Unless you’re about to start playing a game starring Batman, you should always lower your expectations before you sit down to play licensed games. (So says a self-described gamer who not only played, but finished the Prison Break video game.)
Imagine my surprise then, when I found Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse to be a perfectly serviceable, at many times enjoyable, licensed game. But a game that, however, is not meant for true gamers. This is a game for fans that probably play one or two games a year—if that.
From publisher Activision and developer Heavy Iron, Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is inspired by the season 8 episode of the TV show, “Road to the Multiverse.” You’ll see a number of bizarre parallel universes from that episode, as well as other ones clearly inspired by the show over the past few seasons.
It’s not surprising to see the game is based on a script from the writers of Family Guy and that the developers themselves are probably huge fans of the show—even someone like me who dropped out of the show a season or two ago saw a lot of callbacks to earlier episodes sprinkled throughout the game. (I especially had to chuckle at how many Achievements there were that were centered on awful things happening to long-suffering daughter Meg.)
In the third-person action-adventure, you’ll play as Stewie or Brian in single-player, or as both with local co-op that’s drop-in, drop-out. You’ll travel through ten separate universes (well, technically eight as the final two take place in regular old Quahog) as you try to defeat Stewie’s half-brother and arch-nemesis, Bertram.
Switching between Brian and Stewie when you’re playing by yourself, as I did, is incredibly seamless and quick. You can also choose any of the guns you have access to from a radio wheel that freezes the game—though be careful how you choose, because I found the system finicky and often had a weapon that I didn’t choose.
Weapons do matter in this game. Stewie or Brian have a variety of short-range and long-range weapons, and while I tended to use Brian’s shotgun more than anything else, it was important to sometimes switch to Stewie for that flame thrower when I was getting swarmed by enemies.
Speaking of enemies: check your moral compass at the door because you will kill people in wheelchairs in a universe being run by the disabled, the Amish and more. Happily, their bodies disintegrate upon death so you don’t need to see all the carnage for very long.
The writing is especially strong during the bickering between Stewie or Brian that occurs throughout the game either in the middle of the battle or through the cut-scenes. Having voiceover work from the show’s talent, including Seth MacFarlane, makes it feel authentic, and if you have a few favorite side characters from the show, you’ll see them all at some point with a quick one-liner. (No really. I think everyone is in this game.)
Even Peter gets regulated to the background, except for the next to last level that allows you to play as him – the only time in the game you don’t play as Stewie or Brian – as he takes on his own arch-nemesis, the Giant Chicken.
Levels are deep, but you’re mostly on a set path. Just follow the green and yellow diamond direction markers to collect something, flip a switch, etc. Only once or twice was I actually confused as to what do next.
Wandering off the beaten path is important, however, if you want to snag all the collectables in the levels. I never managed to complete a set, which is unfortunate, since it’s the only way to unlock certain costumes. You can purchases those costumes, as well as weapons and upgrade your abilities/attributes with money you collect throughout the game. Without finding collectables or stopping to collect every dollar, I still managed to unlock nearly everything in the store by the end of the game, however.
While I only played single player, there is multiplayer as well like deathmatch and “Capture the Greased Up Deaf Guy.” (Can’t believe I just typed that in a video game review.)
My time with Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse was quick. I probably finished the single player campaign in about five hours. But that wasn’t the point. The gameplay is almost, almost inconsequential. This is a game made for fans, not for gamers. It’s a game where you want to marvel at a joke you might miss and not focus on what you’re actually doing.
You can tell that’s the case because in this game, death is not a big deal. You’ll lose some of your hard earned money, but most of the time, you start back merely steps from where you died and all the enemies you had killed and damage you had inflicted still happened. There was one level in which I had so much trouble killing the big boss, that I just allowed myself to die over and over and over again as I slowly chipped away at their health.
I would never recommend Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse to someone currently playing Assassin’s Creed 3 or Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. But if they’re a Family Guy fan and the last game they played was on their smartphone, they might enjoy the heck out of Back to the Multiverse.
* Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by Activision for the purposes of this review. *