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