When Doc Brown enthuses that we're "going to see some serious shit" in this game's intro, he may have been exaggerating just a touch.
This new series of adventure games takes place a few months after the events of the third Back to the Future film, with hero Marty McFly out to save his old friend Doc Brown - trapped in the year 1931 - from a date with the hangman's noose. This episode, the first of five instalments, certainly looked (and sounded) like a Back to the Future experience. Question is, does it play like one?
Back to the Future has one demographic in its sights: fans of the 1980s comedy film franchise, who having suffered through some abysmal platformers back in the day will be buoyed by this, a game with (at first glance anyway) a deep amount of respect and reverence to the movies.
Telltale, with its reputation as a company that makes games out of others people's properties, does a good job in selecting those properties. I mean, everyone loves Back to the Future, but when was the last time you actually played a Back to the Future game?
Did you enjoy it? Not as a game, no. I haven't enjoyed many of Telltale's previous adventure efforts that much, actually, as I find their pace too slow, their controls cumbersome and, worst of all, they just feel..."wrong". Like a good copy of a great painting, walking the walk of the franchise's original creators but never really talking the talk. Back to the Future retains most of these flaws.
Those Flaws. Explain Them. It's a pain getting Marty around the screen, as the game's control system relies on moving him around like an action game character instead of just clicking where you want to go. The supporting cast are, for the most part, entirely devoid of charm or interest (or in some cases even decent texture work). It was never, not once, funny. And once you get past the authentic music and the amazing voice work, you quickly find that this game just doesn't feel very Back to the Future.
How so? The movies were cheeky. Goofy. But also tense. Episode 1 was none of those things. Instead, you wander a deserted 1930's town completing a handful of puzzles (one of which, involving a door and some soup, is incredibly frustrating due to poor scripting) at a pedestrian pace, and...that's about it. No hijinx, no laughs, no risk. Certainly never the feeling, one so important to the films, that one wrong move could mean the end of the universe as we (well, they) know it. It's all - aside from the very beginning and very end - a bit boring.
But it's only Episode 1! I don't buy that argument. These episodic games, like comics or TV shows, need to grab people from the start. Convince them that the entire series is worth playing through. The next instalments in Back to the Future could be a white-knuckle thrill-ride and I wouldn't know, because after such a dull opening episode I'm not exactly rearing to have at them.
So it's a write-off, then? Almost. But not quite. See, while it's a disappointing adventure game, it may still interest fans of the movies who don't care how bad the gaming is so long as the trimmings are OK. Marty McFly's voice actor is amazing, and Christopher Lloyd (reprising his role as Doc Brown from the movies) also does a good job. There's official music, Einstein is in it, Biff is in it and, best of all, you get to sit in, explore and then use the DeLorean. For a series that hasn't had a good game made in years, that will be more than enough for some fans.
Don't expect a great adventure game here. That's not Telltale's thing. Telltale's thing is making passable adventure games out of beloved old properties nobody else is making games of. And that's exactly what Back to the Future's first episode is: a drab affair of a game, but a rose-tinted indulgence for old-time fans of the movies.
Back To The Future: Episode 1 was developed and published by Telltale Games for the PC and Mac. Retails for $24.95 (which includes all five episodes when released). Released on December 22. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed episode on PC.