"...much of its value comes from its humor and its reverence for the original films."
The Back to the Future series is one of the most beloved in all of cinematic history – a trilogy of science fiction/comedy/action films that reach across generations and manage to remain relevant even today, twenty-six years after the first film's release. Its timelessness is now more apparent than ever, given the recent release on Blu-ray of the original trilogy as well as the release of Back to the Future: The Game: Episode 1.
In recent years, Telltale has built something of a reputation taking established settings and characters and crafting engaging adventure games around them, so it gave me some degree of pleasure to hear they would be taking the DeLorean for a spin. On that note, I'm happy to report that the team most definitely has hit 88 miles per hour. They've crafted a fun (if somewhat easy) romp through a beloved world that stays mostly true to the classic films.
The game opens with a sequence I can only describe as awesome – players relive the first test drive of the time machine from the point of view of Marty's video camera. The sequence plays out exactly the same as it did in the original film, and serves as a tutorial to the game's mechanics. The developers clearly had a lot of fun with this sequence, and the conversation choices allow players to react to the fact that things may or may not be playing out as they remember them from the films.
After the opening, the game jumps to a few months after the close of Back to the Future: Part III and shows Marty McFly, distraught over Doc Brown's disappearance since the end of the film. Evidently marriage has driven thoughts of paying the bills from Doc's mind, since the bank is foreclosing on his place and selling off all of his stuff. Marty shows up to stop series antagonist Biff Tannen from rifling from through Doc's goods and taking anything of value. A few minutes later, the DeLorean shows up with Doc's loyal canine at the wheel, and the real events of the game are set into motion.
The story plays out enjoyably, and much of its value comes from its humor and its reverence for the original films. There are countless in-jokes and slight nods to the movies, and the new characters and content are funny and fit in well. Purists should note that the game is a bit cartoon-like and slightly more unrealistic – the solution to one particular puzzle near the end strains credulity (beyond the already stretched limits of the films).
The voices are spot-on, and as has been widely reported already, AJ Locascio knocks Marty McFly out of the park. He is nearly indistinguishable from Michael J. Fox, and he and the voice team deserve credit for really capturing the essence of the Marty character. Christopher Lloyd turns in a great performance as Doc Brown, and though he certainly sounds a bit wearier for his age, he manages to bring that eccentric energy that makes Doc such a lovable character. The rest of the players are well-voiced, although the actor playing George McFly's tone comes off as overly placating. Still, even his voice work is by no means bad.
The graphics are in an animated style that, while rather conservative, is colorful and serves the game well. The characters are detailed and express emotions well, and the backgrounds are easy to navigate and showcase their respective time periods well. The music is unobtrusive and seems to have been culled almost entirely from the films, which is great for authenticity, and gives the action scenes a very Back to the Future flavor.
The game is a classic point-and-click adventure, in which Marty must talk to characters and find items in order to work toward his current goal. The puzzles are fun and keep the player involved, despite being painfully easy. The interface is simple, but certain aspects do occasionally frustrate. To use an item, a player must enter the inventory, scroll one at a time through their items, select the item, and then click on whoever or whatever they want to use it on. The issue is that when players accidentally click the wrong object, the cursor resets and they must return to the item menu to select the correct item, which is somewhat tedious given the number of times it can come up in a single play-through, which will last somewhere in the vicinity of three hours.
Additionally, having played both the PS3 version and the PC version of the game, it seems that the movement controls were developed with consoles and analog sticks in mind. Moving Marty around in the PC version with a mouse is irritating and clumsy – players must click and drag the pointer in the direction they want him to move. This isn't a problem on the very few static screens in the game, but the majority of the areas feature some camera scrolling as well as some camera angle and depth changes. On these screens, it's easy to get Marty turned around or walking in the wrong direction. Fortunately, the game includes keyboard controls which, while not as precise as an analog stick, are much better than the mouse option. The game isn't timing-based or action-heavy, and Marty can't die, so control problems aren't a game-breaker, but they are irritating and stand out as the only real issue in the PC version of the game.
Whether or not players will like this game is very dependent on whether or not they like the Back to the Future films. Since everyone should like those films, this shouldn't be an issue, but it is important to know. The game is fun, but relies heavily on its characters and players' knowledge of the movies for many of its jokes and references. The controls on PC are a bit frustrating, but by no means ruin the experience. Also, the value is pretty solid – $24.99 for five episodes, and if they each clock in around three hours like this one, that's $25 for fifteen hours of well-produced BttF. In the end, Telltale has crafted a solid, true-to-the-movies experience. It's not perfect, but Back to the Future fans will eat it up.