Adam Ghiggino
23 Dec, 2010

Back to the Future: The Game Episode 1: It's About Time Review

PC Review | For this one, you'll need the Power of Love.
Back to the Future has not been treated kindly when it comes to video games. And take it from us, we've played all of them. From the weird NES Back to the Future that saw you skateboarding and collecting clocks with awful controls, to the impossible Master System Back to the Future Part III, which only had four levels because they knew nobody could pass the first one. Telltale Games are looking to change all that. With the blessing of series' writer Bob Gale, Back to the Future: The Game is an official continuation of the story from the movies, in an episodic adventure game identical in style to Telltale's past Sam & Max and Monkey Island titles. Has Back to the Future finally caught a break in this Christmas-time release, or is its flux capacitor on the fritz?

This first episode, It's About Time, picks up in 1986, about six months after Back to the Future Part III left off. For those unfamiliar with the movies (which we expect after the number of times these films have been re-run on television to be infinitesimal), teenager Marty McFly has been on several time-travelling escapades with his best friend, and wizard scientist, Doc Brown. Together, they mixed up the space-time continuum for better or worse as they ensured Marty's birth, the safety of his future kids, and found time for a Wild West adventure in amongst it all. The last time Marty saw Doc, the iconic DeLorean time machine was destroyed and he was leaving the timestream with his new wife and kids aboard a time-travelling locomotive.

At the start of the game, Marty's missing his bromance with Doc something fierce, which is worsened when he learns that the bank is selling off Doc's possessions due to his many debts. After saving Doc's notebook, which contains all of his work on creating a flux capacitor (and thereby a time machine), Marty finds the DeLorean mysteriously awaiting him outside Doc's house. Set for 'automatic retrieval', and with a message from the Doc, Marty learns that he needs to travel to the 1930s to rescue his friend from being imprisoned, then murdered, for a crime he didn't commit.

About as useful as a screen door in a battleship.

About as useful as a screen door in a battleship.
The story is the largest part of the game, which we'll explain in a bit, and all in all it's OK. There's a lot of things the story does right, with clever callbacks to the previous films and a great intro that we won't spoil (although it does contain portentous previews into what will no doubt become future episodes). The one other triumph of the game is that the 1930s setting allows us to meet Doc as a teenager, and the central story of him standing up to his parents to follow his dream of becoming a scientist is great stuff. Unfortunately, there's a lot of bland stuff here, too. Despite the game's really brief length (3 hours unless you dilly dally), there's a lot of talking endlessly to uninteresting characters. Fans of the series will know that we always meet members of certain families in every time period, and Back to the Future: The Game is no different, as you'll get to meet the 1930s representatives of the McFly, Tannen and Strickland gene pools. The thing is none of them are that interesting, or even that funny. Kidd Tannen is about as bog-standard a mob boss as you can find, Artie McFly is hardly seen and only Edna Strickland fares slightly better, although her self-righteous tone gets old real quick.

Fans of the Back to the Future, who will be the ones buying this game, will find plenty to love with all of the callbacks and nostalgic moments found within it. But the pace of this first episode is slow, and the 1930s setting is uninspiring. There's no real pep or flavour to 1930s Hill Valley like there was in its 1955, 1855 or 2015 versions, which were explosions of the culture and silliness of those eras. Without giving too much away, apparently the next episode will revisit this setting, so we hope Telltale are able to give us a bit more of a reason to want to explore this time period a second time around. The explanation for the existence of the DeLorean is also pretty weak, even by Back to the Future's silly-science standards.

Some serious ****.

Some serious ****.
It's About Time follows the traditional adventure game format of point-and-click adventures long past, except there's not much pointing and clicking. The game still uses the frustrating 'hold-down-a-mouse-button-to-move' or 'WASD' set-up that Telltale has had in use since Wallace & Gromit. It's obviously supposed to work better on a gamepad, or on the PlayStation 3, but with the constrained spaces (abounding with invisible walls) for Marty to move in this episode, which at times border on two-dimensional, there's no need for this system when pointing and clicking is actually the much better option.

As is always the adventure game shtick, Marty has to run around talking to characters and collecting items, which he can then use to advance to the next puzzle which requires more talking and more collecting. The thing is, the puzzles in this game are really very easy. Some even have the same solution, for instance Doc's dog Einstein comes in very handy for the same purpose at least three times. And if you do find yourself stuck, there's a wealth of hints and information to see you through with minimal frustration. At any time you can access your current goals, get several levels of hints (the last level usually detailing almost exactly what you need to do) and read a summation of the current story through the menu system. It's almost too much help, and if you utilise these features sparingly, you'll have a lot more fun. There is one puzzle that is slightly different, relying on recognising clues being given to you, but it's repeated several times making it a bit wearing by the end. At least it shows some variety, as despite what you may be expecting, there are no driving or skateboarding (or even hover boarding) sections. Also, despite sections which offer multiple dialogue options, their outcome never changes. Mass Effect this is not.

So, with this episode so easy it can almost be finished on autopilot (especially if you indulge in hints), the game becomes much more of an interactive movie, which is why we said the story moves to the forefront as the most important piece of the experience. If you're one for a good yarn, and you've got a love of the franchise, then you'll get some enjoyment out of it. If you've never seen a Back to the Future before, just wait for the films to be shown on TV this weekend and once you're converted, give this a shot.

Little does Young Doc know of his density.

Little does Young Doc know of his density.
Back to the Future: The Game's presentation is miles ahead of anything Telltale have done previously, except possibly Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse. The game looks fantastic with the detail and resolution pushed way up on PC (except for a weird border around shadows), and the stylised looks of Marty, Doc and all your favourite characters are great. The problem is that their animation just isn't there to support them, as they jerk around waving their arms around in poses that often don't really match the tone of what they're saying. This is a case where perhaps we've been spoiled by the excessive motion capture of more expensive games, but when you've seen real-life incarnations of these characters, you instinctively know how they should move. That said, they've got Marty's neck-rub down pat very nicely.

