Back to the Future: Episode One review
Back to the Future is about a young Michael J Fox accidentally going back in time to 1955 using a time-travelling DeLorean. While there, he threatens his own existence by altering history, and in trying to save himself gains a greater understanding of his parents, saves his friend Doc Brown from Libyan terrorists, and builds himself a better future. It still holds up today as a wonderfully written adventure film, filled with exciting set-pieces, funny dialogue and plenty of heart.
Near the start of this first chapter of the episodic Back to the Future: The Game, the DeLorean returns to Marty containing only Doc Brown’s dog Einstein, and a shoe. To find out what time period the car has come from, Marty Uses Shoe on Dog, and Einstein leads him to a little old lady’s house. Marty solves the mystery by having a chat, turning a radiator on, and hunting through some old newspapers.
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Back to the Future is a great film filled with thrilling adventure. Telltale make adventure games. The word ‘adventure’ is right there in the genre name, but Back to the Future is perhaps the least adventurous game I’ve ever played. Over the course of an easy 90-minute borefest you prop open a door, make some barrels roll around, and solve multiple puzzles using a tape recorder.
It’s not Back to the Future in spirit or style. It’s the same formula Telltale have been peddling since their first Sam & Max series, dressed up in a red life-preserver.
If all you’re looking for is nostalgia, maybe that’s enough. The story follows a familiar formula: the DeLorean has appeared back in 1986 because the Doc is in trouble. He’s been missing for months, trapped in prohibition-era Hill Valley and accused of burning down a speakeasy belonging to Kid Tannen, another relative of the original movie’s villain, Biff. You travel to 1931 to rescue him.
Plot aside, there are plenty of winks and nods to the original films, as when the game intro lets you play a twist on the original film’s first time travel experiment. Or when the old lady you meet turns out to be Edna Strickland, a relation to the screaming, bald vice-principal from the original film. Or when you get to Use Marty’s Guitar on Doc’s Giant Amp. If you loved the original films, you’ll play it and say, “Oh, yeah, I remember that,” while wondering when you’re going to get to the exciting skateboard chases and the flying trains.
When the action does pick up the pace in this chapter’s high-speed finale, it serves only to underline why this shouldn’t have been a point-and-click adventure in the first place. There’s an enemy who fires a gun at you repeatedly at near point-blank range and misses every time, because pointy-clicky is a format that can’t cope with putting you in genuine physical peril, and so any moment of danger deflates instantly.
Those who want more than faint reminders of better entertainment are only going to feel cheated by this game, which is too easy and too rushed. The complexity of the puzzles has been dialled back to aid casual gamers attracted by the licence, the environments feel small and empty, the lip-synching is nonexistent and there are multiple lines of dialogue that are completely missing. It’s a mess.
There are four more episodes of Back to the Future: The Game planned, shifting between the ’30s and an alternate 1986. It still has time to be good. But based on this first episode, your time would be better spent re-watching the movies.
A waste of time; dull and shoddy, Back to the Future fails to deliver on anything that made the movies so much fun.