Review – Back To The Future: The Game – Episode 1: It’s About Time

Review – Back To The Future: The Game – Episode 1: It’s About Time

Platforms: Windows PC, Steam, Mac

Game Name: Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 1: It's About Time

Publisher: Telltale Games

Developer: Telltale Games

Genre: Adventure, Puzzle

Developer Summary:

  • Play as Marty in a cinematic adventure true to the films
  • Six months after the events of the third film, the DeLorean Time Machine mysteriously returns to Hill Valley – driverless! Marty must go back in time and get aid from a resistant teenage Emmett Brown, or else the space time continuum will forever be unraveled!
  • Back to the Future’s “first families.” The McFly’s, the Browns, and of course, the Tannens – all play key roles.

What We Think:

Though the game is not simply a playthrough of the original storyline, in episode one of Back To The Future, developer Telltale Games has clearly worked carefully alongside Bob Gale, the film trilogy’s co-creator and co-writer, to remain faithful to the feel and theme we’ve come to expect from the franchise and to ensure they got it right.

As one might expect, the space-time continuum gets funky right out of the gate as you discover the urgent matter of having to go back in time and save your pal the Doc! Together you, Marty McFly, and he need to tinker with the timeline once more. Early on you discover that Doc is stuck in the prohibition era. This new time period introduces yet another generation of family and their plights during this era. With a cast of familiar players, settings and objects this largely point-and-click style game is much of what you would hope an event-order puzzle game to be.

back to the future the game - Prohibition Era
How great would a BTTF film set in the Prohibition era have been?

Though in this review I am only covering the first chapter (subsequent four chapters being released on a monthly basis) I can state that the game’s got great sound design, nice graphics, and though the navigation controls are a bit buggy as I will describe below, it’s still quite a bit of fun!

This game was made with a lot of care and attention to detail. The in-game transitional cinematics are great, and I though I like the stylization of the characters quite a bit, I feel like with some finessing the textures and expressions could suit them a bit better.

The soundscape is very nicely thought out and adapted to fit comfortably with the music we recognize from the films. The voice acting is especially well done – it’s great to have Christopher Lloyd playing Doc and the way the dialogue unfolds is nicely crafted and you get some funny answers when you ask dumb questions. (As a side note, the game features both English and German language versions with full audio support.)

But Will It Work?

I wish the game had better controls for moving around. One of my few complaints is the use of the pseudo 2.5D-style stage navigation – rather frustrating at times. The stages are navigated with Z-depth and are limited to perspectives that sometimes change the orientation of the camera while the character is in motion, causing a directional change of the navigation keys on the keyboard – making a left arrow suddenly become a down arrow etc. (which method I’d recommend for in-game travel, as the mouse is click-and-drag, and, in combination with the style of stage design, is rather clumsy though it could be remedied with a click-lock solution.)

back to the future the game screenshot 3

Having said all this, I can see that this deliberate direction to the design is not an accident on the part of the developer; it’s a movie franchise, so making the game-play work in a series of shots that follow cinematic sensibilities makes a lot sense as an experiential design decision.

The concept of forcing a specific viewpoint did wonders for Resident Evil or even Beyond Good and Evil, but here it is divided between presentation and gameplay and perhaps takes a little away from each. Again, it could work, but it might have been executed a little more elegantly, as in certain places it feels ill-fitted and/or too static.

One example that comes to mind is in negotiating my way through the familiar center of town where I also felt a better definition to the invisible barrier of the stage limits would be nice.

back to the future screenshot - navigating town
Here is the snap right at after the left arrow reassigns to down and to go back would be up not right. You can't go right but you can go left to another part of the stage. If you go down. it would lead to the sidewalk that changes the camera angle again but now you can go right , but as a result of the transition it is now left again, and you can't navigate to the theater from the center of town that is in the background of this shot.

Having to check whether part of a stage is navigable or otherwise by way of trial and error can be a real buzzkill: the combination of a slow-moving character and unclear traversable space made me less inclined to play for a longer session in spite of otherwise enjoying myself.

Another issue created by the fixed camera angles was the overlapping clickable objects or characters. In attempting to click one you can accidentally trigger another which can get frustrating when it leads to playing out a long sequence you’ve already seen.

My humble tribute to Marty McFly and the actor who played him
My humble tribute to Marty McFly and the actor who played him

Is it Even Possible to Hate On BTTF?

All told, Back to the Future is fun and thoughtfully put together, showing the love that went into paying proper tribute to one of the most beloved film series of all time. Overall, it is fun enough to look past the design problems, the sound and voice acting are great, and the graphics are handsome and a good fit for the style of gameplay, something for which Telltale Games is eminently well suited as a developer.

I have high hopes the navigation bugs get ironed out in the later chapters as I look forward to playing them and continuing on the adventure with Marty and the Doc.

Get Back to the Future: The Game – on Steam

[xrr rating=”4/5″]