The episodes of Back to the Future: The Game have so far been big on story, but short on gameplay. Appearing to be more of an 'interactive movie experience' than an adventure game, the series has so far taken us back to the 1930s to rescue Doc Brown, then back to an alternate 1986 ruled by an extended Biff family, before another revisit to the era of speakeasies and shoe polish. Citizen Brown, the third episode, probably has the most interesting premise of the lot, but does it fare any better as a game?
This time around, Marty finds himself in yet another alternate timeline, as upon returning to 1986 he wrecks the DeLorean and finds that Hill Valley has been transformed into a cross between George Orwell's 1984 and Disney's Tomorrowland, run by 'First Citizen Brown'. In this timeline, Doc's the most powerful man in town, Marty's a square, his dad monitors the town with constant video surveillance, and his girlfriend Jennifer is a punk rock chick. Needing Doc's help to repair the time machine, most of the episode is spent helping Marty get an audience with First Citizen Brown.
The plot is definitely more intriguing than the first two games, but it doesn't really start to take off until Marty finally meets the alternate Doc Brown. Christopher Lloyd is simply brilliant portraying a Doc who lost his passion for science and life, which is suddenly revived upon meeting Marty. In comparison, the rest of the episode seems pedestrian. While the setting is kooky, the game's pacing is an issue, which we'll expand upon in a bit. You may also get a bit confused as to how this all jives with established Back to the Future time travel. So, Marty and alternate Marty can exist at once, but Doc and alternate Doc can't? What about the flux capacitor notebook? Just repeat to yourself - it's just a game, you should really just relax.
Citizen Brown will last you around two or three hours, but much of that time will be spent in dialogue with other characters. Obviously, this is standard for traditional adventure games, but there are large chunks of time, especially in the first half of the game, where you'll just be clicking through dialogue options for lengthy exposition about this alternate timeline. Much of this could probably have been delivered in the tour guide posts around town, and a lot of the exposition is repeated over and over (it's illegal to drink alcohol, it's illegal to have a dog, etc). It is however nice to be interacting with proper Back to the Future characters, like George and Lorraine McFly.
The puzzles in Citizen Brown are a little harder than the previous episodes, for various reasons. Sometimes you may be momentarily stumped because you don't realise a certain object is interactive, or needs to be interacted with again at a different point in time. In other puzzles like the rock battle (no 'Power of Love' sadly), you'll have an idea of what you need to do, but you'll need to attempt them a few times in order to get it right. The problem is, you'll be relocated outside the puzzle each time, and sometimes to a different screen, from which you'll have to walk back, restart the puzzle, sit through the dialogue again, and then retry it. While the game is short, moments like these still frustrate. And while we said a 'little harder', the final puzzle is astonishingly easy. As in, there are three elements you can interact with, find the correct order. It's not exactly a mental Olympics.
The alternate Hill Valley is definitely cool, and more visually striking than 1930s Hill Valley. First Citizen Brown's office especially is the visual highlight of the game, and even Citizen Brown himself is a pretty cool design as the cold, repressed version of Doc. The animation is a little better, evident in Marty's running animation for example, and there is one great moment that replicates that scene in Back to the Future where Biff towers over Marty. On the downside, there are some glitches, as characters tend to jerk around on occasion, and effects like the DeLorean materialising tend to chug. There's also some very awkward staging, and the big opening of the episode is more than a little embarrassing due to it.
While Christopher Lloyd knocks it out of the park this episode, AJ LoCascio continues to be solid as Marty, and it's nice to have Claudia Wells back as Jennifer (after she was replaced by Elisabeth Shue in the sequels). The dialogue also contains some nice references here and there, to films like Star Wars, Tron, Bosom Buddies, Superman and even the questionable design of the DeLorean.
While the story of Citizen Brown is much more interesting than the first two episodes, it feels lopsided, with too much exposition in the first half, and all the interesting action taking place near the end. The gameplay fits snugly into Telltale's established model for adventure game episodes, with an initial puzzle, a 'find/do three things' major puzzle, and a couple of tasks leading up to the final puzzle. This isn't a bad thing, but it does mean that there's not really any surprises in store for adventure gamers. For people just in it for the story, we'd understand if Citizen Brown is your favourite episode yet. For us, as it stands it's a great concept wrapped up in an alright game.