In early September, the developers of South Park: The Fractured But Whole made some waves when they showed the character customization options, which suggest that playing as a black character will make your game harder. Then Ubisoft took it back. The truth, however, is a bit hazier.
As soon as you load up the new South Park game, you’ll be asked to deck out your character, from hair to clothing to facial accessories. You’ll also see the following slider, which connects skin tone to challenge level:
The game makes it clear that this slider won’t affect combat, but during an interview in September, the folks at Ubisoft San Francisco told Eurogamer that it does affect the amount of money you’ll receive and how other characters will interact with you. Then, bizarrely, Ubisoft took it back, telling Gamesradar that this was all just a joke. When we asked Ubisoft for elaboration at the time, the publisher declined to comment (and has not responded to further requests for clarification). It’s all more convoluted than the average episode of South Park.
As I played through the game, a couple of things became clear. One is that there’s an actual set of difficulty options that you’re asked to choose early in the story, and completing Fractured But Whole on the highest difficulty mode with a black character will get you a trophy called ‘The Token Experience.’ You’ll also get to choose your character’s race and ethnicity later in the game, picking from dozens of options (White, Black, Albanian, Scot) that don’t affect gameplay at all.
Playing as a black character will also lead to a few specific dialogue changes, as shown in this fight against some policemen:
This entire police station section touches upon racism in that unique South Park way, so it would be odd for the cops to not acknowledge your character’s skin tone there. There are a few other mentions like this throughout the game. For example, if your character’s skin is dark, townspeople will occasionally make comments like “South Park sure is getting urban.”
As for actual difficulty, though? I played through the whole game as a tan kid (middle of the slider) and then spent another couple of hours as a black kid, and as far as I could tell, nothing else changed, including the amount of money I could make from finding random junk. (Money is pretty much irrelevant in Fractured But Whole, anyway—the game is very easy.)
There might be some other easter eggs or secrets that players haven’t discovered yet, but two weeks after launch, it appears that the only thing that difficulty slider affects is a couple of lines.