Game: Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse
Developer: Heavy Iron Studios
Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows PC
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Family Guy has long been famous for its irreverent, quick-fire humour, and wacky segues. Like any popular television or film franchise, marketing opportunities have been rife – such as toys, T-Shirts and other memorabilia – and even a PlayStation 2 and Xbox game several years ago. But that title never really managed to capture the spirit of the program, and never sold well as a result. Fast forward six years then, and they are at it again, albeit with a different developer-publisher team at the helm, but are the results any different, or is it another one to add to the long list of disappointing licensed game adaptations?
STORY: The story is based around the popular season eight Family Guy episode, Road to the Multiverse. In that episode, Stewie creates a Multiverse remote control, which allows the user to travel between alternate dimensions, which run parallel to their own. However, for the game, the developers had to create an antagonist, and that comes in the form of Stewies’ evil unborn brother, Bertram. Although Brian and Stewie thought they had killed him, another version of him has come from another dimension to build and army and kill Stewie, with the help of his own Multiverse remote.
In the show, they visit many different universes and therefore, in the game, each of the ten levels is based around a different alternate reality. This is a fairly lazy way to allow the developers to simply cobble together a series of unrelated worlds and jokes, but also allows them to experiment and operate outside the regular boundaries of the show, creating more diverse and creative worlds and characters. The story is packed full with much of the usual Family Guy humour, but – as is the same with the TV series – this tends to be very hit and miss, and will of course depend on how funny you usually find their brand of humour. There are some seriously funny moments that fans will enjoy here.
GRAPHICS: As the game is based on a cartoon series, the game is presented to us in a fully 3D cel-shaded style, which seems to be generally accepted as the standard way to translate a cartoon into a game. Whilst this makes sense, you do lose a little bit of the charm of the 2D animation of the series. Most of the characters are recognisable and well animated, yet strangely Stewie and Brian – the protagonists – seem a bit too square and stocky, their bodies just seem a little off-shape, which makes them appear a little bit strange.
Environments are actually quite deep with detail, and this is where a lot of the in-jokes and references to the series can be found. This includes such touches as shops from the series, billboards or posters advertising things we have seen on TV episodes, or even some of the items you pick up, such as the Wildly Flailing Inflatable Tube Man. But then, when we look at the overall presentation, it is very basic and seems a little rushed, with no care taken to menus and the like.
SOUND: You would think that with having the cast of the series voicing the characters in the game, as well as the composer of the music for the series involved, the sound design would be one of the strong points of the game. However, a lack of different phrases and a huge amount of repetition makes for a grating experience. For instance, when you reload, or pick up a health pack, your character spouts a phrase. This is obviously an action you will perform a lot in a normal playthrough. When you do that action again, the same phrase repeats again; eventually you’ll go mad. This is a problem in the whole game, jokes and catchphrases are repeated too often, so that they stop being funny and are an irritant. The quality of voice acting and the musical score is high but gamers will simply get annoyed by the relatively low number of phrases quite soon, which is a shame. More variety in the recording, or just not having the character say something on every occasion they pick up an item for example, would have resulted in a better experience.
GAMEPLAY: The title plays out as a third-person shooter/adventure, with the emphasis firmly on shooting. The story can be played in single player, with the gamer switching between Stewie and Brian when they wish, or with two players in split screen co-op. You have a selection of guns, melee weapons and grenades at your disposal, which you can upgrade and expand in the in-game store with money collected throughout your playthrough. You can also level up health stats and ammo capacities, for example, along with some new characters and costumes for multiplayer mode. These make little difference to how the game plays however, and all of the upgrades are largely cosmetic.
Every stage involves killing all of the henchmen in a level, working your way to killing a boss. There will always be one or two secondary objectives, such as tearing down wanted posters or killing chickens – which are entirely optional – and which will reward the player with extra items unlocked in the shop if completed. The main issue with the gameplay is that every level features hundreds of enemies who attack in the same way, must be killed in the same way, and who swarm you. This just leads to large groups of enemies swelling around you almost all of the time, meaning the gameplay is simply whittling down that group one by one.
To make things worse, the aiming in the game has to be quite precise. There is an auto snap-to, but by the time you have done this, the enemy has usually moved, and then you try to adjust your aim, most of the time you miss. Add to that fact that because of the sheer numbers of enemies, you will die on numerous occasions during nearly every encounter, things quickly get boring. Dying isn’t a challenge though, as you will simply respawn after three seconds next to your partner, with no score deduction or penalty to speak of. This means the game carries no real challenge; you just have to be willing to keep trying and keep going. Boss battles are a tiny bit better, with some variety from one to the next in the way you must kill them, such as using cannons or gun emplacements, but within a boss battle, you need to do the same required action so many times that it soon gets tiresome.
To add some variety, outside of the story mode there are several challenges, which are all based in story mode maps. These are usually timed and players rewarded with a certain number of stars dependent on how well they do. The actions you are asked to complete are, however, no different from those found in the story mode, so these don’t really offer an attraction after you have finished the story which, of course, in itself lacks from variety.
MULTIPLAYER: Right off the bat, the multiplayer modes are strangely offline only. This immediately makes the multiplayer seem like somewhat of an afterthought. There is a typical death match (obviously only for four players), the somewhat funny Capture the Greased-Up Deaf Guy (capture the flag), a basic horde mode called Multiverse Madness, and Infiltration, which is a base capturing mode.
Obviously, the Family Guy humour has been applied to these – most obviously capture the flag – but they are all fairly derivative, and with only four players supported, the maps have to be quite small and the action becomes quite repetitive once again. If only to allow for more excitement and larger maps, online play may have helped these modes, but as it stands they are fairly unimaginative and do little to grab your attention; it certainly wouldn’t draw you away from another multiplayer title. The only saving grace of the whole package is that fact that the two player co-op play in the story mode can be fun simply because playing together with a friend makes the whole experience more enjoyable. All the same issues remain, but somehow it all seems a little less annoying with a partner.
LONGEVITY: With ten game worlds to travel through, and numerous extra challenges to play through, as well as the multiplayer modes you would think that the game would keep players busy for some time. But the story mode levels are all relatively short, the challenges all very similar and quite unimaginative, and the multiplayer modes offline only so players probably won’t find themselves coming back to the game over and over. The irritating factors such as the sound, repetitive gameplay and lack of variety will likely prevent any repeat playthroughs, perhaps even finishing the game once.
VERDICT: For a game based on a series with such a rich vein of characters, history and interesting settings, Back to the Multiverse suffers from a distinct lack of ideas and originality. Perhaps the designers thought that the comedy would be strong enough so that gameplay wasn’t as important, but the game will be too repetitive and irritating for most gamers to want to pursue it through to the end. The title offers no original modes or gameplay elements to make it stand out from the crowd, or that make use of the license in a clever way. It just all comes across as a quick makeover to a run of the mill game engine. If it wasn’t for the co-op campaign, the game would have very little to recommend. Unfortunately this title does nothing to dispel the widely-held opinion that licensed games are generally disappointing.