Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse Hands On
Developer: Heavy Iron Studios / Publisher: Activision / Platforms: Xbox 360 / Release Date: September 25, 2012 / ESRB: Not Yet Rated
I should start this out by admitting that I’m not a true Family Guy fan. That’s not to say that I can’t appreciate the world of Peter Griffin and the rest of the gang from Quahog, Rhode Island. In fact, when the show first debuted way back in 1998, I couldn’t get enough. But having left high school 12 years ago, my tastes have changed. These days, I have a harder time getting into the over-the-top, super-offensive brand of humor that’s Family Guy’s trademark. I’ll still laugh when my buddies quote the latest episode or if I catch a random clip while flipping channels, but—long story short—I’m just not what you’d call a devotee of the show.
So when I visited Activision’s office in Minneapolis a few weeks ago to see the pre-release build of Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse, I made sure to try and keep an open mind about what they’d be showing me. While I don’t think I’m quite in the game’s target audience, fans of the show should have plenty here to sink their teeth into.
Back to the Multiverse takes its inspiration and title from a season eight episode called “Road to the Multiverse,” in which evil baby genius Stewie and talking dog Brian zap their way through alternate universes filled with various versions of the show’s cast of characters and, of course, plenty of bizarre gags and pop culture references. Activision and developer Heavy Iron took that premise and ran with it, setting each of the ten levels in a different universe cooked up just for the game. It’s a third-person shoot-em-up in which players take control of either Brian or Stewie, who each have their own special weapons and play-styles. In single-player campaigns, players can swap out each character with the tap of a button, or two friends can team up for cooperative local multiplayer action.
In terms of the larger story at hand, Stewie’s evil half-brother, Bertram, has invented a universe-switching remote similar to the one Stewie possessed in “Road to the Multiverse.” Because Stewie is forced to kill Bertram in a later episode within the show’s continuity, this alternate-reality Bertram hunts the baby Griffin across the multiverse, trying to snuff out all versions of Stewie with hired henchmen native to each alternate reality. To fight back, Stewie teams up with Brian, and the two run and gun their way through skewed versions of Quahog.
In addition to the game’s basis on “Road to the Multiverse,” each individual episode also springs from other episodes of the series, meaning that the game is full of in-jokes and franchise references. It’s been revealed that there’s going to be a level where the world is run by frat guys, with another level dominated by the Amish. During my visit with Activision, they showed me only one level, called “Handicapable,” based on the season five episode, “No Meals on Wheels.” In case you haven’t seen it, Peter and his wheelchair-bound friend Joe get into a fight over rights for the disabled, which eventually leads to the formation of the unfortunately named “Crippletron” robot. “Handicapable” takes that premise to the nth degree. Said associate producer Alex Knight:
“The handicapped people have kind of taken over this universe. They were given too much special treatment, so they have banished the people on two legs.”
As a result, the environments throughout the level reflect the new status quo, like advertisements for a strip joint showcasing some “crutch and wheelchair action,” as Knight puts it. Here, Bertram has hired an army of enemies on wheels and others toting crutches—and the crutches, naturally, are guns. And it wouldn’t be Family Guy without pushing insensitivity to the limit: the infamous Crippletron robot makes its appearance as the end-level boss, of course.
To aid them in their quest against Bertram (and political correctness), Brian and Stewie have character-specific weapons that they can use to kill everyone in sight. Stewie, being a mad genius, has science-fiction-style lasers and disruptor pistols, while Brian relies on more traditional firearms like machine guns. The two can also enter a kind of “overdrive mode”: Stewie chugs orange soda to move at hyperspeed, while Brian just gets drunk and starts shooting at anything that moves.
Seth MacFarlane himself provides voices for the two lead characters, while Patrick Warburton reprises his role as Joe. Activision wouldn’t confirm whether or not the legendary Wallace Shawn would make a return appearance as Bertram, but considering that he worked on the 2006 Family Guy title from 2K Games, I’d say there’s a good bet that he and the rest of the cast should be back as well. And voice acting isn’t the only area in which Heavy Iron’s devotion to the show’s aesthetic is on display. Back to the Multiverse features cel-shaded 3D graphics that do solid justice to the unique animation style of the series. Two writers from the show penned the game’s script, which had to earn final approval from MacFarlane before it was used. In terms of Family Guy fidelity, it’s about as official as it gets.
Of course, none of that means much if the game doesn’t play well. While I didn’t have a chance to take the controller myself, it looked as though Back to the Multiverse would give trigger-happy gamers a fun time. There are always plenty of enemies swarming in, and the characters’ seemingly extensive arsenals look to keep the action going. The drop-in/drop-out, two-player cooperative play also spices up the gameplay. Knight assured me that the difficulty of the campaign ramps up or down to match the number of players, and that there’s plenty of opportunities for players to grief each other should they so choose—yet another example of the show’s Stewie/Brian rivalry coming into play.
I was also told that there’ll be multiplayer deathmatch modes—again, all local—that offer playable unlockable characters like the rest of the Griffin family, not to mention other series regulars who have yet to be announced.
All in all, I think fans of the show should have a good time with Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse when it’s released next month. The big question, of course, is just how much of a fan are you? And, perhaps more importantly, how badly do you want to shoot a giant, malevolent Crippletron with a cannon?