Activision welcomed us to take a peek at the upcoming Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse game at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. The demo was stationed inside a school bus that had been decked out with everything Family Guy, including logos and popular characters waving from the windows, and furnished with wall to wall leather interior seating, a beverage cooler and flat screen TV. The setup was impressive, but what about the game? Read our preview for the details.
Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is an adaptation of the popular television show, based predominantly on the episode “Road to the Multiverse,” in which Stewie and Brian Griffin find themselves crossing multiple alternate dimensions with hilarious results. The designers at Heavy Iron Studios (most recently responsible for UFC Personal Trainer) felt like this fairly well-structured episode was a perfect jumping off point for the game, and they had free range to go as wild as they desired since any “rules” adhering to the show could be thrown out the window thanks to the game taking place in alternate worlds. While this approach has the potential to give way to some interesting creative opportunities, the two levels that were presented were both pulled directly from other Family Guy episodes, which made the game feel less like a new adventure and more like a rerun.
The main portion of the game includes two playable characters, Brian and Stewie Griffin, who each have their own set of six weapons, and can be switched between at any time. Stewie uses lasers and other gadgetry, while Brian’s arsenal is a little more traditional with weapons including a standard handgun or shotgun. Each character has a melee weapon, as well. There are several items to collect and use against enemies, and they provide ample opportunity to throw in cameos like the giant chicken that comes out and punches enemies, and the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man that distracts them. The pair are guided by Bruce, the “I knoooooow” guy, as they try to stop Stewie’s half-brother Bertram from causing trouble across multiple dimensions. That’s the gist of the game’s plot, though it was all but absent from the presentation.
For the most part, gameplay in Back to the Multiverse embraces classic beat ’em up mechanics, with the characters walking around and destroying everything in sight until eventually reaching a main boss. There were hints of missions, but it was difficult to follow what was happening onscreen — outside of the fact that the developers were literally skipping through levels, the main objectives in each section weren’t clearly explained. It’s also hard to tell exactly how smoothly the game will play, since there was no hands-on time to get a feel for the controls.
Two of the game’s developers were there to give the guided tour, which included two stops: handicap universe and Amish universe. If you’ve ever seen the show, both are exactly what you’d imagine. Handicap universe is a world where everyone is handicapped, which is really pushing suspension of disbelief, even for Family Guy. All the disabled jokes are there. Even lady liberty, head cocked and staring blankly with her mouth hanging open, now sits in a gigantic bronze wheelchair. That may turn some people off, but fans of the show are familiar with its distasteful humor that often pushes boundaries.
Admittedly, some of the small touches in the level design and a few of the cutscenes were humorous. After battling legions of handicapped NPCs with no ascertainable goal, the developers skipped quickly through different sections of the level and eventually settled at a boss fight with Cripple-Tron, the Voltron-like construct made of people in wheelchairs seen in the “No Meals on Wheels” episode of Family Guy. The second level, Amish universe, is a place where, you guessed it, the entire world is Amish. Notice a pattern here? This universe was also ripped straight from an episode of the show (“Amish Guy”). Honestly, it’s hard to see how the developers are making this material their own, as opposed to providing simple fan service and rehashing popular jokes that have long since exhausted themselves.
In fact, almost every gag in the demo was recycled from the show, and a considerable amount of audio heard throughout the preview felt lazily cut out of various episodes and pasted directly into the game. There didn’t appear to be much original dialogue and a lot of the characters just didn’t sound right. It wasn’t clear if my ears were playing tricks on me or if the voice actors weren’t the same as those on the show, but something was off.
When asked about Seth MacFarlane’s involvement, the developers reassuringly said that he was overseeing some of the development and that he and the cast were recording original voice work for the game, so perhaps the demo was using placeholder dialog. While Trey Parker and Matt Stone are investing a ton of time and energy into the South Park game, which had a fantastic showing at the Con, Family Guy’s creator involvement felt minimal, which could bode ill for the title.
Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse may be great for fans of the series, who should enjoy spotting popular characters, references to favorite episodes and all the fart jokes they can handle. Those unfamiliar with the series, however, may want to do some homework and watch a few episodes or risk feeling lost in what feels like one long inside joke. Based on what was shown at SDCC, Back to the Multiverse is short on originality, but with many more universes to visit and a lot still unseen, perhaps the developers will be will able to do more than echo popular episodes of the show and bring both fans and non-fans alike something new that they can enjoy together.
Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse will drop September 25, 2012, for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
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