- Format: PSN (version reviewed), PC, Mac, iPad (sigh)
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Telltale Games
- Developer: Telltale Games
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.telltalegames.com/bttf
With the last episode finally launching on PSN last week, we thought the time had come (no limp pun intended) to review Telltale Games’ walk-and-click series. Officially, this is not to be considered Back to the Future IV; though that’s exactly how most people will view it, picking up as it does almost immediately after the events of Back to the Future III. Telltale seem to be well aware of this, and have done everything possible to appeal to fans of the movies. From here stem the series’ greatest strengths – and most crippling weaknesses.
Naturally, Marty McFly and Doc Brown make a return, as do familiar characters such as Marty’s parents, girlfriend, and Biff Tannen. Christopher Lloyd reprises his role of Doc Brown, giving a performance just as wonderful as that in the movies. He gets most of the best lines, too; or at least, he makes it seem as though he does. Michael J. Fox appears only in a few cameos in the final episode, but A.J. LoCascio’s impersonation of a young Fox is incredible. The catastrophe of an odd-sounding Marty is avoided.
The only other original cast member is (unexpectedly) Claudia Wells, who plays an alternate version of Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer in two of the episodes. It all works surprisingly well with the heavily stylised graphics (despite a wonky sounding Biff) and, together with heavy use of Hill Valley settings in each timeline, all feels very Back to the Future. Enlisting series co-creator Bob Gale to help with the script doubtless helped, too.
There’s a very strong Back to the Future story here… but unfortunately, it’s fighting for space with a videogame.
While there’s no one episode noticeably inferior to the others (a rarity in episodic releases), the first arguably demands the least of the player. To begin with, it feels like little more than moving from one cutscene to the next; and by the time you can feel as though you’re ‘properly’ playing, you’re well into the second half of the (fairly brief) episode. Thankfully, this is not a taste of things to come.
The first warning sign of story looming menacingly over gameplay is that even something as simple as character movement is flawed. Walking around is awkward, particularly if you want to go around a corner and/or hit an invisible wall. This issue, barely noticeable in other Telltale games, has been amplified to an unavoidable degree here. Even Marty’s walking animation is bodged and bizarre, a disturbing amalgamation of a moody teenager’s swagger and a drunken midlifecrisiser’s stagger. Making him ‘run’ not only results in a negligible increase in speed, it also makes him look very ill.
As for the puzzles… well, they’re reassuringly numerous. Sadly, virtually all of them are heavily signposted. So heavily signposted in fact that Telltale knock you to the floor with the signpost and drag you to the solution before you have time to realise what’s going on. To make matters worse, episodes two and four each have one needlessly long and drawn out puzzle that you’ll be glad to see the back of. It’s still a fun experience; but a little challenge goes a long way.
With the game leaning so heavily on story, the script needs to be strong and, for the most part, it is. A gentle humour carries things along well, though moments of outright hilarity are sadly rare. Overall the writing and acting are very good; though a few characters, particularly the elderly Edna Strickland, suffer from their actors/actresses acting for videogames. As opposed to, you know, simply acting.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is the fact that, well, there are pleasant surprises; on more than one occasion, the plot takes a turn you almost certainly will not have seen coming. This does not, repeat not hold true for what are supposed to be two big twists at the end; particularly what is obviously meant to be the biggest, which became obvious three episodes ago.
Of greatest concern in the final episode is a game-killing bug, which makes it literally impossible to progress (hint: save before entering the Glass House). You may be lucky enough to avoid it completely, and a reloaded save will avoid screen-smashing frustration; but at time of writing, the promised fix has still not arrived.
In a seeming desperation to appeal to as many Back to the Future fans as possible, including non-gamers, Telltale have given us a great story – but a weak game. If you’re already a fan of the movies then buy this, you won’t be disappointed. Everybody else will need to download the trial, and decide if they find Marty and his world appealing out of context.