Back to the Future: The Game was one of the last games released by Telltale Games before The Walking Dead exploded and brought their work into the mainstream. Because of TWD’s success, Back to the Future has received more attention since its release and has even been ported to PS3 and PS4, part of a cheeky tie-in with the franchise’s 30th anniversary. But the question is–is it any good?
Like Telltale’s more recent games, Back to the Future is an episodic adventure, in this case told in five parts. So far I have only played the first episode, which took me several sittings and several hours to get through. It felt much longer than recent Telltale episodes, which sometimes clock in at about ninety minutes (or less), and in general the ‘feel’ of this is, naturally, much closer to that first season of The Walking Dead than more recent games. The emphasis here is slightly more on ‘game’ than narrative or dialogue, and you spend a lot of time walking around trying to solve environmental puzzles. So don’t expect any dramatic choices or big moral dilemmas–which would in any case be out of keeping with the tone of the franchise, I suppose.
One of the best things about this episode is the loving recreation of aspects of the Back to the Future universe. In particular, the first scene will be familiar to fans and it was a real pleasure to hear Marty McFly saying some familiar lines. Marty is not voiced by Michael J. Fox, but the replacement does a good job of sounding like the character you remember. It’s probably a good thing they got another voice actor, consider Fox’s age; Christopher Lloyd returns to voice Emmet Brown, but he sounds every bit the 20 years older, and considering the events here happen shortly after the last film, it doesn’t really work. But still, it’s nice to see these characters again.
Marty is quickly dragged into time-travelling shenanigans and ends up in prohibition-era USA. Most of the game takes place during this setting and, for me, it really dragged on. The problem is that the entire game revolves around environmental puzzles, but there is not really much rhyme or reason about what items can interact with what: it all comes down to trial or error. Other times you might be doing the right things but in the wrong order, and need to speak to someone and choose a particular dialogue option before you can advance. It all feels a bit arbitrary. Moreover Marty spends a lot of the time just running around doing errands, and I really don’t want to spend my video game time turning on radiators or delivering soup. It’s not helped by the fact the dialogue is generally rather flat. There are a few funny moments courtesy of Marty’s wisecracking, but on the whole I found myself avoiding any dialogue options that didn’t look like they would advance the plot. Which is not a good sign when the only other thing the game has to offer are odd jobs and some underwhelming environmental puzzles.
The graphics look quite dated: this would not have been a pretty game when it was released in 2011, and in 2016 the textures look quite bad. The art style on the whole has the standard Telltale feel, and the character models are competently done if somewhat ugly.
Throughout, you can see the ingredients that culminated in The Walking Dead, but there is no magic here. After the initial thrill of being in the Back to the Future universe wore off, I found that playing through this episode really felt like a chore. I’ll probably get round to trying the next episode at some point–I got the whole thing on Steam for a few pounds–but I’m in no hurry.