How long has it been? Months? Oh my that’s not good. It seemed like mere days! I’ve lost track of time, or rather been lost within time. Excuse my absence, as it’s a story for another date and time. Instead, I’ll tell you about the Back to the Future episodic series from Telltale Games!
Back to the Future: The Game arrives in 1986 following after the trilogy of films. Over the span of five episodes, it essentially acts as a fourth movie. Adhering to the episodic model, each episode showcases a chunks of the story, and each lasts for 3-4 hours. The story delves into Marty and Doc Brown’s relationship, throwing them both to 1931 at the cusp of Doc’s science career. The background on Doc, and ensuring his past occurs according to plan is the main focus of the game. Of course, even the smallest change can drastically alter the time continuum as can be seen in later episodes.
Many of the characters in the game did not appear in the film trilogy, though they don’t feel out of place at all. This is similar to what Telltale did with their Wallace & Gromit series, where it felt just as natural as it does here. Edna Strickland, for example, is a main player in the episodic series, and is written into the story as the sister of Principle Strickland from the films. Being an entry in the Back to the Future series of course means, that Marty will be encountering past versions of his relatives, as well as a much younger Emmett Brown. The inclusion of Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown, and Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker from the first film) lead to great voice acting across the board. A.J. Locascio stands out most of all, performing a pitch perfect Marty McFly impression that sounds virtually the same as Michael J. Fox.
The game mechanics will be familiar to anyone who has played recent Telltale episodic adventures. You move Marty around with the WASD keys, or by clicking and dragging of the mouse. Mouse control feels much less awkward this time around, and I found myself using it almost the whole way through. Additionally controller support is available, which seems to work fine as well. It’s standard fare. From a technical standpoint, the game looks great. Telltale in the past have dealt primarily with established properties with established artstyles. Telltale opted for a stylized approach to transition Back to the Future from a live action film into the world of video games. The artstyle largely succeeds at this, presenting some of the best facial animation in a Telltale game to date. Expressive eye brows, and subtle eye movements help to showcase just how far the studio has come since early titles. The game scales very well too, allowing for modest PC rigs to run it at lower settings without sacrificing the look of the game.
The biggest issue I have with the episodes is just how easy they are to complete. I’m not sure if I’m just used to what to look for in a puzzle, or if Telltale deliberately made them easier in an effort to ensure people see the series through to the end. It was kind of a disappointing jump from Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse which had the challenging but fair puzzles, to the first episode of this which is easy to coast through without any complications. Results may vary, however seasoned veterans of Telltale’s episodes may be put off by how easy the series is. Complexity ramps up near the end of the series, but it still wasn’t especially challenging. It’s strange because I’m not often the type of gamer that worries about a game being easy. I guess The Devil’s Playhouse just achieved a perfect balance, that it stands out when the project immediately following it feels noticeably less challenging.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t play the game by any means. The story being told is a great one, that manages to seamlessly blend humor, with serious emotion into a wonderful package. The setting of 1931 didn’t seem to be very interesting at first, but the characters found within that time period make up for that almost immediately. Plus, being a game based around time travel, you’re not confined to 1931 the entire game. The presentation is great, with excellent voice acting and character animation coexisting with some great looking visuals. The inclusion of the Back to the Future theme as well as Huey Lewis and the News, only add to the overall tone. This is definitely worthy of the Back to the Future series, and with hints of a second season via the cliffhanger ending of the finale, I’m eagerly anticipating reuniting with Doc and Marty sometime in the future.