Platforms: PS3 | Xbox 360 (previewed)
Developers: Heavy Iron Studios
If the thought of several hundred disabled cartoon characters bonding together to form an enormous Megazord called Crippletron renders your brow with more furrows than a farmer's field, you should probably stop reading this. In fact, if you like your humour to be an above-board, tasteful affair, sprinkled with witticisms, and family-friendly japery, turn around now and go back from whence you came.
This is not for you.
However, if you're a Family Guy fan, you're going to be in luck as Seth MacFarlane and the writers at Fuzzy Door have teamed up with Heavy Iron and Activision to bring us Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse. A parallel dimensional version of Stewie's half-brother Bertram has crafted a time-travelling device to help facilitate pan-dimensional evil, and has started amassing armies for some nefarious evil-doing. It's up to Brian and Stewie to dive into the Multiverse and stop Bertram's plans.
Back to the Multiverse takes the form or a run-and-gun third-person shooter, with ten levels in the game across eight varied universes. Seamless drop in-drop out co-op provides an opportunity for other players to leap into the fray, with the game's scalable difficulty upping the challenge if a second gamer jumps into the action. All of the primary actors are on board, and the cel-shaded aesthetics echo the visuals of the TV show superbly. There are sight gags galore, too many to take-in the first time through, and it's clear to see that Heavy Iron have really done their homework.
Our demo took us to the universe of the Handicapable. Here, the Statue of Liberty finds herself wheelchair-bound with a vacant expression on her face; all of the parking spaces are disabled; the neon signs at strip clubs along the street buzz with images of crippled strippers; yellow handicapped buses zip everywhere, delivering angry disabled drones looking to beat up Brian and Stewie, all the while groaning unintelligibly. The PC-car left ages ago.
Stewie fends off his foes with his trusty ray gun, while Brian has a more old-fashioned approach with a magnum in hand. He also has a broken bottle of Jack Daniels to use as a melee weapon should anyone come too close. Little buff items are littered around the area too, with sporadic portals allowing access to Stewie's armoury. Put a can of orange soda in Stewie's belly and he turns into a triple-speed demon, his little legs turning into a comical blur and his ray gun spitting bullets at a far higher rate. Chugging an ale gives Brian a damage bonus that sends his handicapable antagonists flying. Giant hickens can be dispatched to abuse enemies, and the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man can be deployed as a distraction to allow for sneaking past a heavily-guarded area.
To be honest, it was difficult to get a feel for any kind of mission structure beyond killing swathes of angry disabled folk. However, the developers skipped ahead to a battle with the Crippletron - the Voltron-esque construct seen in the “No Meals on Wheels” episode of Family Guy - that proved fairly anarchic and utterly baffling.
A turn at one of the Challenge modes, which sees Brian and Stewie confront the Amish, only served to underline the possibility that Back to the Multiverse's gameplay is simply a frame upon which to hang as many referential jokes as possible. In this particular level, the Amish have grown fed up with the tourists ruining their way of life and have held them hostage. AS Brian and Stewie, you're job is simple: kill as many Amish as possible without harming the hostages - shoot too many innocents and it's curtains.
There are little things that provoke a it of a giggle along the way, but nothing that we haven't seen before in a Family Guy episode from years ago. There's nothing fresh here, not in the parts of the game we saw anyway, and the action feels as though it could get very repetitive very quickly. When we asked what the developers had done to encourage replayability, the only answer we got was for the hidden jokes and new weapons. For some that might well be enough, but most I fear will be rather put off.
Heavy Iron have a solid track record when taking on licences, they've done a lot of work with the likes of Pixar and SpongeBob. Moreover, we're told that Seth MacFarlane, though not involved in the day to day aspects of the game, has the final word on everything. Make no mistake, the game looks, sounds, and feels utterly authentic; but the worry is that it might not be much of an actual game, especially at full retail price.
Heavy Iron and Activision have announced a traditional Deathmatch mode when it comes to multiplayer, alongside two additional multiplayer modes called Infiltration! and Multiverse Madness, and our demonstrator likened the setup to that of Counter-Strike - giving players the opportunity to spend money earned in multiplayer on new loadouts and upgrades at the start of each round of play. Though the game will support four players in local splitscreen, there won't be any online multiplayer option.
The game's out in September, so most of the pieces will be in place already, but we can't help but feel that unless you're a die-hard Family Guy fan, there'll be little to appreciate here. If you are, however, this might be exactly what you've been looking for.