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Family Guy
Graphics: 7.2
Gameplay: 5.4
Sound: 7.3
Control: 4.9
Replay Value: 3
Rating: 5.7
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: High Voltage Software
Number Of Players: 1 Player

As one of the funniest and most popular shows on television, "Family Guy" has acquired hordes of fans nationwide. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before the crazy Griffin clan hit the video game market, because expansion immediately follows widespread popularity. The show could offer a strangely unique foundation for a game, perhaps better suiting the interactive venue than something like "The Simpsons." On the other hand, Family Guy is a game based on a TV show, which essentially means one thing: even fans of the show shouldn’t get too excited.

Fortunately, however, we approach everything with an open mind, and the graphics rewarded us immediately...well, to a point, anyway. In all honesty, fans of the show wouldn’t want anything that didn’t look exactly like what they see on TV, but that’s not necessarily an easy task. High Voltage has managed to reproduce the colorful, wacky atmosphere of "Family Guy" without losing much in the way of authenticity. The detail and refinement may be lacking in most areas and there’s really nothing impressive here, but it’s better than one might expect. All in all, it looks very much like the show, and while there certainly could’ve been more polish, the presentation works well.

The sound is another pleasant aspect of this game, although it’s less of a surprise. We figured that, if the developers would be able to use the show’s voice actors, Family Guy should sound great. The quick, edgy dialogue separates the show from the rest of the crowd, so we really needed Brian’s dry humor, Peter’s ignorance, and Stewie’s scathing insults to make the game shine. Thankfully, we got them, and while the accompanying soundtrack doesn’t shine with equal brightness, the music fits the atmosphere. It’s a lot of quirky tunes combined with the voiceovers, and hey, what more could we really ask for?

There are a number of ways they could’ve approached the Family Guy game, but they ultimately decided to go with a disjointed story drawn together by three playable characters and their own individual quests. You will bounce back and forth between Stewie, Bryan, and Peter, all the while following Stewie’s pursuit of world domination, Bryan’s undercover investigation of who really impregnated Seabreeze, and Peter’s madcap Streets of Rage spree. Throughout, you will utilize everything from pure stealth to all-out action, and even some puzzle elements in between. Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it?

Well, it is. Kinda. The game kicks off on a promising note as you take control of Stewie, who is looking for enough machine parts to make his ray blaster operational. In the meantime, he’s got the Mind Ray, which you’ll be forced to use on Lois to get out of the house. This is the kind of thing we had hoped to see from this game, but unfortunately, it’s not the fun factor that increases with gameplay; it’s the repetitiveness and tediousness. In fact, after Brian’s continuous – and mostly lackluster – stealth missions, you’re just about ready to quit. But as one saving grace, you switch over to Peter and his takin'-it-to-the-streets beat-'em-up philosophy just in time. Walloping children and senior citizens is always a good way to counter stealth.

But the control for all three characters leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, each Griffin has a few specific abilities (Stewie’s balloons for gliding, Brian’s sneaky crawling, and Peter’s combo moves), but it all boils down to some slippery and somewhat erratic control. And when you factor in the environment, which sometimes isn’t very forgiving – okay, where exactly is that platform’s edge? – simply moving around and conquering tasks can be a problem. Going all Double Dragon with Peter is especially irritating, as targeting foes with his flurry of attacks is often too challenging due to the overly-sensitive control scheme.

Stewie’s little blaster is equally frustrating for the very same reasons, and only Brian doesn’t seem to suffer from the same issues...probably because he’s always sneaking around looking for clues in the police department. And that brings us to the next aspect of Family Guy that revolves around the interesting interaction format, which is similar to something like "Pulp Fiction." We shift back and forth between the characters, all of whom are in different locations and pursuing different things. But it’s just too bad we’re often doing very similar things, over and over, with all the Griffins, and we certainly aren’t allowed any sort of exploration.

The game’s linearity isn’t a negative point, though, simply because you are following a particular set of stories. And even though they’re completely silly and hardly engrossing, this is a show based on a cartoon, after all. Besides, when the designers put a lot of effort into constantly providing the gamer with recognizable pieces of various "Family Guy" episodes, we don’t care as much about a cohesive storyline. The evil monkey in Chris’ bedroom makes an appearance, as do the skulls in Peter’s bed, Brian’s fear of the vacuum cleaner, Death, Stewie’s arch-nemesis, and more than a few character-specific catch phrases ("Oh, you bastard!" starts to wear on you, though).

So you should be at least mildly entertained throughout, but things just get too tiresome, too quickly. If they had instituted more playable characters in more scenarios, or had each character capable of more in a variety of situations, there would’ve been more to cheer about. The control is a constant issue, even though it never entirely cripples the gameplay, and the camera is hardly a big bonus. It’s only slightly controllable during certain missions, like Brian’s stealth sections, and entirely fixed in other areas. In general, all of this combines to form a less-than-compelling title, and we’re left wondering "what if" after almost every level.

But at the same time, it’s not a terrible game, and in truth, Family Guy has a lot going for it. It will likely satisfy fans of the show with its solid humor, familiar environment, and diverse gameplay. And of course, this game is geared very specifically towards the fans, so it probably won’t appeal to other gamers, anyway. Considering that, and considering just how accessible and charming most of the adventure is, we can’t give Family Guy an automatic thumbs-down. It’s not a game we’ll recommend to anyone but the fans, though, and from a critic’s standpoint, there are plenty of glaring flaws.

In the end, you’re not looking at something that will sweep the 2006 Game of the Year awards, but then again, it basically meets our expectations. Family Guy won’t last you very long – maybe 4-6 hours – but for the most part, the ever-changing palette of gameplay styles and top-notch Griffin comedy remains appealing throughout. You only wish they had followed through on their good idea; it seems as if High Voltage simply stopped at about 60% of the idea’s full potential. Somehow, it was both fun and completely forgettable at the same time.


12/21/2006   Ben Dutka