REVIEWS -- Back to the Future: The Game - Episode I -- PC
A respectfully entertaining helping of fan service
by Jason Grade
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Rent
Its short length is indicative of the game’s episodic nature, but what it offers is very respectful of the source material.
Disclaimer: This review is written as of the release of Back to the Future The Game: Episode One. The future releases of the remaining episodes may change this review.
TellTale games has crafted themselves a wonderful little piece of fan service in Back to the Future: The Game. The game really does feel like a labor of love, as the developers clearly put a lot of time and effort into getting the details right and being as respectful to the source material as they could. Characters, environments, and props all look exactly as you’d expect them to (within the style of animation used), and the voices are mostly spot-on. The voice of Marty is replicated by the fantastic Marty McFly impressionist AJ LoCascio, Christopher Lloyd himself was tapped to return as Doc Emmett Brown, and the supporting cast all do an excellent job. Except for Biff. Biff didn’t sound quite right. At least not to me. This game will no doubt draw in any Back to the Future fan right from its opening moments, in which it replicates Doc Brown’s unveiling of the time machine and the first time travel experiment.
The gameplay consists of simple puzzle-solving that may remind some people of old point-and-click adventures in that it is a slow-paced, cinematic experience with limited gameplay that is based off of interacting with specific objects and locations at specific times in order to solve puzzles. You talk to people, use items in the environment, and occasionally pick up something into your inventory for use later in moving the story forward. It’s pretty easy. There aren’t any penalties for doing things wrong; you always get another chance to do the right thing. The puzzles are mostly well designed, and fit in fairly well with the plot, although characters do come up with some odd excuses for taking some of the actions that they take (or not taking other actions instead).
Despite the simplicity of gameplay, there are a few problems. I found navigation and the interface to be a bit clumsy. Camera perspective changes have an irritating habit of getting Marty turned around, and interactions don’t always activate the moment you press the button. Certain events sometimes trigger new interactions with objects and characters, so if you visit one character, exhaust all the dialogue options, then go to a second character, you may have to go back to the first character to use new dialogue options in order to progress. This wouldn’t be a problem except that the game doesn’t always give you an indication that you need to go back somewhere. And using the game’s built-in “Hint” feature has an annoying tendency to either completely give away the solution to a puzzle or suggest you do something that you may think you’ve already done (and so the hint is ignored). But most players shouldn’t have too much trouble solving the game’s puzzles, as the solutions are usually pretty obvious once you’ve seen all the objects that you can interact with in a given area.
The narrative itself is fairly well-conceived, except for the aforementioned “odd excuses” that characters give for some of the choices that they make. The game banks a lot of its narrative success on nostalgia, taking us back to familiar locations, and referencing familiar events (something that the films do quite frequently). The characters are where the game really excels though! Marty is as relatable and “sympathizeable” a character as ever. But the real surprise star for me is the younger, 17-year old Emmett Brown that we meet in the 1930’s. It’s great to get a glimpse of Doc’s childhood, and the struggles that the energetic and enthusiastic young inventor had to go through.
One scene that particular impressed me occurs late in the game in which (hopefully this doesn’t spoil anything), Marty must reveal to the younger Emmett that he lied to him. The animators did a fantastic job of giving young Emmett a sense of absolute elation in the anticipation of the fulfillment of promises that Marty had made, followed by an expression of rejection that is absolutely heartbreaking when Marty has to break that promise. I felt so sorry for poor, young Emmett, almost the point that I wanted to cry. Any game that can elicit such strong emotions and sympathy from the player definitely deserves some credit for it!
I was a bit disappointed that the game didn’t give me any opportunity to actually drive or fly the DeLorean, and that the game never really explains why Doc is in the 1930’s to begin with (or why he got caught burning down a speak-easy). And if you expected me to go through a review of a time-travelling game without discussing possible continuity errors, then you’d be sadly mistaken, as it’s also not necessarily clear whether the Doc in the game is the Doc as he existed at the end of the third movie, or if it is a version of him from earlier. If he is the Doc from after the third film, then where are his kids and wife, and what happened to the time-travelling train? If he is not the Doc from after the third movie, then he would have to represent the Doc from his time exploring time in between the events of the first and second movies (which is the more likely scenario considering the DeLorean still exists as it did in the second movie). In this case, the writers would have to make certain not to let Doc reference events from the second film, as that would constitute a continuity error. Maybe these complaints and questions will be resolved in future episodes? Which I eagerly await...
As a fan of the movies, I found the game (overall) to be fairly enjoyable. It had its up moments (the beginning) and some down moments (sections of the 1930s scenario). But since it’s mostly just an effort at fan service, the game is likely not going to appeal to a wider, more casual audience. So if you’re not a Back to the Future fan, or you don’t absolutely love the “graphic adventure” genre, then I can’t really recommend this game to you (at least not until more of the episode installments are released). But if you ARE a Back to the Future fan, and you don’t have this game yet, then shame on you!
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: December 22, 2010
Review Date: 22-02-2011
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: No
Notes: Available for Mac, Downloadable Game
The stylized animation looks good and fits the source material fairly, but there’s nothing really interesting to look at throughout most of the game.
Navigation and interface issues sometimes get in the way of the very simple puzzle-based gameplay.
Very respectful of the source material. Voices are spot-on and characters, environments, and props all look exactly as you’d expect them to (considering the animation style). Very likeable and well-written characters.
Voice acting and music are near perfect. Biff doesn’t sound quite right, though.
Episode One doesn’t deliver very much content, and there really isn’t any reason to replay it.