Back to the Future Episode 1: It's About Time
Nostalgia is a powerful force. It can drive old men to tears as they pore over faded photographs or reunite wayward lovers after decades of being apart. Nostalgia even made three mediocre Star War films into box office smashes. Telltale’s Back to the Future adventure game hits all those nostalgic notes and more. Fans will love this walk through memory lane, but Telltale has put enough meat on these sentimental bones to make Back to the Future: The Game worth playing even if you weren’t born in the ‘80s.
The game begins with a sequence familiar to any Back to the Future fan. On the morning of October 25, 1985, in the parking lot of Twin Pines Mall, Marty McFly meets with scientist Dr. Emmett Brown to conduct an experiment that could change history. Marty films Doc as he loads his dog into a modified DeLorean and sends it speeding across the parking lot at 88mph. With a flash of flaming tire marks the car is gone, presumably sent 60 seconds into the future. Despite the game’s exaggerated art style, moments from the film like this are faithfully recreated. Christopher Lloyd reprises his role well, and the sound-alike for Michael J. Fox is close enough to be inoffensive.
It quickly becomes apparent that this game is not a retelling of the original trilogy, however. Doc’s dog, Einstein, never reappears, and Doc himself begins to fade out of existence. Six months later, as Doc’s property is being auctioned off, Marty is left wondering what happened to his friend. Out of nowhere the DeLorean reappears, and through a series of events Marty discovers that Doc has met a tragic end back in 1931. Without regard for the time stream, Marty heads back in time.
While the game’s story and characters kept driving me forward, the gameplay itself was a bit of a bumpy ride. Most of the game’s puzzles are a little easy, but they’re a joy to tackle. A clever solution is required to steal hooch from a ‘30s soup kitchen turned speakeasy, and the puzzle near the end of the game that involves breaking Doc out of a speeding paddywagon feels like a sequence that could have been cut from one of the earlier films. However, some moments in the game required a little too much backtracking or involved so much trial and error that Telltale may have been trying to artificially lengthen its game.
I enjoyed watching Hill Valley come alive in cartoonish 1930’s style, but some of the later environments feel less lively, and it would have been nice to see more interactive objects scattered about. A more intelligent interface that allows you to quickly use items, or even look around the environment, would have been appreciated as well, but for 2.5 hours it’s easy to put up with these small complaints and enjoy everything else this game has to offer.
Despite its clunky interface and short length, Telltale’s first episode of Back to the Future: The Game provides a steady stream of delights thanks to its charming story and eccentric cast. Fans will dig the opportunity to learn about Doc Brown’s past, adventure fans will discover a puzzle or two worth chewing on, and the ending will have almost anyone who played it eager to download Episode 2. This movie game may be decades late, but it helps prove that Back to the Future may never go out of style.