With some reviews of licensed titles I feel the need to establish my lack of familiarity with the franchise, such as in my B.C.’s Quest for Tires and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan reviews, however, with Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse, I can say I am almost too well acquainted with the series it is based on. Over the years I have seen every episode of Family Guy, seeing some tens of times just because of the way adult swim churns out reruns of the show, and I will likely continue watching it as long as it keeps going. While I will admit more recent seasons prioritize jokes over having interesting plots or likeable characters, I watch it because it’s a show that can still make me laugh and that’s all I really ask of it. In a way, you’d think a game like Back to the Multiverse would be perfect for a fan like me, but I can’t say the Family Guy brand really endeared me to the game any more than any other brand could have.
Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is positioned as a sequel to the episode “Road to the Multiverse”, a wacky sci-fi romp through alternate worlds with different visual styles, universe concepts, and enough gags to make the episode unique and interesting. Back to the Multiverse could have continued that format or even just let us explore the ones we saw in that episode in more detail, but instead the alternate dimensions the game cooks up are half-baked at best. The genius baby Stewie and his talking dog Brian (it feels a bit odd to describe such familiar characters for those unfamiliar with the show) are visited by the alternate universe version of Stewie’s evil dead half-brother Bertram who is aiming to get revenge for the original Bertram’s death. Bouncing through alternate dimensions, Stewie and Brian try to stop him from amassing the means to execute his plan to destroy Stewie and Brain’s universe by… recruiting the Amish and… recruiting paraplegics. The story hardly has anything to do with the actual levels you visit, with the ultimate showdown with Bertram not even seeming to relate to them in any manner. It was just an excuse to go hopping to different dimensions, and those dimensions unfortunately aren’t that great.
Rather than trying to come up with levels based on unique concepts like the episode they’ve based the game around, Back to the Multiverse decides to dredge up moments from the show and extend them into levels it passes off as other dimensions. The Amish level is just based on the episode where the characters visit an Amish community, the pirate level is based around an episode where Peter pretended to be a pirate briefly, and they even managed to take one of Family Guy’s quick cutaway jokes and extend it into a long level about assassinating Mayor McCheese. The multiverse is apparently filled with retreads rather than fresh new concepts, although the game does one have one stand-out level that showed the potential of the concept. Family Guy has become famous for its long “Chicken Fight” scenes between Peter and a giant Chicken, but in the lead-up to that inevitable battle in the game, there’s an entire level that is a pastiche of the movie Alien but with chickens instead of the fearsome Xenomorphs. Unfortunately, the famed Chicken Fight that follows is the weakest there’s been yet.
Even though the game is stretching out many of its jokes and episodes into full on levels, that does at least show a commitment to putting in stuff for the fans. Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is packed with references, cameos, familiar faces, and cheeky references for fans of the show, even though it never does indulge in the show’s trademark cutaway gags at any point. It’s even got really nice small touches like the pause menu music cycling through various covers of the credits song that have appeared throughout the show’s history. Unfortunately, the bulk of the game is made up of throwbacks, repetition of jokes from the show, and voice lines clipped of their context and forced in wherever they could almost fit. Stewie picking up a health pack and saying “Ah, the breakfast thing…” bereft of any meaning is a poor way of referencing the show and doesn’t work even if you know the original context. Characters like Peter, Adam West, and Lois make appearances with some new lines, but they mostly just cycle through the same ones from the show whether or not they work. There is some new content of course, and Stewie and Brian have interesting and sometimes fun interactions as the plot progresses, but they mostly get to say new things because they’re the main playable characters. Unfortunately, it gets to the point where they will repeat certain lines as the game wears on, just adding to the diminished appeal of the references to the show. Most references are at least unique to levels so you’re not always slogging through repetition, but the game really should have done a lot more original and tried to be more funny on its own like the Futurama game did.
Speaking of the Futurama game, the presentation of Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse shares a sin with that game, the previous Family Guy games, and some Spongebob Squarepants titles. Game makers have been struggling to make a cartoon style work in 3D for a while and they usually end up with odd looking but functional designs. The design works well enough on background characters and basic enemies, but the weirder designs come out looking pretty poor, and since Brian and Stewie both have pretty odd designs, they don’t really look the best. The levels at least look visually interesting, sending you down a path through many uniquely designed locations that feel different despite being extensions of stuff from the television series. The chicken level again really delves deep into some creative design and interesting and funny scenery, and while not every level matches that, they at least feel pretty different as you play and help the gameplay from feeling as repetitive as it actually is.
