Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse isn’t quite terrible, but it is an utterly, persistently mediocre videogame. It’s a functional, empty and drab little adventure that ignores almost everything that’s happened in the past fifteen years of game development: it could almost be an HD port of a budget PlayStation 1 game. Fanatical Family Guy fans may find the odd moment to enjoy here – though that’s unlikely - but this unquestionably should have been an Xbox Live Arcade game instead of a full-price boxed release. One thing’s for damn sure though: it ain’t funny.
The plot is some witless gobbledygook about the return of a character named Bertrand (Stewie Griffin’s evil doppelganger in the TV show) and a couple of remote controls that double-up as time machines. Bertrand wants to kill Stewie and Brian Griffin, and they, in turn, need to stop him. A journey ensues (for absolutely no reason) and the locations that you’ll visit include an Amish village and a hospital that specialises in treating the physically disabled. In terms of tone, the game starts as it means to go on: with a battle between high school jocks and nerds. The jocks are all hyper-violent, homophobic thugs and the nerds are allergic to everything and can’t handle polite conversation. Ho ho. Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse clearly wants to party like its 1981.
This is a third-person shooter, and a pretty damn ropey one at that. The weapons are all weightless, the enemies collectively set a benchmark for NPC stupidity and the levels are all quite shockingly dull. In fact, despite the fact that the only thing that your assailants ever do is rush blindly towards you, the environments are the worst part of the package. This is a painfully linear and repetitive game – go somewhere, speak to someone, get an objective, follow the waypoint, repeat – and the maps are designed solely to lock you in. You’re not allowed to experiment with multiple paths even when multiple paths are actually available, so your progress is endlessly stifled and you’re subsequently forced to traipse back to where you came from. It’s possible to spend 30 seconds or more walking towards an objective, before realising that you can’t get beyond the car (or gate or fence or corn field) that’s blocking you in. The only way that these maps would be successful is if they appeared in a Tony Hawk game. There are plenty of straight, conjoined surfaces to grind on.
There are unlocks – weapons and costumes, mainly – but some of them can’t be accessed until you’ve completed specific missions in the campaign... which is bizarre when you consider how frequently you’re ushered towards the in-game store. You can upgrade a few of your attributes there – health, ammunition and weaponry – but that’s it.
It is definitely worth mentioning again how staggeringly repetitive the gameplay is. On one level you’re asked to wander around a barren environment to flick three switches. As soon as you’re finished, you’re then instantly pushed into an identical level so that you can do exactly the same thing all over again. There’s no variety or invention whatsoever, and it often feels like a game that was designed primarily by a computer.
There are a few cursory multiplayer modes – Deathmatches, Capture The Flag rip-offs and a boring-as-hell Horde-type thing – but they’re even more dull than the campaign, and are all offline only.
Needless to say this isn’t a pretty game, but it’s not ugly either: it’s just barren. The levels are so bare that it truly feels like an XBLA release (it resembles the most recent Naughty Bear game, actually) but technically speaking, it’s fine.
On a side note, the audio is particularly poor. The opening level especially – the one featuring the house party and the tiresome jocks Vs nerds plotline – conveys the hustle and bustle of a thriving house party with nothing more than a few mumbling voices; mumbling voices which are so loud and poorly mixed that if you’ve got a decent home cinema set-up, you’ll momentarily think are coming from beneath your coach. That is creepy, and represents one of the game’s only surprises.
What’s more, aging ex-Batman Adam West lends his vocal talents to this sorry enterprise, and the guy sounds disinterested and downright exhausted. Which speaks volumes.
I laughed once during Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse, and it was because I’d sat idly in a closed area for too long, which resulted in my character being bombarded at once by about ten irate men in wheelchairs. The actual, intentional humour is either crass, obvious, sexist or homophobic, and even hardcore fans of the show will baulk at just how flat some of the “comedy” really is. One of the only things that stops Back to the Multiverse from being truly detestable is the fact that it seems to know precisely how bad it is. If you fail during a boss battle - and you will, simply because they’re so sloppily designed – when you re-spawn you won’t be forced to re-do anything: you can simply grind away, die repeatedly, and you’ll still eventually get the job done. Anyone could complete this game. I’m not sure that anyone should.