There are two kinds of people that will buy Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse: One of them is a diehard Evil Monkey-spotting, Ernie the Chicken-battling, Mayor West-voting devotee of the series. That is, the true believers, those that can’t get enough of Seth McFarlane and his animated concoctions. The others are people buying this game for these true believers this holiday season, not knowing that they’re going to give these loved ones a short, hollow experience that they may only bleed kernels of fun out of while blasted on granny’s eggnog on the couch with the cousins.
The game's primary objective is clearly Family Guy fan-service. The single-player game opens with the television show’s familiar title sequence, and new animated scenes voiced by the series’ cast help structure it like an actual episode. While not animated by hand, the cel-shaded graphics produce a reasonable enough facsimile of the look of the show with a few dropped polygons here and there, making some characters look a little bland since there wasn’t really much in their design to begin with.
But the humor generally falls on its face without the trademark cutaways and flashbacks found on a weekly episode. Banter between Stewie and Brian (who are the only characters available to play in single-player) is generally fine, as it is on the show, but once you get passed the cut-scenes and into the actual game, you’ll find that almost all of the voice work and sound effects are lifted from old episodes, and some of them with spotty quality of sound. Most are old-timey gems, like “All I need is a midget and some gin and I’ll be in business!” but said with such recurrence that you’ll want to sucker punch anyone that utters it to you again.
Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is clearly just fan-service.
The single-player campaign is blessedly short but irritatingly redundant, which is a shame since it’s the sole reason to play the game. You follow evil half-brother Bertram through a variety of separate universes tied together by the Multiverse Remote, made famous from the season 8 episode “Road to the Multiverse.” This is a pretty good setup for making an animated family comedy into a third-person shooter: Levels have their own separately wacky themes like being overrun with fraternity brothers or ruled by Santa Claus-turned-arms manufacturer. Sadly, most of them don’t vary the gameplay beyond going from point A to B--to kill enemies, flip a switch, or variations thereof--and can be completed in roughly four or five hours. Collectable items are strewn around each environment to pad out secondary objectives, but these are only used to unlock a small list of extra costumes and weapons for the rest of the single-player mode and may only add another hour or two to the experience tops.
If anything, it feels like something of a facsimile to the older Lego Star Wars games. Most objectives are clear cut and straight forward, there is a very minimal penalty for death (except right at the end of the game, which spikes the difficulty out of nowhere), and the only real point is to finish the game’s story with unlockables dangling over your head like a carrot. Thankfully, the humor is there for those looking for it, because after you’re finished with the campaign, there’s very little reason to keep going back. The co-op and competitive multiplayer modes are limited to mostly small areas of individual levels, robbing them of much of the complexity of other multiplayer third-person shooters. Conspicuously, they are also all offline.
But let’s just call that a metaphor for the game as a whole--reminiscing on Family Guy’s past triumphs. None of the key features really hold up compared to other shooters, save for the appearance of Seth McFarlane and his crew of writers and actors. Even then, this would have made for a weakly written episode of the show. If it were down to a night with your buddies in front of the TV with a few drinks, then it would make for an alright rental. Conversely, if you really love this show, you’ll find the host of references and in-jokes found in the levels hilarious and almost gratifying. But, there are a lot of great games you could buy with the money that Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse will cost you this holiday season. You'd probably be better off playing one of those.
This review was conducted using the Xbox 360 version of the game.