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Family Guy’s profane Multiverse: modern comedy?

Wednesday, 28th November 2012 13:57 GMT By Dave Cook

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is out now on PS3 and Xbox 360. Have you heard? VG247′s Dave Cook gave it a whirl and didn’t get the joke.

When Seth MacFarlane’s tale of an overweight dolt and his dysfunctional family first aired 1999, it was a foul-mouthed alternative to the steadily declining quality of key competitor The Simpsons. FOX presumably made a rake of fast cash off the animated ratings war that followed, and Family Guy seemed destined to go far.

“Enemies fire out childish, homophobic barbs as they rush you in predictable patterns and topple with ease. It’s an insult to your intelligence.”

The show got criminally cancelled after its superb third season but was promptly brought back following solid DVD sales. The run of quality pop-culture gags and then-acceptable cutaway skits was back with a vengeance, but it didn’t take long for the sparkle to fade from Peter Griffin’s eye.

Now it feels like a turgid mess of self-deprecating fourth wall gags that seem to mock the show’s own existence, shock tactics, internet meme parodies and puerile cutaways that now feel forced by obligation. Personally I think it’s well past its prime, but many people I know still like it and of course that’s perfectly fine as well.

I can remember disengaging with the series in a big way after an episode featuring Chevy Chase and Dan Akroyd failed to raise a single laugh. When an animated Chase and Akroyd double-act burns down in flames you know something is rotten in the state of comedy. I just couldn’t stand it any longer.

I’ve taken to American Dad instead, MacFarlance’s smarter, yet less popular show. Sure it’s still full of swaggering college humour, but it’s also laced with clever gags that don’t stoop to brainless meme jokes, or dust off a pop culture icon to grab your attention. Also, there are no infernal cutaway jokes breaking up the plot.

Many dislike American Dad, and that’s fine because humour is subjective after all, but I’m making this comparison to show that you can still be funny without having to resort to another eight-minute chicken fight, A-Team reference or homophobic barb to get a rise out of people. To me, MacFarlane’s opus has become plain lazy in recent years.

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is the game of that show, and it too is lazy, coming late in the cartoon’s life cycle. It could be an 11th-hour attempt at delivering a truly hilarious spin-off, but it too feels cheap, offensive and incredibly basic to play. If anything, it will give critics of the show reason to damn it further.

There was scope to work with MacFarlane’s troupe to create something that really puts the show’s ensemble – and quite frankly out-of-fucking-control cast (greased up deaf guy anyone?) – to good use. But it doesn’t, it recycles so many recorded jokes from past episodes, and what little new plot there is crumbles under the weight of its offensive nature.

“Seeing Peter Griffin get naked and sing ‘Milkshake’ by Kelis might have raised a chuckle in the context of an episode, but hearing him singing it again while spinning around on a frat boy parade float dressed as a woman just feels wrong.”

It follows Brian and Stewie travelling the Multiverse, which was a cross-dimensional plane from a previous episode that saw the duo entering alternate realities, such as the Jew-hating Disney dimension, and other equally offensive planes of existence. Again, some like offensive jokes, but this is just my personal take.

In the game they must travel back through alternate dimensions to stop Stewie’s evil brother Bertram from amassing a cross-dimensional army and wiping him out. In the Multiverse episode there was a range of mad planes that actually showed a degree of imagination, but here the developers have been lazy.

You can almost see the checklist being ticked off as you limply run and gun through each dimension, from a pirate-themed zone, a backwards Amish planet, a space level dominated by giant chickens, a city populated by Greek college fraternities and a handicapped world, naturally.

All you do in each level is run around collecting objects, suffering through jokes that were old back in 2003 and shoot some of the most unintelligent enemy AI of the generation. Enemies fire out childish, homophobic barbs as they rush you in predictable patterns and topple with ease. It’s an insult to your intelligence.

There is no aesthetic pleasure to be had here, no tangible plot to draw you in, and no reason to invest, seeing as you’ve already heard most of the game’s jokes already. The pre-recorded jokes from past episodes are often out of context and come with varying levels of audio quality, making the whole thing feel scrappier still.

Seeing Peter Griffin get naked and sing ‘Milkshake’ by Kelis might have raised a chuckle in the context of an episode, but hearing him singing it again while spinning around on a frat boy parade float dressed as a woman just feels wrong. You hear it each time he passes too, underlining the game’s love of repeated dialogue.

