park: The Fractured But Whole busts you back down to nobody status when Cartman abruptly changes the game from fantasy to superheroes. We’ve played through the first few hours of the game, and we spent them getting caught up in a civil war between superhero factions, punching out dangerous sixth-graders, and building our follower count on social media by taking selfies with as many people as possible (which is more challenging than it sounds).
The game’s early hours put a big emphasis on building up your character, and on adding a little more definition to the always-silent, fully customizable New Kid. Once we’d gone through initial character creation and barged our way into Cartman’s superhero game, we were able to pick from three superhero classes: Blaster, Brutalist, or Speedster. We went with Brutalist, which gave us a selection of powerful brawling moves and an eggcrate-covered costume meant to look like living rock, and then we powered up with a strength-boosting fidget spinner “artifact” from Cartman. And from there, we were set loose to explore the town, solve problems, and flesh out our origin story.
After a few minutes of nosing around in people’s houses, knocking over mailboxes, experimentally throwing Snap N Pops at fragile-looking objects, and taking selfies with South Park residents to raise our Coonstagram influencer level, we ran into trouble in the form of a group of sixth-graders who were blocking the road into town. Combat in The Fractured But Whole plays out like a tactical RPG, with characters moving around a grid each turn to line up attacks and/or retreat out of the range of enemies, and taking turns as dictated by each character’s stats.
Initially, we had three attacks – a punch that could knock enemies into other enemies for bonus damage, a ramming charge that also came with a knockback, and an area-of-effect fart stomp that had the added benefit of temporarily grossing out every enemy it touched, making them lose health while vomiting copiously each turn. With each maneuver, we had the chance to boost our damage by nailing a timed button prompt that appeared over our hero. To complement our Brutalist’s abilities, we recruited Human Kite (Kyle), Fastpass (Jimmy), and Super Craig (Craig), each of whom brought a unique set of fighting, healing, and even taunting abilities to the fight. (Super Craig’s middle-finger shield move, for example, is great for enraging powerful enemies and getting them to focus their attacks on the shielded Craig, freeing you up to focus on smaller fry .)
Finally, each character has an Ultimate, a powerful super-attack that can flatten groups of enemies in a single move. Every hit you land or take in battle increases your Ultimate meter a little bit (and if you time a button press correctly right after getting hit, you’ll boost it a little more thanks to Active Recovery), and when it’s full, any of your characters can unleash their Ultimate to turn the tables. These vary with each character and class; as the Brutalist, for example, Ultimates meant switching to the enemy’s POV as the New Kid unleashed a relentless beating that splattered blood all over the screen.
There are opportunities to get into fights all over town, and whether it’s sixth-graders, minions of Professor Chaos, or even Raisins waitresses (more on them later). More often than not, you’ll see your enemies loitering on the street, and you can get an advantage in battle if you run up and deck them (or hit them from a distance with a Snap N Pop) before they notice or reach you.
Being ready to rumble with villains doesn’t mean you’re a complete hero, though – far from it. There’s much to learn in South Park, so the next phase of our journey took us to Freeman’s Tacos (owned and operated by Morgan Freeman, of course) for a lesson in crafting. Finding blueprints and using them with the mundane items you find throughout South Park enables you to craft new, power-boosting artifacts and other items, which Freeman demonstrated by walking us through the process of “crafting” a burrito, and then combining it with an enchilada to create an enchirito.
With that important step complete, it was time to continue the New Kid’s quest for self-discovery by stopping by the church to visit Father Maxi. This meant being shut into a “meditative chamber” (actually a dark supply closet filled with old toys and Sunday School supplies) so we could reflect on the New Kid’s alignment – only to immediately be ambushed by a pair of pedophile priests, who had to be fought off in a tutorial about how to identify and dodge telegraphed attacks during combat.
Next, the New Kid needed a weakness – and the hero responsible for assigning weaknesses, Mosquito (Clyde), was currently stuck at Raisins, where the waitresses had kept him ordering wings for what we’ll assume was an expensive amount of time. So expensive, in fact, that Mosquito refused to pay the bill, sparking a fight with the Raisins waitresses (who can temporarily charm your heroes to fight for them) and adding another faction to the villains waiting around town to ambush us.
With a new hero added to the party, we took some more time to explore, discovering remote areas like the formerly trendy remains of SoDoSoPa, and stumbling onto side quests. Checking in with Randy Marsh led to a request to find out who’s been keying his wife’s car at night, while wandering around the police station led to the New Kid being drafted into a “kiddy case” by Detective Yates, who immediately sent us to neutralize a “kingpin of crime” out to take over South Park’s drug trade.
Finally, the New Kid needed a gender. Unlike The Stick of Truth, in which you were automatically a boy, The Fractured But Whole lets you meet with easily flustered school counselor Mr. Mackey to determine whether the New Kid is a boy or girl (either cisgendered or transgendered), or gender-neutral. No matter what you decide, leaving the school leads to an ambush from a pack of rednecks, who will loudly, violently, and specifically disapprove of cisgendered boys as quickly they will anyone else.
The battle with the rednecks brought our time with the game to a close, but not before we’d spent hours snapping selfies, tracking down hidden yaoi art of Tweek and Craig, and using every toilet we saw to create “crafting items” in increasingly elaborate minigames. Even then, it’s clear that this is literally only the beginning – and you’ll be able to explore it and much more when South Park: The Fractured But Whole arrives on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 17.