Back to the Future
is a trilogy of popular science fiction films released between 1985 and
1990, starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. The trilogy appeals
to anyone who enjoys high-spirited comedy, time travel quandaries,
gadgets, the Wild West, and classic rock 'n' roll.
Telltale Games is now releasing a series of episodes
based on the Back to the Future (BttF) characters, taking up
the story shortly after the end of the last film in the trilogy. In
Episode 1: It's About Time, Emmett "Doc" Brown hasn't been seen in
1986 Hill Valley, California for months. The town has condemned his
property and is selling all the belongings in his mansion.
Doc Brown's young friend Marty McFly, the
skateboarding, guitar-playing hero from the films, is certain that the Doc
is still alive and will return. Of course, he can't explain to the town
fathers (or even to his own father) that Doc Brown is off traveling in a
hopped-up steam-powered locomotive transformed into a time machine. When a
perfect copy of Doc's old time machine -- a DeLorean DMC-12 -- shows up
unexpectedly with Doc's dog Einstein as the sole passenger, Marty realizes
that something has gone terribly wrong. He must take the DeLorean, figure
out where in time Doc has ended up, and rescue him. Marty soon finds
himself in Hill Valley in 1931, where he stumbles across Emmett Brown as a
Doc and Marty
The characters of Doc Brown and Marty McFly are
beloved of the fans of the film series. Representing them in an appealing
way, consistent with their film personae, is vital -- and in this, BttF:
The Game succeeds. The character depictions are 3D and stylized, but
not cartoonish (well, the older characters do look a bit cartoonish).
Dialog sequences show the camera cutting back and forth between characters
with close-ups of the characters' faces and a wide range of facial
expressions. Body animation isn't as fluid as the facial expressions, but
it's still reasonably smooth.
The writing is excellent, capturing Doc Brown's
brilliance and eccentric effusions, and Marty's casual attitude and
willingness to take risks. Voiceovers are pitch perfect. Christopher Lloyd
reprises his role as Doc Brown, and a young actor (A J LoCascio), who
sounds eerily like Michael J. Fox, voices Marty.
The game introduces a handful of new characters,
including the elderly sister of Principal Strickland. Edna Strickland is
the kind of person who prides herself on her high standards. She thinks
nothing of leaning out her window with a bullhorn and correcting the
spelling of miscreants who are painting graffiti on a neighboring wall.
(Silent applause from editors everywhere.) We also meet Biff Tannen's
father, who exhibits the Tannen clan's bullying tendencies as a hooch
running, gun wielding gangster.
Challenges in BttF: The Game are mostly
inventory or dialog based. You'll also encounter puzzles where you
distract characters so you can quickly accomplish things and challenges
using 1986 technology to fool the folks in 1931. My favorite was an
amusing set piece puzzle where you have to interpret what Doc Brown says
to another character in order to keep an experiment going. In an end game
chase, you creatively manipulate a bike and a police van while speeding
down the highway. Some of the conundrums are mildly timed, but once I knew
exactly what to do, I didn't experience much trouble getting it done.
If You're a Fan of the Film Trilogy...
Large themes and small details work together to tie
this game into the film trilogy. The opening sequence replays the first
scene of the original film, but with an ominous difference. Some of the
music from the original BttF film is also featured in the game.
Even the interface suits the theme -- whenever you load a game you zoom
into the gameworld in the DeLorean, and the cursor is shaped like a flux
It's amusing to walk around the Hill Valley town
square, remembering familiar places, but also noting buildings that are
different in the middle of the Great Depression (the Soup Kitchen, for
instance). The stylized 3D graphics evoke small town America with a sense
of nostalgia, including vintage automobiles parked in front of the local
shops. It's clear that times are tough (evidenced by boarded up windows
and a "Not Hiring" sign on one door). Lighting in the town square location
is a bit flat, almost as though the whole square is indoors, but that's my
sole complaint about the environments.
I'm not sure what it would be like to play this game
if you had no inkling at all of what went on in the films. (I saw all
three films in theaters when they first released, and I own the trilogy on
DVD.) I suspect that if I were playing the games without ever having seen
the films, I'd probably play this initial episode and then either buy the
film trilogy or read up on the plot at Wikipedia.