Yes, we’ve gotten pretty far into this without even mentioning the gameplay, but that’s mostly because the gameplay is pretty plain. It’s a third person shooting game where you can switch between either Brian and Stewie at any time, Brian using real world weapons like pistols, sniper rifles, and shotguns while Stewie relies on sci-fi gadgets like ray guns and explosives like rocket launchers and satchel charges. They do dip into more eccentric weaponry if you buy extra weapons from the store and you do have a melee weapon and a set of extra items that can help in special ways, but none of the guns really feels different from typical shooter fare and few situations really require creative combat approaches. As for what you’re shooting, the levels at least theme their enemies appropriately, but they’re all pretty brain dead and won’t put up much of a fight except in large numbers. Many of them can be disposed of with a quick headshot and they attack so slowly you’ll have time to line it up without fear of taking damage. Some will run at you to try and get in a strike and others will stand in place and shoot, and you can usually deal with either by moving around a little and firing, with even the bosses usually requiring little intelligence to overcome. Death is not a worry at all (although you can play as him in the multiplayer). Enemies do little damage and healing is often abundant with pick-ups reappearing quickly, and if you do die… you lose a little money and come back 3 seconds later with the world exactly as you left it. Money stops being a concern before death even has a chance to really crop up, with the shop offering very little to buy and money becoming overabundant once you’ve cleared out what you can get.
I actually wouldn’t say the levels are terrible to play despite this. There’s enough to do to keep you moving forward and while the enemies aren’t too challenging, they’re fun to pick off with whatever gun strikes your fancy. Strangely though, the game does have a multiplayer mode that seems to have quite a bit of effort and thought put into it, not that it seems like a multiplayer mode anyone would ever choose over those in more polished and refined games. Strangely, some of the much more creative weapons and items are locked to multiplayer, such as Lois’s Salad Tosser which is essentially a shotgun that fires more like a flamethrower or Death’s Hex Circle that fires out a trap across the ground you can detonate at any time. While the guns and navigation make it through the single-player’s short duration without growing too stale, multiplayer deathmatches, despite the unique skills that should have been in the single-player, will reveal the limits of the generic gameplay in short measure. Besides the multiplayer, you can also find that out through a challenge mode or trying to achieve the optional objectives in stages, as they are all based mostly around repeating the same things you’ve been doing elsewhere but without anything changed enough to make the challenge interesting.
THE VERDICT: There is a stigma against licensed video games for a reason, and Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is a pretty good example of the issues these games face. Leaning way too hard on parroting the source material, Back to the Multiverse hardly brings anything new to experience, electing to instead pack itself to the brim with familiar moments and jokes to appeal to the kind of people who just want to see something they liked from the show. When it comes to the gameplay, it’s a typical affair, with the shooting doing what it needs to and the levels providing enough enemies and platforming challenges to keep it from getting slow. The designers put in enough interesting objectives and moments so that they can claim they were trying to make a proper game rather than a cash-in, and as such, they only succeed in making a game that feels pretty much exactly like your prototypical licensed title.
And so, I give Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse for the Playstation 3…
A BAD rating. A lack of originality was the game’s biggest flaw, but it is incredibly faithful to the show despite leaning too hard into it at times. The action may be easy but it’s not totally boring, but it does eventually reach the same point of robotic repetition as games like Touch the Dead. Very few universes overstay their welcome and some even have parts that make them feel quite different, but nothing ever gives it the edge needed to claw itself out of mediocrity. The humor won’t make you bust a gut even if you don’t recognize it as ripped straight from the source and the shooting won’t satisfy any visceral thrills even before it gets rote. People who don’t like the show have no real reason to play it, but even though it draws on the entirety of Family Guy up to the creation of the game, it doesn’t do many of the things later seasons did that alienated some of its audience. The multiplayer is certainly tacked on, essentially just taking the main game’s gameplay but replacing the enemies with other people. Overall though, while Back to the Multiverse isn’t offensively bad, it still reeks of the many pitfalls licensed games slip into these days.
As said earlier, it’s just enough of a game that it’s clear people actually put a bit of thought into the gameplay rather than coasting on the license, but the focus of the game is definitely the callbacks to episodes of the show. Considering how much Family Guy relies on the line “Remember that time when…” to set up its cutaway gags, it’s pretty appropriate that a video game adaptation is essentially designed to make you remember moments from the show more than anything.