Back to the Future: The Game Episode One: It's About Time
Let’s get the good news out of the way right now for those of you still holding off on a purchase – Telltale’s Back To The Future: The Game does get the feeling of the films just right. The voices for starters (and this was my worry) are all absolutely perfect, or at least 80-90% right.
AJ LoCascio gets Michael J Fox spot on almost all the time. He croaks occasionally, but hell, so does Christopher Lloyd, who otherwise is just as utterly mad and wonderful as he was in the movies. The real standout is actually Young Doc, who I was utterly astonished to find wasn’t Lloyd with some post-performance voice treatment. It’s actually James Arnold Taylor, who plays Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and pulls off Doc as a geeky teenager exactly.
The big question mark was mainly over Biff (and the other Tannens), since sadly Tom Wilson isn’t reprising the role for undisclosed reasons. Fortunately replacement Kid Beyond nails the character, which on many occasions is more important than getting the impersonation exactly perfect. Doug Lee in Indiana Jones & The Fate of Atlantis for example sounds nothing like Harrison Ford but still does brilliantly, unlike the bored celebrity voiceovers in most movie tie-in games. Kid Beyond does this and still manages to sound a lot like Wilson.
Visually the game’s a treat, and while distinctly Telltale in design the highly stylized look suits Back To The Future really well. Animations are occasionally a little bit stiff as usual with Telltale games, but otherwise in the graphics department this is on par with Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse. There are a few technical issues with a few backgrounds being pixelly, shadows occasionally behaving oddly (particularly in the finale), and Marty occasionally having weird anime eyes, but otherwise it’s great to look at.
The story I won’t spoil, but all seems to fit well with what could’ve happened after Doc flew away in the train at the end of Part Three. Every question you could have is explained, like the resurrection of the time-travelling Delorean and where exactly Clara and the kids are. Apart from Einstein Doc’s family doesn’t play a role in the proceedings.
There are several new characters in the episode, mostly consisting of family members/ancestors of the main series protagonists (as usual). My personal favourite is Edna Strickland, who you meet in the past and “present” (1986), and in both cases she’s an utterly bonkers staunch supporter of morals that she’s not really got a clue about.
It is in the puzzles that, as perhaps expected, Back To The Future falls down a little. Telltale have to cater for a broader audience this time, so unfortunately any even remotely seasoned adventurer will cruise through it. Pop-up messages, goals, and hints are all available on-screen, so there’s really no way you can get stuck. Well, except with technical problems which I will get to in a moment.
You can turn off all these pop-ups in the options, but they still intrude several times in the game and take up a quarter of the screen. The entire opening area, where you can explore Doc’s house, has one of these huge messages patronizing you the entire time. If you do what it says, you quickly find yourself outside and unable to explore the house anymore.
Getting back to technical problems, one that actually got me stuck was when a crucial cutscene failed to play. I then had to solve a puzzle without the clue I needed to actually do it. Fortunately upon exiting and reloading my autosave turned out to be ridiculously far back (two action scenes, one important item, several important conversations and various parts to different puzzles back in fact), and the cutscene played at last and gave me the clue I needed. Oh, and the autosave system’s a bit broken.
While the story fits in very well with the series, there is one moment that I take issue with. Without spoiling the hows and the whys, it involves a rocket-powered drill. This is straight out of Sam & Max, not Back To The Future, which has always maintained an aura of believability.
Bringing me to my final bad point, this is without a doubt the shortest episode Telltale’s ever produced. With the incredibly easy puzzles that can (as suspected) be solved without leaving the room, you will be at the “finale” before you know it, which incidentally is rather reminiscent of Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures.
Do not play this game if you’re expecting difficult puzzles, a long playtime or big action scenes (the Telltale Tool isn’t really built to handle them, despite some brave attempts). Do, however, play this game if you love Back To The Future for its characters, its story and its wonderful dialogue. Telltale clearly love the franchise, and they even continue the franchise’s famous running gags.
While it’ll be all over in one short play session, I for one am already looking forward to the next chapter, where all the meddling Marty and Doc get up to in this chapter should catch up with them. Whoa, talk about déjà vu.
Review by Chris Capel.