Ode to the Options Menu
Most everything interface-wise that can be done, has
been done to tweak the gaming experience and make it enjoyable. The
graphics can be adjusted in "simple" or "advanced" mode (I cranked up all
the graphics settings to max). A hints level feature (for ambient dialog
hints) plus a graduated hints system for those who can admit that they are
stuck, are noteworthy. A descriptive tab can be set to pop up when a new
goal arises, and the gamer has two ways to access previous events in the
story as well as unlimited save slots. There's also a brief opening
tutorial. The cursor lights up over hotspots -- to identify them, enable
"Pop Up Text" in the Options Menu.
The inventory was easy to use, though some of the
items disappeared even though I could see empty inventory slots --
clicking the "Previous Item" button made them visible again.
The game features different navigation choices. You
can use the WASD keys, the arrow keys, a game controller or -- the option
I chose for most of the game -- click-and-dragging the mouse for character
movement, with point-and-clicking for the hotspots. Click-and-dragging is
more awkward than point-and-clicking (especially if you're trying to move
around quickly), but it's reasonably functional. While exploring the town
square, I used an Xbox 360 controller to move around -- it works much
better than the mouse for movement.
To Be Continued...
Episode 1, It's About Time ends on a
cliffhanger with a "To be Continued" message. When I saw the message, I
couldn't help reliving a standing-up-screaming-NOOOOOO! experience -- it
seemed just yesterday that I was watching the theatrical release of
Back to the Future Part II, when the "To Be Continued" message came as
a nasty surprise. (The third film didn't release until six months later.)
At least this time, in BttF: The Game, I
expected the "To Be Continued" moment. And the release of the game's
second episode, Get Tannen, is only a few weeks away. Though I'm
not a fan of cliffhanger endings, I do enjoy the anticipation of waiting
for the next episode and the knowledge that Back to the Future
gaming will be going on for several months.
Much of what happened in BTTF: It's About
Time is a set-up for the following episodes. Everything in this
episode is polished and entertaining, though the total experience is a bit
briefer than I expected. February 2011 can't come too soon.
Quick List for Back to the Future: The Game --
It's About Time
A game combining science fiction, time travel, and
comedy. Emmett "Doc" Brown (eccentric scientist) and Marty McFly
(boy-next-door skater dude) are off on another adventure together. This is
the first episode in a series of five.
Stylized 3D graphics, excellent writing and
voiceovers, lots of character interaction. An emphasis on close-ups and
facial expressions helps bring the characters to life. The dialogs can be
clicked through; they contain occasional vulgarities. The game is
appropriate for older children and up.
You'll encounter inventory and dialog challenges,
plus an amusing "set piece" challenge in Doc Brown's lab, which is timed
and fairly difficult. An ending chase scene challenge is, in part, mildly
timed. No sliders, no mazes, no sound puzzles. The puzzle sequence that
caused the most difficulty had a hotspot that was hard to find. You can't
Third person perspective. Three options for
navigation: mouse (click-and-drag), keyboard (WASD or the arrow keys) or a
game controller. I played using the mouse and found navigation to be
sometimes awkward. The Options menu offers multiple tweaking. Difficulty
can be adjusted using two hint systems and a goals feature. Three to four
hours of gameplay. No problems with installation. No glitches.
A cliffhanger ending, with Episode 2 soon to release.
A very good story set-up, making the next installment much anticipated.
Aimed at fans of the Back to the Future films,
fans of the Telltale games series, time travel aficionados, and adventure
gamers who value story rather than hairpulling puzzles.
Final Grade: B+
What I played it on:
Dell Studio XPS 8000
Windows 7 Home Premium
Intel Core i5-750 processor
6GB DDR3 SDRAM
1024MB NVIDIA GeForce GT 220
*Information about the Back to the Future film
trilogy is from Wikipedia.
Back to the Future: The Game can be downloaded
Telltale Games website.
GameBoomers Review Guidelines