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Review – Back to the Future the Game (PC)

Telltale is one of those companies that focuses on a single type of game.  They are the absolute king of the “Slightly Overly Simple Un-losable Adventure Game” niche.  They are also working very hard on becoming king of the “Somewhat Unlikely Licensed Based Slightly Overly Simple Un-losable Adventure Game” niche.  They have Homestar Runner, Wallace & Grommit, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park and Law & Order, just to name, well, most of them.  There is also Sam & Max but I believe that is an in house property.  Back to the Future was the first real hit in this very focused genre of game, though it wasn’t their first try.  A lot of that probably has to do with there not really being any decent games based on Back to the Future in the first place.

There is that shitty NES game, that crappy SNES game, that sort of okish Japanese SNES game.  Does this movie series really even need a game?  It certainly could use something.  Back to the Future is suck a high point of movie popularity, it almost seems like a tragedy that the franchise hasn’t really gone anywhere beyond the films.  Then again, maybe it’s closed little universe is part of what keeps it popular.  The whole three part series from start to finish is pretty locked tight without too many holes.  They actually do a fairly decent job at handling all of the time paradoxes created as well, something every Time Travel movie inevitably fails at (Time Traveler’s Wife does it alright I suppose).

Which was my first through when starting this game series.  How will it fit into the time line?  There is really only one place you could stick something in between the movies, the night after Marty returns from 1955, but that would be a stretch.  They could set things after the movies but then the Delorean is trashed, so that’s no fun.  Telltale decided to do the easy (and really best) combination, the game takes place after the movie series, but Doc has “built a new Delorean”… or something.  Supposedly it’s explained but I didn’t catch it so I’m honestly not sure why the Delorean exists in this time period other than “The Delorean is awesome so it has to be there”.  The Time Train is neat as well but it’s a little “frickin huge”.

The Game’s plot starts off with Marty discovering a driverless Delorean and a distress call from Doc trapped in 1931 Hill Valley.  The plot itself spans 5 themed chapters that were each released as individual “games” over a series of months.  This is sort of Telltale’s style.  I don’t mind episodic games, but in Telltale’s case it’s actually kind of feels like an annoying way to milk interest out of a game for months.  The total run time for all five episodes is something like twelve hours, which isn’t terrible for the price or anything, and at this point, it’s all available in one package.

The secondary effect of the episodic nature is that you have these pre schedule cleanouts in your inventory.  For the most part, at least, you start out the next game with the assumption that you have Item X that you will need and you never have anything real useful taken from you.

  Anyway, the plot itself, takes place primarily in 1931 Hill Valley and 1986 Hill Valley.  Marty gets the distress call and heads off to rescue Doc which of course sets of an accidental chain of events that lead to unintended consequences.  Time is kind of a messy thing like that.  The story does a decent job of handling it’s Paradoxes though there are some things, for example, somehow George and Lorraine get together and have Marty no matter which warped instance of the future you might create.  The only true issue I had with the plot occurs between Episode 2 and Episode 3.  Slight spoiler space, the events cause a rather large shift in Doc Brown’s timeline.  As they return from the past, Marty finds Doc has been displaced into his altered timeline self.  Somehow, despite both being in the same Delorean, Marty is not also shifted.  For that matter, it’s arguable that the Delorean itself wouldn’t have existed either.  Even considering the whole fade from existence time lag thing the series uses as a gimmick, it doesn’t explain why Doc Brown immediately shifts yet Marty does not.

Anyway, the game does a good job of keeping the feel of the series, though it’s not quite as funny as the movie series.  All of the major spaces are featured in various time lines, the School, the Clocktower square, Marty’s House, Doc’s Lab, that billboard in front of Hilldale even when Hilldale doesn’t exist yet.  Like the movies, all of the major events in the history of Time revolve around a handful of locations, which actually works well since it IS something the movies did. 

The presentation helps things out, a lot.  It’s not a straight Delorean driving simulator, but it does work exceptionally well at making a game out of the Back to the Future concept.  I mean, it’s certainly not some crappy shooter wannabe game with dual timers and bowling ball guns.  The game follows a story driven Adventure model.  You walk from place to place collecting items occasionally and talking to folks to find out where to go next.  Each episode also features several “action” scene where you must do actions in a certain order and avoid bad guys while doing it.  For example, at one point you must keep one of Doc’s experiments going by doing different actions such as lighting a burner or pushing a bellows based on the things that Doc yells to you from another room.  Like, he may yell “you’re full of hot air” signaling the need to push the bellows. Another had you playing guitar against an opponent to see who rocks the most, you must move carefully to ensure that the opponent accidentally falls on himself.

The main problem with all of this, and the game in general, and problem is possibly a relative term, there is no way to fail.  Ever.  If you don’t push the proper science buttons you simply have to start the puzzle over a bit.  If you don’t out rock the other guy, he wanders off until you challenge him again.  Just as examples.  If you get stuck trying to figure out where to go next there is even a hint system that by hint 3 will more or less just tell you where to go next.  This can be good or bad depending on how much challenge you want in the game.  Don’t come into this game expecting much challenge.  The reality is, the driving force behind most adventure games is the narrative anyway. 

Which, as I mentioned, is pretty good.  In general, it’s a pretty decent game.  It’s probably not really action packed enough for some people but then, it’s Back to the Future. It’s simple enough that anyone can play through it though you can skip the hints and get more of a challenge out of it if you’d like as well, which is a nice balance.

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