Published on January 3rd, 2011 | by Cameron Woolsey
Back to the Future: The Game Episode I: It’s About Time Review
It’s hard to put a finger on what really makes the Back to the Future series so enduring. Is it the story of two friends, one a sarcastic 80s teen and the other a mad scientist, that set out on a memorable adventure across time? Is it the iconic characters of Doc and Marty who deliver each line and scene with superb quality? Who can really know exactly? All I do know is that even today, 25 years after the first movie, people still point with excitement if they spot a rare DeLorean driving by. People of all ages can mention 1.21 “jigawatts” and everyone will know exactly what they’re talking about. The movies have a sort of magic that everyone instantly connects with and loves to share. Games have been made to try and cash in on that magic but none of them have succeeded in any plausible way. That is, of course, unless you believe that randomly attacking birds and clock collection have anything to do with the series at all. It’s needless to say that trying to create a game based on the series, especially after 25 years, just doesn’t seem possible. Yet Telltale Games has stood up to the challenge by creating the first officially-recognized game based on the famous series. Has Telltale been able to capture the magic and charm of the movies? Keep reading and find out.
One thing that fans of the movies will no doubt expect to be handled with care is the story but rest easy, the script was co-written by Bob Gale who co-wrote the entire BttF trilogy. The game takes place in 1986, six months after Dr. Emmett Brown and his family sped off into the sunset in their time-traveling rocket train (wow, maybe this series does work as a game). Our hero, Marty McFly, wakes up from a startling dream of the first time he and Doc Brown first used the time machine which sent the Doc’s faithful dog Einstein back into time. It’s clear from the events of the dream that Marty misses the wild adventures that ended with the Doc’s absence. However, it doesn’t take long until the silence is shattered by the unexpected return of the DeLorean which materializes in front of Doc Brown’s lab. Inside Marty finds Einstein and a tape recorder which heralds bad news and it doesn’t take long for Marty to realize that he must once again travel into time to rescue his jeopardized friend.
Some BttF fans may cry foul at this especially since the vehicle was destroyed at the end of the third film. But quiet that Dorito-fueled fury! Marty also points out this fact yet receives a particularly scientifically confusing explanation which I can sum up simply as, “just go with it.” Marty can’t traverse the time stream with ruby red slippers, right? Anyway, the game primarily takes place in 1931 during the prohibition era. Marty discovers Doc holed up in jail, blamed for burning down a local speakeasy. Marty must enlist the help of Doc Brown’s teenage self and come up with a way to break Doc free before the end of the day. Of course, this is easier said than done. Many challenges await and Biff Tannen’s clichéd 30s gangster relative and game antagonist, Kid Tannen, doesn’t make it any easier on Marty or the constantly nervous young Emmett Brown.
Coming from Telltale, Back to the Future: The Game: Episode I: It’s About Time is a graphic adventure game. Those of you who have played any current Telltale games would know what this entails, but to those of you born after 1993, the gameplay primarily consists of solving puzzles and advancing the story by pointing and clicking and combining objects with other objects or people. Marty can be moved either by holding down the left mouse button or by using the WASD keys and holding shift to run.
This sounds simple enough and to be honest it really is. This type of gameplay was popular in the 80s up to the mid 90s until it died off and was graciously reborn in recent years with Telltale leading the way. To advance in the game players must activate a series of objects in a particular order much like a puzzle game. Now, in the past many games of this genre featured mind-boggling puzzles, some taking hours to understand. Luckily, this first episode in Telltale’s BttF game series the puzzles are not too difficult yet still have enough challenge to create the satisfying “Aha!” moments that make these types of games so rewarding to play. And Back to the Future: The Game really is rewarding to play.
Telltale has once again provided a game that offers further proof that not only is the graphic adventure genre not dead but that they are the reining masters of the art, creating fun in a game where you spend most of your time clicking on stuff. But it’s more than just that, moving from puzzle to puzzle is well paced and the challenge and reward increase the longer you play.
Of course, this style of gameplay is still alien to many gamers but luckily for them Telltale has included a hint system that will help push them along the path if things get too confusing. Telltale also offers a full walkthrough for gamers who are hopelessly stuck. However, I highly suggest trying to figure out the entire game without searching for hints otherwise gamers will lose out on the “Aha!” moments and the game will no longer feel rewarding. There are some buildings that you can travel into but the game world itself is actually quite small. However, there is more than enough to do that this hardly seems noticeable.
The graphics in the game are very stylized and cartoon-like and featuring bright, colorful environments. The choice for this art style is an interesting one to me especially since the game has been designed for adult fans of the series. Several characters even have lines featuring cursing and suggestive content. However this really isn’t an issue, honestly and most of these lines are pretty damn funny including a particular one which happens in the very first scene of the game. The character models for Doc and Marty, while looking like caricatures of the original actors, are also very well detailed.
The audio in the game is fairly simple and doesn’t offer much to be worth mention. The main highlight of the audio comes from Christopher Lloyd who has resumed his role as the fast-talking eccentric Doc Brown. Once again channeling the Doc must have been like putting on an old sweater because Lloyd barely misses a beat. The iconic ‘Great Scott!’s and scientific babble that streams from the mouth of the good doctor officially seals this game’s status as a part of the Back to the Future series. It’s unfortunate that Michael J. Fox didn’t resume his role as the series protagonist Marty McFly. Instead the role was assumed by AJ LoCascio who does such a superb job voicing the time-hopping 80s teen that I hardly noticed the absence after just a few minutes. AJ does such an amazing job as Marty that I was simply blown away when I first heard him speak. The similarity is absolutely uncanny. The classic theme music also makes its welcome return, highlighting important segments in the game.
There are a few issues in the game that stand out. The first bug I ran into was a glitch in the choice system. During the game there will be several moments during dialogue with another character where you are given a choice of several responses which may slightly alter your path. They are not as complicated or decisively morality changing as, say, Mass Effect, in fact the one I had an issue with was just a simple choice of a name to give myself as to not reveal my real identity to a woman I was interacting with. I chose Harry Calahan because, well, who else but Clint Eastwood would Marty look up to especially given the fact that he used Eastwood’s little pot lid trick to keep from getting shot in Back to the Future III. Damn, I’m a nerd. Anyway, after that point all other characters instantly labeled Marty as Michael Corleone (from Godfather), one of the other options in the dialogue box. To be honest this may not even be a glitch but the result of the producers not wanting to record so many different lines of dialogue with different names. Of course they could have just simply removed the option to choose a name but this is the end result.
Another issue I had was the lip-syncing. Most of the lip-syncing in the game does not follow that dialogue to the exact but that’s just fine. However, there are a few moments where the mouths of characters would be moving yet no sounds were being made. It’s as if the animators were told that there was going to be someone speaking yet no one included the audio in the end.
The Final Truth:
Though not perfect, the first episode to Back to the Future: The Game is a nostalgic re-introduction to a superb franchise. However, while I enjoyed much of the nostalgia, I couldn’t help feel that, entertainment-wise, the episode isn’t really all that amazing. But I am familiar with Telltale games, having played everything that is Sam and Max, and I know that the entire series is always better than the sum of its parts. Though only a couple hours long, by the end of the first episode it’s clear that the best is still yet to come. It will be a while before we reach the end of this new five-part adventure, but judging by this first episode, it’s going to be a helluva ride.
+ Superb voice acting by Lloyd and LoCascio
+ Graphics are bright and detailed
+ Nostalgic style and music
+ Graphic adventure at its finest
– Some mild glitches