Each time Brian or Stewie pick up a health item, ammo or a special device – wacky inflatable tube man, angry chicken, shit-filled nappies, you know the drill by now – you get one of maybe four or five stock lines from past episodes hurled at you. It’s a maddening assault on the mind that grates constantly.

“All joking aside, if this is the kind of lazy tie-in that publishers still think is acceptable in today’s market, then perhaps the license-holders need to speak out a little bit more about the way their creations are treated.”

Completing objectives will unlock new outfits for Brian and Stewie, while cash lets you buy weapon upgrades for Stewie’s arsenal of mad ray guns, as well as Brian’s comparatively sensible firearms. It adds depth for sure, but adding depth to an experience already stooping several feet through the floor isn’t much to brag about.

There’s also a multiplayer mode which focuses on capture the flag but I didn’t play it because this is in no way a review of the whole package. It’s not even a review full stop – it’s just my reaction to how badly the Family Guy license has been further man-handled.

The developer may have had little time, budget or freedom to work with on this one – we’ll never know for sure – but if they did end up in a tricky spot with this project then I really do feel for them. It’s a poor, poor game.

Look at EA’s The Simpsons Game by comparison: it was funny, full of gaming references and parodies, featured Will Wright as a money and supermodel-hungry bastard and came with tons of new dialogue and scenes created specifically for game. Real, genuine, honest-to-god effort. It was hardly mind-blowing, but an effort nonetheless.

In the weeks leading up to the launch of Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse, everyone kept on asking why they hadn’t seen any previews or trailers for the game. Did Activision not want attention drawn to it, or was there another reason at play? Again, we’ll never fully know.

But at the end of the day, this is a rickety package of basic mechanics and poor visuals strung together by immature jokes from years gone by. What little new dialogue there is falls short too, such as Brian’s remark about the Cloud making everything worse showing just how out of touch the source material has become.

Humour is subjective, I have to stress the fact again. But all joking aside, if this is the kind of lazy tie-in that publishers still think is acceptable in today’s market, then perhaps the license-holders need to speak out a little bit more about the way their creations are treated.

Disclosure:

  • To assist in writing this piece, Activision sent Dave a copy of Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse on Xbox 360.

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23 Comments

  1. The_Red

    That… was… BRUTAL.
    I want to go off topic a bit but is American Dad really that different to FG? I say this as someone who hates most things about Family Guy. It was only after Ted that I actually saw some talent in MacFarlane’s work. Because of that and the nod in this read, I’ve become kinda curious about his other show.

    Now, back to (no pun intended) this article, I am really happy to see Simpsons game mentioned here. Not a 10/10 game but it was a blast for fans and had some rather smart moments. The team behind it had at least tried to respect the original source. Of course I’m not blaming Back to Multiverse devs because for all we know, they could have had a super tight schedule and very limited resource / budget.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 yeah I think American Dad is properly funny, like really smart in places without having to resort to cheap laughs. But I know folk who disagree.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. DrDamn

    @Dave
    Yeah I’d agree American Dad bettered Family Guy some time ago. It’s smarter and funnier by quite some way. It did take me a little while to get into it though.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Dave Cook

    @3 it does take some time yeah man

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Fraser Sim

    I like Family Guy and American Dad both but in todays climate (god I hate that phrase) would I shell out £30-40 for this? Most definitely not.

    To me there seems to be 3 types of games these days.

    Z list games like this that still carry a hefty price tag.

    B games that look good, and may play well for the first hour but then become repetitive and boring and hold no replay value. But still cost the same as a AAA game.
    The Darkness 2 and Sniper Elite come to mind.

    Then we have AAA games. FIFA, Halo, COD, Gears etc.
    The games that will always make money but are more often than not sequels.

    With money tight I am wary about venturing away from the familiar.

    One such recent venture (ok not that recent, it was last year) saw me switch from the COD franchise to battlefield 3 (not that much of a switch I know). After a very poor campaign I turned to the multiplayer. On my first and only game I climbed into a fighter jet and mid air got skyjacked by another player who had jumped out of his own plane. I immediatley threw the xbox control on the floor, marched to GAME and traded it in 10 hours after I bought it.

