Variety is the spice of life (apparently); moments of spontaneity and randomness that keep us on our toes and injects some color into repetitive, dull proceedings. Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse inherits this ethos from its source material, maintaining a low standard in the humor and storytelling, whilst contaminating any sense of an engaging gameplay experience in the process. This whacky, third-person shooter plays out like a lengthy children’s mini-game—despite its M rating and full retail price.
The game’s title will immediately ring a bell to fans of the show, reminding them of the crazy goings on during Season 8 episode: Road to the Multiverse. Stewie and Brian are back once again with their high-tech device that allows them to travel the multiverse—exploring a variety of parallel worlds that loosely reflect their own. But simply going from one set of mad high jinks to the next is not enough to anchor the motivations for a video game. Bertram is back, preparing an army to conquer the universe, taking down Brian and Stewie as he does it. This gives our two heroes reason enough to mow down wave upon wave of enemies, doing their best to prevent Bertram from realising his evil plan.
This backdrop provides a sound context that allows players to go from one level of insanity to the next, but you won’t find much development here. What you will find is genuine voice work from the cast of the show, stock lines of lazily written dialogue, and cutscenes that resemble the same cinematic prowess of an Adobe Flash game. At least the visuals within the scenes themselves are of a good quality, showcasing bright and colorful worlds that replicate the art of the show nicely.
Despite Stewie and Brian’s device opening up the freedom to traverse a multitude of insanity-filled situations, what you’ll be doing in these scenarios doesn’t share the same diversity. Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is a run and gun, third person shooter at its core. Moving from one wave of the Amish to the next wave of disabled people (controversial cannon fodder that tries to disguise the blandness of the gameplay) and fulfilling secondary objectives in the form of hidden collectibles.
Thanks to a simple, streamlined and intuitive control scheme, blasting your way through these levels is painless. Switching weapons on the fly using a weapon wheel can make things slightly cumbersome, but this small gripe will rarely make an appearance. Unfortunately, the poor AI and shallow upgrade system is all too happy to show its face, with enemies continuously running at you, just waiting for the next batch of satchel bombs to explode before their eyes. Even in numbers, these guys drop like flies, especially if you’ve exerted the small amount of effort required to fully upgrade your character. Using ray guns, shotguns, explosives, rocket launchers and giant chickens flips the odds even moreso in your favor, and while these tools are fun additions that keep the battlefield hectic, none of them contribute to a wider, more tactical metagame.
To ease the difficulty further and create a little bit more mayhem during the firefights, you can invite a friend along for the ride. No, this isn’t for online co-op, but rather for split-screen couch-fun. At any point during the session, another player can use a second controller to drop in and out, taking control of Brian or Stewie. The co-op here is standard and works as you’d expect it to, but there is no strategical consideration to make when a second player joins the fray. They are there to loosely extend the cheap, mindless shoot ‘em up gunplay, and perhaps offer a high five after you’ve destroyed yet another wave of no-name enemies. Leaving your brain at the door is certainly part of the game’s appeal, but people expecting more for their retail purchase will be left wanting.
If you find yourself without a friend willing to jump into co-op with you, you have the ability to “tag” Brian and/or Stewie out and switch roles at anytime. Both characters contain their own set of weaponry, but this is nothing more than a cosmetic change at worst, and has a lukewarm impact at best. Certain missions will require you to use Brian’s sniper rifle (assassinating a cheeseburger, for example) and at these points the story makes the adjustment for you. However, during every day play, you can get by with either character, never needing to tactically switch between the two. Power-ups, ammo and health packs spawn as soon as you need them, and death is nothing more than a three second time-out. As soon as you respawn, you are back in the action, ready to continue exactly where you left off. The death system is actually a welcomed design choice that keeps the pace up whilst simultaneously avoiding the rather long load times.
Should you die, it will most likely happen in one of the game’s many boss fights. Across the ten story mode levels, a boss fight will be the finale of all the combat you have begrudgingly fought your way through. Fortunately, these showdowns are the highlight and are home to some fun exchanges. Taking down a giant wooden Bertram mixes things up a bit, and battling the Mayor as he soars across the battlefield in his jetpack gives you another excuse to let loose with the explosives. It is a pity that reaching these moments requires the tiresome grind of the game’s default, forgettable enemies, but what’s there is a welcomed change of pace.
When you’re done with the somewhat brief story mode, challenge mode will be there to greet you with the same uninspired face of the main campaign. Providing players with a small selection of challenges, you’ll be able to partake in objective-based gameplay, be it solo or with a friend. Depending on the difficulty you choose, you can collect stars that unlock further challenges to go up against.
Unlike the story mode, you are not limited to Brian and Stewie here. Characters such as Lois, Quagmire, and Meg all are all playable, with unlockable costumes for each of them. While the objectives themselves help to focus the chaotic gameplay of the campaign, the experience plays out in the context of Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse. You will be taking on wave after wave, using the same tactics as before, and although you might be taking photos of nude women this time around, the journey it takes to get there does not deviate from the empty experience you played before.
As it stands, Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse has a decently fun experience in its grasp; it’s just not sixty dollars worth of fun. Nothing is inherently broken in its mechanics, and other than a rare occurrence in which the game froze on us, we experienced no performance issues. But shallow gameplay, coupled with the tedium that clings to every mode, has the whole ordeal feeling like a tired mini-game. With an M rating and full retail price tag, the potential customer will be expecting more for their money and their brain. Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is a tough recommendation, but if you fancy some light-hearted fun with a buddy, you might want to pick this one up on the cheap.
This review was based on a final version of the game provided by Activision UK.