Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse
Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is a painful reminder of why licensed video games get a bad rap. For every Batman: Arkham Asylum that shows us popular entertainment properties can be adapted into successful interactive experiences, there are several games like Family Guy of such poor quality that you wonder how they were greenlit in the first place.
In Back to the Multiverse's introductory moments – well before a hint of gameplay is delivered – signs point to this licensed game being another success story. The presentation lives up to Seth MacFarlane’s vision of the show, led by a script that recklessly spits out jokes. Some land with laughs or humorous sight gags, while others are offensive and in bad taste – a reaction the writers were clearly aiming for.
The script also pays homage to the show’s history, and is based off the “Road to the Multiverse” episode, almost playing out like a sequel. Baby Stewie and his talking dog Brian are in pursuit of Bertram, a sinister toddler who is in possession of dimension-jumping technology. His onslaught of evil takes the dysfunctional duo to Santa’s workship, an Amish village, and into a future ruled by evil chickens. Many of the recurring jokes from the show are a part of this experience, such as Peter’s unbridled hatred of Ernie the Giant Chicken and everyone thinking Meg is a hideous, puke-inducing monstrosity. This joke is revisited in most levels, and proves to be as hilarious as it is mean-spirited. You don't see any of the signature flashback sequences, and cutaway shots are also lacking, although random sight gags are littered throughout the environments.
The game’s handling of humor aimed toward people who are disabled or homosexual is cringe-worthy; the writers fish for laughs at the mere mention of derogatory words. The fact that players are often stuck in these moments for far longer than a quick one-off joke – as is the case with the show – makes these "jokes" all the more unsettling. Yes, they still fall in line with what Family Guy typically offers, but they are sometimes repeated, or the same joke strain is revisited with different dialogue and images. Far too much time is dedicated to these controversial moments.
The show’s voice actors reprise their respective roles and are as in-tune with this script as any episode of the show. Most characters – even mainstays like Peter – are relegated to bit roles, with Stewie and Brian basking in the spotlight for most of the game. The banter between the two is fantastic, and accompanies most of the game – whether it's a between stage cutscene or mid-battle.
Despite the characters looking somewhat odd as 3D models, developer Heavy Iron Studios nails their trademark animations and facial expressions. Little jokes, like achievements or trophies being rewarded for spending too much time in a room with Quagmire, or selecting a worthless character like Meg in multiplayer, are nice touches.
Back to the Multiverse looks like Family Guy, and sounds like Family Guy, but miserable third-person shooting poisons the entire package. I’m sure the idea of Brian walking around with a shotgun sounded great on paper, but using that image as the basis for an entire game isn’t the best approach for this property. Maybe it could have worked, but certainly not with such a vanilla vision for gameplay.
Stewie and Brian's quest isn't so much stopping Bertram as it is murdering as many people and animals as they can. Each level throws a sea of foes their way. Equipped with shotguns, exploding dirty diapers, laser blasters, Molotov cocktails, sniper rifles, and limited-use special weapons like the Wacky Wavy Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man, Stewie and Brian make short work of these foes. In truth, I would say the same thing if they were only equipped with sticks. These foes exhibit the intelligence of a lobotomized Chris Griffin. They walk headlong into the barrel of your gun, and neglect to duck after moving behind cover.
The gunplay fails to excite or even perform on a level gamers are accustomed to. Invisible walls in the environment block shots. The targeting system is serviceable at long range, but close-quarters encounters usually devolve into messy, frantic skirmishes.
Mundane mission objectives make the experience even more unbearable. Most of these objectives fall into the categories of "flip a switch" or "collect an object." These tasks are usually repeated three times per stage, and often feel like they are included to artificially lengthen the time sent in a level. Most objectives force the player to hold down a button to activate an object. With swarms of enemies running at you from every which way, this simple act can be extremely frustrating, especially if you are trying to beat the clock in the game’s separate Challenge mode stages.
If Stewie or Brian fall in combat, they respawn mere feet from their last active location. The only real penalty for death is a loss of currency, which is used to purchase upgrades, items, and skins. This may seem severe, but money is littered everywhere. I maxed out all of the upgrades roughly three-quarters of the way through the game, and had a surplus of items.
Local co-op makes the experience better, and I say this only because the combined might of two characters speeds up the time it takes to complete tasks. Competitive four-player split-screen is also available, but turns more into a game of who’s better at camping spawn points. In one match, my foes spawned at two points on a map. Yup – two spawn points and they alternate each time. They didn’t stand a chance.
Half of Back to the Multiverse is done exceptionally well. The other half is the polar opposite. The gameplay could fuel any generic shooter, and doesn't feel like it belongs with this property. Stewie and Brian deliver some good laughs that fans of the show will want to see, but working through gameplay this bad isn't worth the effort to others.