Review: Back to the Future: the Game Episodes 1 & 2
It’s difficult to put into words what the Back to the Future films mean to me. I’ve seen the first movie in theaters twice, once when a local indie theater acquired an original print and last year during the 25th anniversary rerelease. I also own the 25th anniversary blu-ray trilogy and have watched that thing back and forth. Every single time any of the three films would come on TV I’d stop whatever I was doing to sit down and watch them until the credits. I love Back to the Future.
This game was essentially made for me. Telltale took my favorite film series and squeezed it into my favorite game genre like a pair of the most comfortable pants in the world. This in no way means I’ll go easy on the title. In fact I may be the game’s harshest critic. If we fans are anything, it’s fickle. Take a beloved property and try to continue the story or change our favorite characters in any way and it better be perfect or we’ll be let loose like a pack of wild dogs. Joss Whedon was able to revive the short-lived but loved show Firefly with the film Serenity to much fanfare. When George Lucas tries something similar with a prequel to everyone’s favorite trilogy to extend the universe, he instantly loses the respect of millions. Working on a nerd property is a tight rope to walk, but some can pull it off. Is Telltale one of the companies who knows how to do it right? Find out after the jump.
Right off the bat the tone of the films is emulated perfectly. The introduction of the DeLorean time machine from the first Back to the Future film is recreated in the game’s opening and it seems taken right from the movie. Plenty of games are called cinematic these days but I think the word perfectly describes the look and feel of this game and it’s due in no small part to the wonderful voice acting. Christopher Lloyd, Doc Brown from the movies, returns to his role and sounds like he wrapped production of BTTF3 yesterday. If I didn’t know better I’d believe A. J. LoCascio’s Marty McFly was Michael J. Fox who’d actually time travelled here from 1985 and until the credits rolled in episode one I actually did think James Arnold Taylor’s young Doc Brown voice was a pitched up Christopher Lloyd.
Once again Doc suffers an untimely death in the past and Marty must travel through time to find out why and stop his murder. This time it’s in the early 1930’s, which isn’t much earlier than the present time (Marty’s present of 1986 anyway), and we get to see some familiar faces. One of these faces happens to be Doctor Emmett Brown himself at the age of 17. Young Doc fills a similar role to Marty’s dad from the first BTTF film. Rather than convince him to kiss his crush Lorraine Baines at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance, Marty must get Emmett to embrace his love of science so they can help old Doc out of prison where he’s been locked away after being framed for arson.
The game plays just as you’d expect a Telltale game to. It’s a point and click adventure title with lots of conversation trees and puzzles. For the most part the puzzles are inventive and fun. Throughout episode one each new segment had some kind of hook to keep my attention and move me through the story. I hit a few walls where the solution wasn’t so obvious but the game’s robust hint system really helps. And it keeps the player away from the classic adventure game strategy of walking around town and rubbing the contents of your pockets against every clickable object you come across. There are even a couple action sequences that had me on the edge of my seat. It didn’t matter that it’s an adventure game and nothing has a time limit and there’s no real sense of urgency, I felt it through the game’s wonderful presentation. Episode two’s puzzles get a little worse.
Some can be downright boring and clunky. In one instance I had to interrogate a drunken policeman at a bar while a woman sang on stage. I had to use the music to manipulate his mood so he’d talk to me. If he was sad and needed to be happy Marty had to walk across the room to make her sing a happy song. When he had a secret to tell me I had to make sure she was singing a secret song. When he was too happy and needed to be sad she had to be singing a sad song. This just prolonged what could have been a quick expositional scene and really showed that not every sequence needed to be a puzzle. And more than a few puzzles are solved simply by handing Einstein an object to sniff so he can lead me right to whatever I was looking for.
The adventure is also very linear. Some may see that as an issue, but I think Back to the Future: the Game accomplishes exactly what it sets out to. Not everything with optional dialogue needs to be Mass Effect. There are a few different dialogue trees that can take you down different paths. The writing is so rich and silly that I was going through every possible combination to hear everything. And the game is fully voice acted (did I mention how great those guys are?). A few decisions will change the dialogue like choosing Marty’s name from a list of pop culture references, not including Calvin Kline or Clint Eastwood. But when I got to episode two everyone seemed to have forgotten my name and were calling me random things from the list. Though that’s also the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from Telltale now.
Sure it’s a little buggy, and the graphics aren’t gorgeous, but we let it slide because it’s a Telltale game. As popular as they’ve become, Telltale is still just a few notches above indie. And as long as their games remain so cheap they can cut all the corners they like as far as I’m concerned. Though Christopher Lloyd couldn’t have come cheap.
The game is filled with little in-jokes and nods to the film. In one early sequence Marty has to nose around Doc’s abandoned lab to make sure he hadn’t left anything dangerous lying around. Of course this was an excuse for fan-service and it absolutely worked. I had a huge smile on my face as I looked at all of Doc’s old clocks and messed with the automatic dog food machine. Later in the game I came across an empty stage and Marty jumped up to grab the microphone and sing a few lyrics from Johnny B. Goode.
I really can’t praise the game’s presentation enough and Back to the Future: the Game is worth picking up just for that. Any bugs you’ll find are negligible at the worst and a few boring, clunky segments are more than outweighed by the unbridled joy I felt during every other part of these two episodes. If you’re a fan of Back to the Future, adventure games, or anything Telltale has put out then you can’t go wrong with this title.
- Title: Back to the Future: the Game Episodes 1 & 2
- Platform Reviewed: Mac
- Publisher: Telltale Games
- Developer: Telltale Games
- Release Date: Episodically from December 22, 2010 to May 2011
- MSRP: $24.99
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.