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox-impersonator AJ Lo Cascio are fantastic as Doc and Marty, and play off each other really well, which is one of the most important parts to get right about Back to the Future. Likewise, the soundtrack has some of the best music cues from the films, from the main theme to the tinkling-magical introduction that prefaces the game, as well as loading a saved game. In fact, the way the game loads saved games is actually pretty fantastic, as it sees the DeLorean race into the past in a first-person view, then gives you the time and date of your save game in classic Back to the Future fashion. It's just a shame most people won't see this, since the game can be finished in one sitting.

It's really great to see Back to the Future, well, back. And It's About Time hits the ground running with a great introduction, as well as a great pair of protagonists in Marty and Doc (as well as his younger version). Unfortunately, the setting of this first episode doesn't inspire, nor do the supporting cast which you'll spend so much time with, and the game really is far, far too easy. However, it is the first episode, and one fifth of a much larger game, which we hope gives the developers time to tell a much more interesting, funnier and challenging story. Right now, it's a nice revisit for Back to the Future fans, of which we are card-carrying members, but not really worth a look for anyone else.
The Score
Fans will delight in the more nostalgic and clever moments of 'It's About Time', but it's a short, easy and somewhat bland introduction to the series, which we hope still has time to get a lot better. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 years ago
As a fan of the movies (seriously, who isn't?!) I'm interested in this game series, but something tells me to just wait until all episodes are out, they do a special bundle deal and then you'll at least get around 15-20 hours of gameplay...
3 years ago
really want to play this...

registered for the free copy of episode 1, but you have to wait until Feb to get it...

i'm very tempted to grab it off steam as its reduced very slightly at around $22US... with the good $... thats tempting
3 years ago
I think the ~$25 is fairly decent for 5 episodes. I did the preorder and got Puzzle Agent for free, which was also quite a fun game.

I suspected it may be more "interactive movie" style, but I'm ok with that.

I am a slightly obsessive bttf fan, so my views are likely to be biased as well. icon_razz.gif
3 years ago
I don't buy telltalegames from Steam because you can't get the free DVD at the end of the season (need to pay for shipping), and I like that free DVD icon_biggrin.gif

The thing is, the puzzles in this game are really very easy.
Agreed. I finished it in 3 hours, amongst the quickest telltalegames eps I've ever played.

Still playable and fun though. We get to know Doc's teen years icon_biggrin.gif
3 years ago
Island_Wolf wrote
I don't buy telltalegames from Steam because you can't get the free DVD at the end of the season (need to pay for shipping), and I like that free DVD icon_biggrin.gif
There is a free dvd? The deal gets better and better.

If each episode is ~3 hours (maybe 5 hours for me because I'm bad at adventure games), that still seems like a reasonable investment for ~$25.
3 years ago
PALGN wrote
Unfortunately, there's a lot of bland stuff here, too. Despite the game's really brief length (3 hours unless you dilly dally), there's a lot of talking endlessly to uninteresting characters.
Bland?? Uninteresting?? Talking endlessly??

Do you you normally like this genre of games? It sounds like you don't because that's pretty much how most of these games go. I guess it's subjective but the only character I found to be a little bit bland, so far, was Biff at the start of the game.

I don't disgaree that this is not gaming greatness but I do disagree with the main bulk of this review as it paints a picture of a game that is boring, uninspired, annoying and barely playable and that its only redeeming quality is the franchise name and the voice acting of the two main actors.
3 years ago
^I've played every Telltale game so far, except for their CSI and early Poker games, and I'm also a huge adventure nut and Back to the Future fan.

Kidd Tannen in this game is a joke. He has nowhere near the menace of Biff, Mad Dog or Griff, who were all psychopaths in their own right, despite being buffoons. He just comes in, says whatever the cliche mobster line is appropriate, then awkwardly walks out.

Edna, who you do spend a lot of time with, is just woman-with-stick-up-her-butt-#3. Telltale already did this character in their Wallace and Gromit games with Wallace's neighbour. I thought for a minute we might see some character development when it turned out she is actually a charitous individual, but nope, she just talks high and mighty some more. And I know the other Stricklands were tightarses, but at least they were funny.

As for gameplay, you literally don't do a lot. There's only about three puzzles that require any thought at all, the rest being solved pretty damn easily. Add to that, 1930s Hill Valley is boring. I know it's Prohibition Era, but all you really see of it is the town square (or at least a couple of sides of it), a street, Doc's basement and the bland soup kitchen which came before Lou's Cafe. And again, these are boring.

Look, I am a huge, huge Back to the Future fan, and that's probably why I scored the game so high. That, and I loved all the Doc/Marty, Young Doc/Marty stuff. But this is almost like Telltale just pasted the license over their standard adventure game model (intro, collect a couple items, intermediary puzzle, 'action' ending). It could have been so much more. There's still time for it to become more. I really hope it does.
3 years ago
Scrav wrote
There is a free dvd? The deal gets better and better.

If each episode is ~3 hours (maybe 5 hours for me because I'm bad at adventure games), that still seems like a reasonable investment for ~$25.
Free DVD as in the full season will be on a DVD with a case and nice boxart icon_biggrin.gif

This is the main reason I don't buy it through steam as that is never the option.

Gamewise I do agree with what Adam said and hopefully they improve it a lot for the next one icon_sad.gif . I hope I don't have to put up with Edna as well!!! Where's a punch her in the face option, seriously!
3 years ago
So I just got an email telling me to download this, but I only have the free copy. I thought you didn't get it until February?
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