2K Games stopped by our office with a final build of its upcoming action game based on Fox's Family Guy series, so we could see how well its developer, High Voltage, has managed to capture the series' irreverent and heavily referential brand of humor. The levels we got to see as part of our Family Guy demo were essentially the same ones we saw during our first look at the game a few weeks ago. Except this time, we actually got to play, which has to count for something. Just like the TV show, the game weaves three plotlines together--one each for Stewie, Brian, and Peter. In fact, we were surprised by how much playing the game felt like watching an episode, which actually shouldn't surprise us because many of the people responsible for the show had a hand in the creation of the game.
We first got a feel for the shooting and platforming gameplay in the levels that star Stewie, who's trying to prevent the theft of his trusty satellite dish at the hands of his nefarious infant half brother, Bertram. Stewie's armed with a basic ray gun at the outset, and you can lock onto enemies or pivot like a turret when necessary. Stewie can also upgrade his ray gun as you pick up collectible spare parts. Every 100 pickups, you'll be able to add an improved charge shot, grenades, an area blast, and heat-seeking missiles to your arsenal. As we mentioned in our last preview, you can also use the weapon to control other people when puzzles demand it. For example, we took control of Lois in order to unlock a door and controlled lascivious neighbor Mr. Quaqmire at the hospital to distract some pretty nurses while we fiddled with an MRI machine.
Family dog Brian has the most simplistic gameplay, from what we could tell, because he doesn't have any attacks; his levels are all about sneaking. We got to try Brian's first level, in which he has to split from the police station, and we had to tiptoe past a lineup of cells--each with inmates engaged in a variety of amusing situations. Next, we took a rather tense trip through the jailhouse shower room, replete with inmates, uh, frolicking among the suds. Brian is quite easy to control because you control his sneaking speed with the analog stick, so it seems like his levels will primarily be about watching enemy patterns and just running by when the coast is clear (as well as spotting all the jokes integrated into the backgrounds).
Finally, Peter's levels are side-scrolling brawlers in the style of Final Fight, complete with the flashing right arrow whenever you've cleared an area. It seems Peter has taken a few too many bumps on the head, and he's out to stop the maniacal Mr. Belvedere and his legions of evildoers. Uh, whatever. Anyway, Peter has punch-and-kick attacks, but oddly, only one of the two attacks will work on each enemy, so you have to pay attention to which moves you're using most of the time. There's also a snack meter that fills up as you scarf down the vittles dropped by enemies, and when it's full, you can make special moves, like a spin attack. The most amusing part of Peter's gameplay is that he'll continue to get bonked on the head throughout the game, so at one point he'll think he's a '70s blaxploitation star (and will don an afro and fight with kung fu), and later he'll think he's a fat Vegas prostitute and will use slaps and other catty maneuvers.
Family Guy will break up all three characters' levels with the occasional cutaway minigame, all of which are presented almost WarioWare-style. When the story demands it, the game will cut to a quick, humorous interlude that stars the currently playable character. For example, it may cut to Brian, trying to bury the only existing film reel of The Blair Fist Project, or to Peter, attempting to punch open a gigantic can of tuna--and then you'll have to hit the right buttons to complete the task. If you succeed, a number of rewards are available: Stewie will get free parts for his weapon upgrade; Peter will get a bonus to his snack bar; and Brian will get temporary invisibility. From what we saw, these cutaway games will provide some quick-hitting comedy and a good break in the action, especially because they happen without any loading time.
There was a ton of Family Guy-style humor packed into the few levels we saw. When we were mind-controlling Lois, we opened the wrong closet door to reveal a giant squid that was uncomfortably crammed inside. In the maternity ward of the hospital, we made Stewie jump on several pregnant women's stomachs to make them pop out babies (of all different races, along with green alien babies, Siamese twins, and miniature Quagmires) to distract a nurse. While sneaking Brian out of the police station, we encountered an evidence room, featuring tons of props and items that diehard fans will recognize from a number of different episodes. In short, it looks like the game will handily capture the same sort of flavor that has made the show popular enough to be resurrected from cancellation--not once, but twice.
In fact, it's quite worth pointing out for fans of Family Guy that the game was created fully under the auspices of the series' creators. The same writers who come up with ideas for the show wrote all of the dialogue here, and all the voice actors are here--even infrequent guest stars, like Adam Corolla as Death and Wallace Shawn as Bertram. High Voltage has also done an impressive job getting the game's real-time, cel-shaded cutscenes to look strikingly like the animation you'd see on TV, from the camera angles to the facial and body animations of the characters. The whole game seems to make a solid effort on the presentation front. It even features loading screens and music that mimic the establishing shots you'd see in the TV show just before it cuts to the wacky hijinks within the house.
Family Guy is looking like a solid action game that will appeal most fully to diehard fans of the TV show, but any action fan will probably appreciate its varied gameplay. The game is due out next week, so stay tuned for a full review.