The TV show Family Guy is one of those guilty pleasures that I indulge in every once in a while. The humor runs a mile a minute, throwing out pop culture references as if the Mayans were correct and the world is going to end. Sometimes the humor hits the funny bone just right, while other times it feels like the show is just swinging a giant sledge hammer. Swinging something that big and heavy in the hopes that when it connects, the laughs will be funny, but usually end up being downright painful and cringe inducing. So what happens when a 22 minute cartoon series is stretched out over a full six to ten hour video game? You end up being struck by a sledge hammer, over and over.
Like the pop culture references that the show spits out, the premise of the game is similarly set up. If you watch the show with any regularity, then Stewie’s nemesis Bertram will be familiar and make sense. If you are like me, the opening of the game barely provides enough back story to fill in why a red headed baby from a different universe is out to kill Stewie and his family. But I guess plot on the TV show never needs to make sense so why should a video game? Instead the game saddles Stewie and Brian with the task of stopping Bertram’s advances in other universes so that he is unable to fulfill his dastardly plan to snuff out the Griffin family and the rest of world.
Each universe that Stewie and Brian must visit has a distinct theme. There’s a world ruled by Greeks. Not the classic, historic Greeks mind you, but fraternity Greeks. In another world, the pair must stop the Amish. Further into the game, the duo enters a world where handicapped people rule. Other worlds involve a Santa toy workshop turned into a weapon manufacturing plant and evil chickens ruling from space. Some of the levels are extended gags from the history of taboo subjects dragged through the humor sensibilities of the TV series, while others are designed specifically from the weak plot structure of the game. In each level the rest of the Griffin family (and various friends) make cameo appearances, but are merely set dressing overall. One level before the final confrontation offers players a chance to play as Peter in a sequence where he randomly fights Ernie the Giant Chicken in the Quahog airport, but other than that Stewie and Brian are the lone playable characters.
I had no idea what Back to the Multiverse‘s main gameplay mechanic was going in. I was expecting something along the lines of the EA-released Simpson’s game from 2007 in which levels were basically run of the mill platforming. Nope. Back to the Multiverse is a third-person shooter. I guess that makes sense. Stewie is a “genius” and obviously has a secret life where he hoards weapons for his plans to take over the world or kill Lois. But the thought of playing through an entire game switching back and forth between Brian and Stewie shooting at people just doesn’t sit right with my view of the TV show. There is nothing wrong with the actual mechanics, but at the same time, the shooting doesn’t feel especially great. A lock-on targeting system takes most of the aiming work out of what is already a brain dead shooter that entails holding down the trigger and strafing back and forth until most enemies are dead. The biggest challenge to the game is keeping from hitting the mute button to block out the repetitive drivel spewed from Stewie or Brian’s mouth after every kill, ammo pickup, or when they take damage.
And that is where the game ultimately fails. In a 22 minute show, one line gags get tossed out with the intention that a viewer may or may not catch it or understand it. Playing through a single level for upwards of an hour hearing the same two or three one-liner gags takes any goodwill and humor that the game offers to players, scratches the hell out of it with a raccoon and then tips an outhouse over those scratches. The best the game offers in the humor department are the too-brief cutscenes played out before a level begins. The writing and banter between Stewie and Brian during those moments at times rival the best the TV show has to offer. Sadly Back to the Multiverse is a game and thus, too much bland gameplay and annoying one-liners must be suffered through before any good humor can be consumed.
Throughout each level there are money collectibles to find which unlock costumes as well different character models to choose from, but these unlocks can only be selected during the multiplayer portion of the game. Of course, what modern third-person shooter doesn’t include multiplayer? Unfortunately the multiplayer offered in Back to the Multiverse is local only. (Although I suppose I’m fortunate to not have to try and play online with folks who actually think this game is fun.) Multiplayer is a mixed bag of traditional deathmatch, endless waves of enemies, co-op challenges (which can also be played solo) and a mode called Capture the Greased-Up Deaf Guy. Split-screen carnage isn’t bad, but could be better if the actual shooting mechanic felt good.
Family Guy the TV show can be a rank, raunchy, hilarious romp. Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse attempts to tap into that hilarity, but misses the mark by overstepping the boundary of TV sensibilities (err, I mean censorship), filling every nook and cranny with dull, overly repetitive gameplay and looping one-liners that likely wouldn’t be aired on TV. At best the game is worth playing for hunting trophies/achievements (although slogging through to a Platinum is time better spent knitting a sweater) and viewing the cutscenes between the actual gameplay bits. At worst it’s a barely passable third-person shooter and a failed attempt at TV franchise cross marketing.
+ Cutscene humor is on par with the TV show
+ Tons of collectibles
+ Local split-screen multiplayer isn’t half bad
– Dull third-person shooting seems out of place in the Family Guy universe
– Vapid, repetitive, looping one-liners
– Only Brian and Stewie can be played during the main story
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PC and Xbox 360
Developer: Heavy Iron Studios
Release Date: 11/20/2012
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-4 (offline multiplayer only)
Source: Game purchased by reviewer