    Anyway, I’m still waiting for a decent new game to come along a blow my socks off.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. CPC_RedDawn

    Dave whilst I totally and utterly completely 100% agree this game is a stinking pile of poop. I have to disagree that American Dad is better than Family Guy. I thought the first couple of season of American Dad were genius and incredibly smart. But after a while, I got very bored of the characters, the stories, and the complete and utter rip off’s of other shows on TV. Family Guy sure has had its ups and downs over the years, the first four seasons were some of the best ever. Whilst a few of the other seasons really did lack in terms of originality and brains. The newer episodes of the past few seasons have been stellar. We can at least all agree, I hope, that whilst we do love The Simpsons, it simply has to stop now. It has not been good at all since 2005 or even before. The new episodes are simply put terrible in every way shape and form. South Park is still funny, but I hate how they rely on ripping a celebrity to pieces in almost every episode. That gets tiresome but when they tackle issues in the world with their crude and barbaric humor its even better than Family Guy. I have high hoped for the South Park RPG!!!

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Ireland Michael

    I think the first mistake you made was expecting intelligence in a Family Guy game.

    Family Guy has had its moments, but for the most part it’s just the same puerile, juvenile and obnoxious humour that made South Park so popular as well. I didn’t expect much more from the game either.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. CPC_RedDawn

    @7 You obviously can not see how truly clever and ingenious South Park and Family Guy truly are. You have to look deeper than what is just on screen or even being said in any given scene. They are some of the only shows on TV that actually tackle real and proper issues in the world and if you actually watch them rather than bashing them you might actually see it. Oh and they also make people laugh a long the way.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Dave Cook

    @6 I think American Dad, even for me was hard to get in to, but seasons 2-8 have just been superb.

    All subjective though, so I still understand that :)

    @7 I didn’t expect it to be intelligent man :P I just expected more than a slapdash tie in. More fool me it seems eh?

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Ireland Michael

    @8 There’s nothing clever or ingenious about either of them.

    It’s toilet humour for pseudo-intellectuals. I’ve been told a thousand times the supposedly incredibly deep commentary behind these shows, and it’s always brainless, generally half arses, and often uninformed or flat out uneducated. It’s still juvenile and predictable no matter what veiled attempt at intelligence it pretends to aspire to.

    They don’t “tackle real issue” because they’re never actually tackling the issues. They just make fun of them for half an hour then mouth off satirical monologue at the end. South Park is especially guilty of this. And it’s still enveloped in the kind of uninspired toilet humour only a 12 year old should find funny.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Dave Cook

    @10 The aren’t quite hitting the levels of Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Thick of It – which I both love, but I’d say American Dad is a lesser evil at least.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. ManuOtaku

    #8 I do agree with your comment, recently i did watch a re-run episode of south park the one that has cesar the dog trainer doing his job on Cartman, basecally her mother tried with the reality show the nannies for trouble childs, they sent two of their best ones, and they tried to put reverse pshycology, putting on the same level as him, etc all the tried and tested formulas to coup with spoiled trouble childs, one of them get out crying when cartman did applied to her the reverse pshycology of his own, saying she was an old woman without kids and her womb has like a pair of raisins drying out, the other one went to a madhouse eating her own excrements.

    Then came cesar the dog trainer, and treat cartman like a dog, putting him in place, showing who the leader was, putting barriers, establishing comand, etc, and it did work, at the end he changed cartman into a very well manner kid, and it was funny, but also touch a very underlying theme, that kids this days, trouble and spoiled children at that, need strong hand and an strong dominance, shrink methods will not solve the problem, they only need a good spank, from time to time, and let them know they dont have the power, the parents has.

    I know is a long comment but i think what CPC said was right, as i see it in that very episode.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. DSB

    South Park is actually satire though, they always have a point to what they’re doing. Choosing a bunch of kids for a show that pokes fun at what influential adults are doing is a pretty classic approach.

    Family Guy’s style is just poking fun at stuff beause it’s right there, like anyone who’s ugly or has a handicap or any other misfortune. I don’t mind that, but it’s pretty easy.

