Back to Back to the Future
Twenty-five years after the first Back to the Future film, developer Telltale Games has come out with what’s probably the first decent video game based on the series.
Back to the Future: The Game will appeal to two types of players: Fans of Telltale, and fans of the ’80s movie series featuring Doc, Marty McFly, and a time-traveling DeLorean. Judging by the first episode (there will be five total at a rate of one per month), the former group is almost certain to love this title; Telltale’s work is always high-quality, after all. However, the average Back to the Future fan might find the point-and-click adventure gameplay to be dated and tedious.
For those of you who haven’t played a point-and-click game since the days of King’s Quest and Myst, things haven’t changed all that much. In Back to the Future, you control McFly from a third-person perspective, picking up items and using them to solve puzzles as the plot unfolds. None of the puzzles here are difficult in the normal sense of the word, but they’re often unintuitive, and not in a good way. Frequently, you’ll find yourself roaming aimlessly or working your way through dialogue trees you’ve already finished, looking for something you might have missed. There’s a decent hint system that can help you out when you get stuck, but that doesn’t always stop frustration and boredom from setting in.
What has changed since the glory days of point-and-click, however, is the entrance of Telltale Games into the genre. Whereas earlier games focused almost exclusively on the gameplay (Myst was actually set on an unpopulated, deathly silent island), Telltale’s work focuses on lighthearted, humorous storytelling, with frequent cutscenes, cartoonish graphics, and lots of great jokes. It was a great fit, for example, when Telltale chose to adapt the Strong Bad cartoon into a game, and they’ve also handled Wallace & Gromit, Monkey Island, and Sam & Max. If there’s one thing that will make a casual gamer stick with this title, it’s the opportunity to work through a brand-new story set in the world of the Flux Capacitor, devised with help from Back to the Future co-creator/co-writer Bob Gale and told by these masters of the adventure-game form.
Simply put, the game does a great job of recapturing the old Back to the Future magic. The voice acting is superb; we’ve never heard an imitation as spot-on as the one A.J. LosCascio provides for Michael J. Fox, and Christopher Lloyd reprises his role as Doc. The music brings back memories. And the story is worthy of the series’ name.
As you begin, Marty is dreaming about the very early moments of the first Back to the Future movie; Doc loads his dog, Einstein, into the DeLorean for a test, and is overjoyed when he manages to send the pooch slightly into the future. Soon, though, Marty wakes up to find himself in 1986, living in the wake of the final movie. He’s fine, but Doc is in some other time period, and Einstein is nowhere to be found. At first, Marty tries to help sell off Doc’s old things, but eventually, the DeLorean appears with Einstein inside, with clues that lead to Doc’s whereabouts. It turns out that Doc installed a feature in the DeLorean that transports it back to the present if he gets lost. Doc is imprisoned in the Prohibition era, and Marty has to find a way to bust him out.
And so the story begins, with a colorful cast of characters, many of whom tie into the series’ overall lore. There’s Kid Tannen, a ruthless gangster who’s presumably an ancestor of the bully Biff, and Kid’s employee Arthur McFly, who’s Marty’s weak-willed grandfather. There’s also Edna Strickland, who in 1931 is a plucky newspaper reporter and an organizer for the Stay Sober Society — and who in 1986 is a relentlessly crabby old woman who spends her day looking out the front window with binoculars, yelling at any “hooligan” who breaks the rules. One of our favorite Edna Strickland exclamations: “Jack and Diane! I know what you’re doing behind that tree!”
All of that said, casual gamers (and even hardcore gamers who normally stay away from point-and-click titles) really do need to bear in mind that this kind of experience isn’t for everyone. The first episode is only a few hours long, and we tried to avoid using the hint system, but when the gameplay consists of nothing but walking and clicking on items, it’s not hard to get bored when things go badly. A few of the solutions are random enough that you probably won’t come up with them on your own in a reasonable amount of time without cheating (which we did, we’ll confess). One puzzle involving Edna and a keg of “soup” (that’s actually bootleg alcohol) was particularly annoying, because one of the dialogue trees changes unexpectedly.
Also, hardcore gamers who aren’t familiar with Telltale’s work might find the graphics and controls a little retro. Everything runs smoothly, with carefully constructed models and polished environments, but there’s not much that couldn’t have been done a console generation or two ago. The facial animations in particular leave something to be desired; someone at Telltale really needs to figure out how to make lips move in time with the voice acting. In addition, the controls feel a little clunky, especially when the camera changes angles.
Back to the Future: The Game is bound to create a divided response from gamers and critics. Telltale Games’ legions of fans have every reason to fall in love with it, because it’s a cross between the developer’s trademark point-and-click gameplay and the excellent story of the Back to the Future series. Back to the Future regulars, however, may find themselves more bored than entertained when it comes to the puzzles.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
Polished but low-tech. 3.5 Control
They can feel clunky, especially when the camera changes. 4.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voiceover work is outstanding. The music isn’t bad, either. 4.0 Play Value
Telltale fans will get exactly what they came for, but newcomers might be surprised that point-and-click games even exist anymore. 4.0 Overall Rating – Avoid
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Great
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best