Back to the Future: Episode 1 Review
Reading up on Telltale’s continuation of the Back to the Future story a few months ago, I was (I think reasonably) a little worried. The franchise is still one of my favorites and was a formative part of my childhood, and frankly I was worried we were going to end up with some kind of Star Wars prequel garbage.
The game carries a somewhat cartoonish art style and was slated to be released in several episodes, and after reading the possible scenarios that fans were voting on over at Telltale’s website, things seemed like they could go either way.
Back to the Future: Episode 1 (PS3 [Reviewed], IPad, PC)
Release Date: December 16, 2010
Thankfully for all us BttF fans, Telltale went the right way — it developed a great addition to the franchise, handling the license with all the reverence and attention to detail necessary to make a truly responsible game based on an amazing series of movies.
Telltale has created a point-and-click style game here, and while it was a bit of a surprise at the outset as you take control of Marty McFly, following instructions from Doc in the parking lot of the Hill Valley Mall and preparing to send Einstein the dog back in time, it really does seem to be the best method of conveying the Back to the Future feel in a game.
And if nothing else, the first two- or three-hour episode of the game captures the intangible feel of Back to the Future. A lot of time has been spent here to get the nuances of the series down pat — Christopher Lloyd turns in a great performance in his return to the role Doc Brown, and A.J. Locascio’s turn as Marty McFly is absolutely spectacular. He doesn’t just nail an impersonation of Michael J. Fox, he has a deep understanding of Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly. The result is pitch-perfect casting for the two major roles, with a lot of great supporting characters throughout.
And the writing, too, finds a way to mine new material while maintaining the Back to the Future atmosphere in its full glory, undoubtedly in part because of the writing involvement of Bob Gale, part of the original writing team with film director Robert Zemeckis. Picking up the story not long after the events of Back to the Future III in 1986, we’re treated to a scenario that finds Marty wondering what happened to the out-of-contact Doc Brown, hoping he’s all right. Of course, Doc isn’t, and not much time passes before Marty’s working on tracking down the distressed inventor in some other era of Hill Valley’s past.
The first episode features the return of the DeLorean, as well as many of the main characters, and after some detective work, you’ll find yourself making a trip to a new era in Hill Valley’s past. Of course, the Tannen clan is back to play the roles of villains, which feels exactly right, and the new era (which I’ll not spoil since figuring it out is part of the game, although it’s not exactly a secret) feels like another logical step forward in the Back to the Future progression.
Not everything is perfection in Episode One, although the game does hit a lot of marks. As I mentioned above, the writing is great and finds ways to capture the series’ signature humor, which was a great relief. This first installment manages to recall important parts of the movies without replaying the same gags — Doc’s huge amplifier, for example, is the solution to one of the first puzzles, but Telltale is never rehashing, only paying homage.
It’s the gameplay side that sometimes falls short. Being a point-and-click game, Episode One has that annoying tendency to let you wander a room for a while, trying to figure out just what object you’re supposed to interact with in order to move forward. One sequence in a soup kitchen was particularly confusing in the moment, although once it came together it made much more sense. A few other puzzles have you backtracking to multiple different places and interacting with several characters, but without a firm plan in mind of what exactly to do, it feels a little like just taking stabs in the dark.
Although a few of the puzzles are a little strained, others are kind of inspired. A moment in which Marty has to activate several different objects to keep an experiment from failing, using prompts from another character having an argument in the next room, is just a great idea — exactly the kind of thing these characters would try to pull off.
Telltale has helped to mitigate the confusing puzzle issue with a tiered hint system, which helps a lot. The first hint you take gently nudges you in the right direction, while the last, usually of three or four, flat out tells you what to do. That doesn’t exactly help with the problem of figuring out what you have to click on, though.
Character interactions aren’t quite as interesting as they could be, as well. When the game is presenting story dialogue, everything is fine — when you’re choosing from multiple dialogue options in order to move forward or convince someone to do something, you generally have to exercise all of them in order to move on. In an era in which dialogue choices in games like Mass Effect are important choices to the progress of the game, working through all four or five choices in Back to the Future, only to get nowhere, breaks your immersion in the game.
Even with a few minor flaws, the first installment of Back to the Future is all optimism. If the rest of the game is this good, it’ll definitely be worth the time and money; if it’s better, the whole package could manage to be great. The part that matters the most to me — a working Back to the Future story worthy of carrying the name — is well-treated here.
- Nails the Back to the Future atmosphere
- Great writing and story are strong additions to the franchise
- Spectacular voice work
- Some puzzles are interesting and intuitive
- Point-and-click works well for keeping the story at the forefront
- Art style works for the series
- Point-and-click puzzles get a little confusing
- Story and action gets a little cartoony toward the end of the episode
- Lots of time wasted trying to figure out exactly where you have to go to solve puzzles