    There’s nothing intellectual about either one though.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Christopher Jack

    Still like Family Guy, will watch every episode but it’s certainly not like it used to be. I even enjoy its spin-off, The Cleveland Show, much more but have always preferred American Dad over both as its jokes don’t seem to be as crazy & irrelevant. I also still watch South Park too but they always over do their plots to the point that they’re either make or break for the episode. The Simpsons lost its flair around 10 years ago but I still keep up with it, I certainly no longer re watch any episode unless I’m super duper bored but still, I love its sister show Futurama- Bender is great. As it stands now, I’d probably put American Dad 1st, followed by Cleveland Show, Futurama, Family Guy tied with South Park & then the Simpsons.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. FerretPersona

    Well, this isn’t much of a surprise. The show seems to have been regurgitating the same dumb, offensive, bland humour for years now so why should the game be any different. I mean, I like close to the mark jokes that skirt the line between devilishly hilarious and quite offensive, but Family Guy has just grown so lazy and cheap that it’s almost hard to even be offended by anything it does any more. It crossed the line into disgustingly offensive and now, it’s just pathetic. How many more cancer or AIDS jokes can they spew out before people finally get fed up. Hopefully, not that many.

    American Dad, however is, in my opinion, probably the smartest, most hilarious animated comedy ever made. It’s just sheer genius, with a cast of amazing characters and jokes that just crack me up. Francine is comedy gold every time and even Roger manages to stay fresh despite his extreme character and somewhat predictable misadventures.

    I’ve pretty much given up on the thought of ever playing an American Dad game, but I’m more than happy with the show, which just keeps getting better and better. As for Back to the Multiverse… meh, I hadn’t planned on picking it up and hearing all this has just proven my assumptions to be accurate.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Cobra951

    I saw Lindsay Lohan plug her Liz Taylor movie on the Leno show. Terrible mistake. Up till that point, the only thing I knew is that she could look close to the part from some promo still shots. But the aired clip revealed just how awful she is in the movie. Bad move. Curiosity quickly gave way to derision. Lifetime won’t even get a short view from me now.

    In contrast, I’m guessing Activision wisely avoided any kind of a reveal of this game, which would explain the dearth of reviews and other press. By keeping it under wraps, all we had to go on was expectation, based on the show’s humor (which I very much like–sorry you don’t, Dave) and previous similar efforts like The Simpsons games. That pre-release curiosity no doubt has sold some copies of Multiverse. The more the truth is exposed, the less marketable the property. How sad.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. SplatteredHouse

    This revelation reminds me – I hope you can help – but, I’ve been looking for a reliable seller of propane, and/or propane accessories. Last fella (sweet family, crank neighbours) left me high and dry :(

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Gigabomber

    Like American Dad? Opinion invalidated.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. _LarZen_

    I liked the crazy places you go to in this game, and it made me laugh out hard some times.
    But the gameplay and level design is horrible, people should be arrested for charging money for “games” like this.

    I would be ashamed if I was in the development team for this game.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. MisterMonday

    This game was awful and I agree that American Dad is a much better show, although some of the more recent episodes of family guy (US Season 11) have been very funny. Including quite an amusing Simpsons joke.

    But the game doesn’t even deserve a 1/10. Awful.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. Telepathic.Geometry

    Dave I agree that the show was great back in the day, and that it’s gone downhill quite a ways, but don’t you dare take my 8 minute chicken fights away from me, that’s one of the running gags that I always looked forward to. ^-^

    #21 2 years ago
  22. Digital Bamboo

    No surprises here. While I was initially entertained by Family Guy when it first came out, it wore out its welcome pretty quickly, & I haven’t bothered to watch it in years.

    I used to think that South Park was nothing more than vulgar shock comedy, until I actually sat down as an adult and watched all the episodes. I think it operates on a number of different levels. When it’s at its best, I think South Park is one of the smartest shows on television.

    I don’t have high expectations for ANY cartoon-to-video-game adaptation, but I do hope The Stick of Truth is a hell of a lot better than this mess.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. Dave Cook

    @22 yeah I did the same many, many years ago now. Re-watched the early episodes with an adult mind-set and you do see lots of new jokes. Clever indeed.

    I think sometimes it can be too American in its satire – lampooning things non-Americans won’t fully understand or appreciate. But hey, it’s still fun.

    The Bane mask scene in a recent episode had me close to tears.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iKoy0Qwh-g

    #23 2 years ago

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