Video games based on animated television shows do not have the best track record when it comes to substance and quality. Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse definitely exhibits the tone associated with the series; it’s stocked with raunchy humor and references to characters, but it continues the trend of mediocre licensed video games that are released purely to capitalize on the license.
Acting as a sequel to the Season 8 episode “Road to the Multiverse,” Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse casts you as Stewie and Brian on a mission to stop Stewie’s evil half-brother, Bertram. Although previously killed off in “The Big Bang Theory” episode, this version of Bertram has built his own multiverse remote control and seeks out revenge. Knowing that they are the only ones capable of foiling his plan, the duo takes it upon themselves to travel across 10 parallel dimensions to stop Bertram from putting together a tenacious army. As a fan of the Family Guy universe, I enjoyed the continuity to include past episodes and it made my experience feel as though I was playing an interactive lost episode.
Unlike Epic Mickey 2, you have the option to toggle between Stewie and Brian at any time. Although they both handle the same, each character has an arsenal of weapons specific to them. Stewie touts high tech weapons like a ray gun and flame throwers, while Brian utilizes traditional firearms including the sniper rifle and shotgun. If you grow tired of playing with yourself (pun intended), a friend can join in at any time with local drop-in/drop-out co-op. The third-person shooter gameplay quickly becomes laborious as you mow down wave after wave of tantamount enemies that present almost no challenge. Breaking up some of the monotonous shooting and switch flipping is a handful of secondary objectives based around fetching items and killing select foes. Completing each unlock a small list of extra costumes and weapons for the rest of the single-player mode. These moments are few and far between but they can’t save your playthrough from being repetitive and dull.
Regardless of who you’re killing for what reason, you will do it with haphazard shooting mechanics that qualify as functional, if utterly dispassionate. Along the way you will collect money which can then be used to purchase upgrades like increased health, ammo, and new costumes. Back to the Multiverse is not a difficult game in the early stages. As long as you have enough currency collected, the risk of dying in-game is minimal since you will just pick up where you were last. It’s not until the later levels where the difficulty increases, which inexplicably have a tendency to respawn you further back than seems reasonable. Levels end with a boss battle which is the only time you will really need to think or use strategy.
The cel-shaded 3D models of our favorite Quahog residents look a little outdated and appear to be on par with what would be tolerable from last-gen consoles. Environments are nicely detailed, and this is where a lot of the in-jokes and references to the series can be found. The varied levels put the parallel universe premise to good use, featuring a drunk fraternity brothers and sorority sister level, a Christmas level, and an Amish universe – amongst others. The environments are littered with members of the Griffin family reciting some of their classic lines and other well-known characters including Cleveland, Quagmire, and Mort Goldman.
You would think that utilizing the cast of the series to voice the characters, 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. Unfortunately a majority of the lines are recycled from the show, forcing fans to be subjected to hearing the same jokes they’ve heard plenty of times before. It is easy to tell the difference between what’s old and what’s new by the fact that the older puns occasionally feel like they were part of a larger joke. This leads me to believe that the developers just picked a list of their favorite quotes and tossed them in to appease fans. The series is known for its crude humor, but Back to the Multiverse relies far too heavily on offensive material to get a laugh rather than be genuinely funny. This is definitely not the game to play if you have little children around.
Once you complete the shamefully short story mode, you can opt to play the multiplayer which allows four players to battle locally. The co-op and competitive multiplayer modes are limited to mostly small areas of individual levels, robbing them of much of the complexity of other multiplayer third-person shooters. Multiplayer is composed of a simple Deathmatch, a variation of Horde Mode from games like Gears of War, and Family Guy’s take on Capture the Flag. Challenge mode lets you earn stars by completing various challenges, like helping Peter defend against an onslaught of pirates in Sea Men Attack. As with the optional collectables in the story mode, getting stars lets you unlock extra characters and costumes.
Although it appears to be catered toward fans, developer Heavy Iron and publisher Activision have lazily opted to follow the recent trend of the television show – rehash previous material and present it as “new.” 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. This title does nothing to dispel the widely-held opinion that licensed games are generally disappointing.
Editor’s Note: Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse was reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy of the game. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.