By Marty Mulrooney
Back To The Future: The Game is a PC adventure game created by Telltale Games as part of a licensing deal with Universal Pictures. Split into five episodes over the coming months, episode one takes place some time after Back To The Future: Part III, with Marty feeling downhearted as the Doc’s possessions are sold off by the bank in his absence…
Episode 1: It’s About Time not only looks and sounds like an authentic Back To The Future game, but it feels like one too. From the moment it begins, with its unique take on a classic scene from the original film, fans will be grinning from ear to ear. If there was ever a fourth film, this would be it. Bob Gale, co-writer and co-producer on all three films, has been assisting Telltale with writing the game’s story and it really shows.
Adding an extra layer of authenticity, both Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd have allowed their likenesses to be used, with Lloyd also reprising the role of Doc Brown vocally and new talent AJ LoCascio (interviewed here) stepping in as the voice of Marty McFly. The heart and soul of the films relied heavily on these two leads and their unique personalities have successfully been captured with this video game adaptation. Marty and the Doc are exactly as you remember them, making their return an absolute joy.
The storyline is very subtle to begin with, allowing events to progress without requiring too much heavy exposition. During the sale of the Doc’s possessions (overseen by George McFly and needlessly hampered by Biff Tannen), the DeLorean suddenly turns up with Einstein the dog behind the wheel and a tape recorded SOS message from the Doc on the passenger seat. Before long, Marty has travelled back to Hill Valley circa 1931, a time of prohibition and the home of a 17 year old Doc Brown…
The controls will be familiar to those who have played Telltale’s previous adventure games, with the WASD or arrow keys moving Marty and the mouse used to interact with other characters and the environment. The interface itself is very user friendly, with the main menu featuring the iconic DeLorean and the inventory looking suitably snazzy and futuristic. There is also a robust hint system in place if players get stuck and a panel at the top of the screen shows the current objective at all times.
Players are tasked with freeing the Doc from the local jailhouse, which involves befriending a young Doc Brown, outsmarting a local gangster by the name of Kid Tannen and even serving a subpoena to Marty’s grandfather! This is all handled very well and the story moves along at a steady, cinematic pace. There are some nice gentle nods to the films as well and the puzzles feel very natural. Sadly, they are also rather easy and some solutions are repeated several times. It isn’t that the game is a complete breeze, but I am sure many players will be hoping for a greater challenge across the board in future episodes.
There are some small issues with this first episode such as the occasional bug, and changing camera angles can cause some confusion at times when moving Marty. Yet the sheer polish and quality of the overall experience always shines through. The soundtrack is of course largely what we already know and love, yet the new cartoonish graphics are wonderfully stylised and manage to perfectly capture the feel of a new chapter in the Back To The Future universe. As previously mentioned, both Marty and the Doc look and sound spot on, and even returning supporting characters – although not voiced by the original actors – sound great too.
It’s About Time is a superb debut episode that proves once and for all that Telltale know how to treat a revered franchise such as Back To The Future with respect. Although not overly long and featuring puzzles somewhat on the easy side, fans of the films and adventure gamers in general couldn’t have wished for a better starting point. After the awesome cliff-hanger ending, I cannot wait to see what happens next. The video game medium has allowed the narrative to twist and turn in new and exciting ways that simply wouldn’t be possible with a traditional celluloid sequel. A film-to-video game adaptation done right, Back To The Future: The Game may well grow to become Telltale’s greatest gaming achievement yet.
9 OUT OF 10
Back To The Future: The Game will also be heading to PlayStation 3 in 2011.
UPDATE: PlayStation 3 Review – April 2011
The PSN version of Back To The Future: The Game has now been released! Episodes 1 & 2 are currently available, with the episode releases running approximately a month behind the PC versions. The US PSN seems to always be updated with the current month’s episode first, followed by the EU PSN a week or so later. AMO’s reviews of the PC versions will apply to the PSN versions too (such as this review of It’s About Time), although there are some small technical differences that should be noted.
Of course, the game is controlled with the DualShock 3 controller on PS3 and in many ways, movement is easier than it was with the keyboard on PC. The left analogue stick moves Marty and holding Circle at the same time will make him run. The control scheme will be immediately familiar to anybody who has played a Telltale port before on PS3. Interacting is done with a click of the X button, and pressing L1/R1 will scroll through all available nearby hotspots. The right analogue stick can be used to search for hotspots further afield and the Triangle button brings up the inventory. Also (much like the PSN version of Tales Of Monkey Island), all hotspots have a little red icon over them when you are nearby, which can admittedly break the mood a little but isn’t a deal breaker.
Graphically, things look a little blurrier than they do on PC. This isn’t a limitation of the PS3 Telltale engine either: I fired up Tales Of Monkey Island and Sam & Max Series 3 to compare. Back To The Future: The Game is slightly less sharp all round, and it is noticeable. On the plus side, this does seem to make certain graphical elements blend together better and the overall image is still very pleasing. However, owners of the PC version who usually play on the top graphical settings (such as myself) will defiantly notice a slight decrease in sharpness and definition.
Apart from this slight visual disparity, the PlayStation 3 versions are practically identical to their PC counterparts… with the exception of one strange bug. Each episode’s menu features a cool scene where you can see the inside of the DeLorean as it accelerates to 88mph. However, in the PS3 versions so far, the red numbers are missing! As you can imagine, this somewhat ruins the effect.
So, which version would I recommend: PC or PS3? Actually, I would recommend both. Although the PS3 version is slightly inferior, the key word is slightly. Both versions feature the exact same content and for many people, the PS3 version may actually perform better (with shadow effects present and correct) than the PC version would on their no-so-up-to-date systems. Neither version offers a 100% perfect experience, so it basically boils down to a preference of controller (pad or mouse) and whether the slightly blurrier visuals on PS3 will bother you or not. If there are any glaring differences between the final three PSN episodes and their PC counterparts I will note it within the corresponding PC version reviews, but I have a feeling that won’t be necessary. Besides, the PSN version lets you have a free trial of Episode 1, which is also now available for free on PC. Why not try them both and then take your pick?