For many a Sunday night Fox TV watcher, Matt Groening’s un-indelible animated show Futurama has become a staple in their weekly viewing schedule. Sadly, the show that could never be The Simpsons has recently been cancelled and quietly swept under the rug. For those who will greatly miss Fry, Bender, and the rest of the shticky personalities of the show, Futurama the videogame may be just the swan song they need to experience in order to be granted closure. Futurama for the PS2 and Xbox serves up an all-original “lost” episode while delivering plenty of gameplay elements and environments that should be instantly familiar to fans. Unfortunately, the game just isn’t fun.
In keeping with the spirit of the series, Futurama features all the characters found in the show, though only a handful of them are actually playable. You’ll begin the game as Fry, work your way to Bender, then onto Leela, and finally Dr. Zoidberg. Thankfully, the voice actors from the TV show reprise their respective roles here along with the actual script writers, infusing the game with that unmistakable Futurama sense of style and humor that is completely unique to the show. While the gameplay may not be worth a damn, plenty of players will surely want to drudge their way through the game just to unlock all the cut-scenes, which, all accounted, make up about 30 solid minutes of true-to-form Futurama goodness.
It’s quite disappointing that the levels and goals in Futurama are so generic. The top-of-the-line production values that the cast and crew of the show have donated to the game makes the rest of the experience pale terribly in comparison. More often than not, you’ll be charged with bone-headedly simple tasks such as collecting items and mindlessly blasting enemies away until the level comes to a merciful close. Each playable character in Futurama controls similarly, though not to the point that it makes a tremendous difference. There are a few interesting stages that include vehicles and such, but they are few and far in between. The only bright spot of the game’s simplistic gameplay is the fact that casual gamers who also happen to be diehard fans of the show will have no trouble jumping right into the game, though gamers of almost any skill level will inevitably grow frustrated with Futurama’s lackluster gameplay.
If the straightforward and repetitive levels aren’t enough to make you hang up your hat before witnessing the game’s excellent story elements, then the sludgy, unresponsive camera system will. I don’t know how many times I suffered needless damage or outright died due to the camera getting hung up on a claustrophobic corner while enemies ruthlessly blasted me away. What’s more is that the automatic targeting system doesn’t play favorites between threatening enemies and harmless, breakable background objects. You can theoretically switch targets on the fly, but most will find that this option is rarely, if ever, adequately effective. The game always places enemies in the same location in every level, and while this can easily be chocked up to uninspired programming, it is actually a good thing since you’ll eventually memorize exactly where you should be focusing your attention when replaying a level.
As dull and unwieldy as the levels and gameplay are in Futurama, I simply had to keep playing just to soak in all the hilarious visual set pieces, dialogue and cut-scenes. The cut-scenes are rendered in-game using the same style of cel-shading found throughout the rest of the experience, but they are so well choreographed they seem ripped right out of the show. The developers admirably blended 3D cel-shading with the trademark look and feel of the show, complete with spot-on lip syncing, subtle body language, and easily-missed nuances that make watching it such a treat. The environments you’ll run around in are also meticulously detailed and true-to-form, making each new stage at least initially entertaining.
The aural presentation is equally up to snuff as the visuals. As previously mentioned, every character is voiced by their respective small-screen counterparts, and not just phoned in performances, either: the voice acting found throughout the game is of the same high quality fans have come to expect from the show. To further compliment the excellent voice acting is a genuinely hilarious script from which the voice actors play off of. Even more accurate a dialogue depiction than the excellent Simpsons: Hit & Run, Futurama benefits greatly from Matt Groening and company’s dedication to off-the-wall humor.
It’s a crying shame that Futurama the videogame is the last we’ll see of Matt Groening’s pet project. A show that has miraculously survived through low ratings and critical bashing for as long as it has deserves a better finale than this. That said, Futurama is still worth checking out, if only as a rental, just to bust a gut over the hilarious cut-scenes. Fans of the show will find a lot to like here but those looking for something fun to play will want to look elsewhere.