Back to the Future: Episode 3 Review

Warning: Here there be spoilers. Skip this review and head back to the Back to the Future Episode 1 review if you haven’t played any BttF yet (go download the first episode, which is now free). I’ll try to keep the story spoilers to a minimum for those up to speed.

It’s the middle of the Back to the Future: The Game season. Last time, in Episode 2, Marty and Doc Brown repaired the damage to the timeline that threatened to cause Marty to cease to exist — but as Marty and Doc headed back to 1986, things didn’t go exactly according to plan.


Back to the Future: Episode 3 (PS3 [Reviewed], PC)
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: February 15, 2011
MSRP: $0

Needless to say, the story is still on-going, so this second return to 1986 from the past has left the timeline altered — again. Doc’s missing, Marty’s alone and Hill Valley has been fundamentally altered. The whole city has a wall around it, and is run by some kind of alternate Doc known as First Citizen Brown.

Finishing Back to the Future’s second episode, which has been my favorite of the series so far, I was extremely excited for the possibilities of Episode 3 (titled “Citizen Brown”). The preview suggested a deviant 1984-like 1986 as a police state created by the twisting of the good intentions and inventions of Doc Brown — but the result is far less cool.

Hill Valley has become something of a police state, with surveillance cameras all over the city and any deviation from the rules, down to what clothes a person wears, resulting in the issuing of demerits. Marty’s first and only goal upon arriving in this alternate timeline is to seek out First Citizen Brown, and to do so, he has to get into trouble, as that’s the only way to break Brown’s schedule and get in to see the Wizard himself.

Unfortunately, police state Hill Valley seriously lacks teeth. At first it’s kind of funny in a cute way — Marty constantly finds himself getting chastised for minor things like touching a statue or appearing out of uniform, and early on he comes across a punk-rock delinquent version of his girlfriend, Jennifer (voiced by the original Back to the Future Jennifer, Claudia Wells).

But receiving demerits and dirty looks from other characters is about all that ever happens. To get into see First Citizen Brown, apparently Marty has to rack up some serious bad behavior; that’s the only way to get the big man to make time for a personal meeting. That serious bad behavior? Having a dog, possessing booze, and kissing in public.

Almost the entire remainder of the episode involves acquiring these three special demerits. They build out into larger puzzles, requiring you to spend a huge amount of time just gathering information. And not like in the last episode, in which Marty was trying to infiltrate Kid Tannen’s gang and therefore was chatting up Tannen’s girlfriend and trying to locate the missing Arthur McFly — this go-round, it really just feels like research. When all the talking’s finally done, the puzzles kick in.

Episode 3′s puzzles are less difficult and more irritating, which was the way Episode 1′s puzzles felt, unfortunately. One, a guitar battle, requires a lot of moving around and clicking a specific menu option at a specific time when the other character does a specific thing and moves to a specific place. It’s not at all intuitive, and if it weren’t for the game’s built-in hint system, it could have been a stumbling block that prevented me from wrapping up the two-hour chapter.

Another puzzle required snagging a can of spray paint from Jennifer (whose M.O. is vandalism, among other things). It showed up on the ground, I picked it up, I spoke to Jennifer and she took it back. Later, when I needed it, there was no can on the ground — but clicking the previously locked ammo box where Jennifer keeps her paint nabbed me the can again, even though it didn’t appear on the screen. In a word, it was confusing.

After working through the three demerit puzzles at length, Marty finally got out of the Hill Valley town square and it felt like the story was picking up — but it didn’t last, with the chapter ending not long after. And unlike previous installments that felt like actual, self-contained episodes, “Citizen Brown” comes off as a two-parter, lacking the climax and resolution the other chapters have had. It leaves the story unfulfilled and weakens the installment as a whole, since Marty pretty much gets nowhere through the whole of it despite lots of wheel-spinning.

Up to now, Back to the Future’s monthly episodes have been great nuggets of a larger story and felt like the correct way to convey the overall experience — but with “Citizen Brown,” that model stalls up for the first time. The puzzles are confusing and somewhat uninteresting, the story drags, the characters aren’t nearly as compelling as they have been in the past two episodes, and the entire experience feels like busywork on the way to a better destination that won’t arrive at least until Episode 4.

Episode 3 is a disappointing, necessary evil to continue on with the (hopefully better) next step in the story, and fans of Back to the Future: The Game might even be better off waiting until next month for Episode 4 to come out before delving into “Citizen Brown.” At least that way, there will be some payoff and benefit at the end of this episode’s boredom.

Pros:

  • Same strong voice performances
  • Takes Hill Valley into more new territory with good twists for returning characters
  • Some fun puzzles

Cons:

  • Episode’s story never goes anywhere
  • Most of the episode is spent solving three primary puzzles; kind of boring
  • Lack of satisfying climax or resolution to the episode (unlike previous ones)
  • Whole scenario ends up being kind of boring — lacks humor or stakes
  • A couple frustrating puzzles
  • Feels like treading water until Episode 4 comes out

Final Score: 60

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