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

Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    TellTale Games & Universal Studios

Released:  December 2010

PC Requirements:   Windows XP/Vista/Windows7, Pentium 4 2.0 GHz or 100% compatible CPU 512 MB RAM, 3 GB available hard disk space , DirectX 9,0c 

Additional Screenshots

 

 

by Becky

 

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 young adult.

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.

Puzzley Stuff

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 capacitor.

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 die.

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

Soundblaster X-Fi

*Information about the Back to the Future film trilogy is from Wikipedia. 

Back to the Future: The Game can be downloaded via the Telltale Games website.

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