You saw your dad fuck your mom.
So begins the superhero backstory for your character, Douchebag, in South Park: The Fractured But Whole, the sequel to 2014's South Park: The Stick of Truth.
And while the bad news may be that your mom just got fucked – settle down, it was by your dad, after all – the good news is that The Fractured But Hole looks like it's fixing everything that was not-so-right with its predecessor. Which wasn't all that much, given The Stick of Truth was considered a surprisingly competent role-player by many a critic, ultimately admirably crafted by Obsidian Entertainment (Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity) despite some turbulent development.
The upcoming game, out on December the 6th, follows in the aesthetic footsteps of The Stick of Truth. That much is clear from its trailers so far and the screens seen here – it absolutely nails the look of the TV show perfectly, likewise the sounds, with all voices just as they should be. But instead of the fantasy role-playing tropes of its predecessor, which leaned on The Lord of the Rings and its ilk for inspiration, Fractured But Hole has the kids playing a new game of make-believe: superheroes.
'South Park: The Fractured But Whole', E3 2016 trailer
I watch the sequel in action at a live gameplay demo at E3 2016 – right now, publishers Ubisoft aren't allowing any (widespread, at least) hands-on access. You, the new kid, Douchebag, are trying to join Cartman and his "Coon and Friends" superhero squad, who are fighting with the rest of the town's kids over which gang of masked vigilantes is going to be the first to get a Netflix deal. That's just how superheroes work these days, obviously.
Even from the position of an observer, the demo is hilarious — it has everything from meta commentary telling the presenter "Dude, this is an E3 demo, step it up," to a great scene involving Timmy that I don't want to spoil (but trust). Parts of it felt a bit cheap – like having to find a passcode for Cartman's door that seemed there just to show off the game's M rating, or the game's new "total ass control" feature, allowing precision stimulation of your sphincter, and exact deployment of just the right amount of poop or gas. But for the most part, there's some really good stuff in here.
I was originally a bit lukewarm about the change of genre – I'll pick fantasy over superheroes any day – but the jokes are landing and the new direction seems to have given series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker just the kind of fodder they need to shine. That said, there's less of the logical grounding the first game had for the kids' abilities, which is a bit of a shame. Not that realism has ever been a factor in the success of all things South Park.
I am excited about the gameplay changes, though. The Stick of Truth captured the feeling, tone and humour of watching an episode of South Park; but for me, at least, the actual "game" elements, like the depth of its battle system, were comparatively weak. But The Fractured But Hole, being developed by Ubisoft San Francisco instead of Obsidian, seems to be one of those sequels that improves upon the original.
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One of the new changes is the addition of movement during encounters. The battlefield for The Fractured But Hole now includes exploitable combat space — your characters can move around the battlefield on a coloured grid a little like Fire Emblem or Advance Wars titles — adding greater variety to the turn-based fights of the first game.
Turn order is also important, and you'll be able to use your farts (yes, just like the game that came before it, TFBH is doubling down on the fart jokes) to rearrange the order of how and when various characters join the fight. It's a really smart addition to the traditional take-your-turn-and-then-wait-a-while system, and should add an additional layer of tactical depth. There's also a developed crafting system, meaning you'll actually be able to put the gluttony of items you find to good use, instead of having them mostly be meaningless like they were in TSOT.
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Throw in what looks to be at least 12 character classes — TSOT only had four— as well as the ability to develop a character with a dual class, and switch classes, and it looks like TFBH is the new best South Park game ever, trumping the release that came before it and did so well critically (and five million copies shipped is a very respectable commercial return, too). The humour's present and correct, and the improvements on how these colourful kids with coarse tongues interact with one another has me very hopeful about the final game. Assuming it hits that December release date, The Fractured But Whole could be the perfect potty-mouthed distraction for RPG-minded gamers this Christmas.