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Back to the Future: The Game Review

July 3rd, 2012 by

Has the episodic adventure game route started to wear a bit thin now? After great success with Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People on PC and Nintendo WiiWare, Telltale Games was hailed as resurrecting what many believed to be a dead genre — that of the old point and click style. In truth, although the spotlight that once shone so brightly on the likes of Grim Fandango, Broken Sword and Monkey Island has faded somewhat, there are still numerous strong entries being churned out each and every year. What Telltale has successfully managed to do, though, is to direct the mainstream attention back onto the more-often-than-not amusing puzzle-led outings, helped considerably by the wise acquisition of the Sam & Max license, and working out deals with LucasArts for Tales of Monkey Island, Aardman for Wallace & Gromit, and now Universal for Back to the Future.

The question, however, was whether or not Telltale Games’ formula has started to grow rather stale.  After all, the same team bringing out a barrage of four-to-five episode stories in only a handful of years is going to lead to some strain creeping in when it comes to creativity. Starting off in the first of five story snippets in Back to the Future, anyone that has even sampled one of the PC, WiiWare or other format releases from the US developer will feel right at home almost immediately. In fact, it feels a little too familiar, and signs of formula fatigue are, unsurprisingly, definitely present. Thankfully, though, the witty dialogue and amusing puzzle scenarios offered help to alleviate any negative thoughts very quickly.

Back to the Future: The Game is not one of those ‘collect-a-thon’ affairs, whereby nearly every item in the character’s vicinity can be picked up, only then to find that only a mere few objects are of actual use to progress the story further, some of which also need to be combined first, leading to all manner of permutations being tested to obtain solutions. Instead more focus is placed on triggers and chain reactions; choosing the correct responses during specific conversations, almost immediately making use of material collected only a couple of steps prior, or even achieving the appropriate pattern of movements and actions to successfully navigate through challenging situations. It proves to be extremely refreshing and frees up the gamer to do the most important thing – sit back, relax and fully enjoy the experience, and with a strong comedic element pumping through its veins, it is well worth being able to do so, exploring all conversation avenues en route.

That is not to say Back to the Future: The Game comes away smelling of roses; there are some flaws present. For instance, it is abundantly clear that the five episodes have been pretty much slapped onto a disc without much care and attention, resulting in some chronic slowdown and unforgivably long loading sections that are highly reminiscent of issues found in PC versions of Telltale’s past releases. Simple optimisation for the format at hand should have easily resolved this matter. Another bugbear is the lack of pointer controls. The Wii and WiiWare games from Telltale were lauded for their masterful replication of a PC’s mouse control thanks to the Wii Remote’s IR sensor functionality. Therefore, why the PlayStation 3’s Move feature was not utilised is beyond belief. In its place is a clunky traditional setup with movement mapped to the left analogue stick, which only further highlights the static camera and limited environment size quirks.

First of all, only set paths can be taken — for example, only being able to cross the road at a designated point — and, in addition to that, the old frustrating Resident Evil ‘tank’ controls kick in, along with the analogue stick’s positioning not being reset when moving from one camera position to another. Therefore, you can be pressing up to move up into the screen, only for the camera to change to another viewpoint and pressing up no longer guides Marty McFly upwards, instead in whatever orientation the camera is positioned in at the time. It is obviously possible to grow accustomed to this archaic system, but why it was used is another unanswered question.

A smart little inclusion for this PS3 edition are trophies that can be earned along the way for achieving certain feats, but sadly far too often most can be missed and the only way to get them after that is to start the adventure all over again. Back to the Future also falls down in the visual stakes, both in terms of attention to detail and the animation in general. Watching the likes of Martin McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown move robotically around limited scale, extremely lacklustre environments is thoroughly disappointing. For Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People it was acceptable since the world of Homestar Runner is sparse to begin with, and the bumbling nature of the Mighty Pirate Guybrush Threepwood in Tales of Monkey Island was fitting given his overall haphazard demeanour and skittish persona. Watching as characters from a movie judder around unnaturally, on the other hand, is downright ‘odd’ to see.

Despite the technical flaws, however, the voice acting is of a high calibre, with Christopher Lloyd reprising his much loved role of the marginally crazed Doc and even Michael J. Fox being enlisted in a cameo to voice older versions of the film’s lead, Marty, and his grandfather. The wide range of the supporting cast is equally impressive, inclusive of those playing the young McFly and Emmett Brown, living up to the standards set by Telltale’s casting previously. It really does help to boost the atmosphere and draw players into the time travelling antics that focus on the mishaps that regularly occur in the timeline when hopping from one period to the next, changing the course of history, even in the slightest of ways. Add in the complexity of the intertwining story threads across the five episodes, some clever puzzle shenanigans, and witty scripting to appease fans of the movies and Telltale’s past games alike, and Back to the Future: The Game proves to be a technically flawed, yet highly enjoyable, piece of brilliance that should definitely be given a shot.

MLG Rating: 7/10 Platform: PlayStation 3 Release Date: 04/05/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer was provided a retail copy of Back to the Future for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of four days on a PS3.

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