Films of the '80s are notoriously responsible for spawning a deluge of supercheesy fashion fouls, hokey acting atrocities, and cringeworthy fads. To some extent, the Back to the Future movie trilogy is guilty on all charges, but if thoughts of flaming tire tracks left by a heavily pimped-out DeLorean evoke feelings of fuzzy nostalgia, then you'll find lots to love in this resurrection of the franchise. As an all-new episodic adventure game series, Back to the Future: The Game shows a lot of promise with its debut installment, even if the puzzle complexity and overall difficulty is dialed down a bit lower than it is in developer Telltale's other games.
Instead of rehashing the events that played out in the films, Back to the Future: The Game explores new territory and continues the time-hopping adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Emmet Brown. It's About Time picks up a few months after the events of the third film, and all is not well in Hill Valley. Doc has gone missing for months, and the city is determined to sell off his estate to cover his past-due financial obligations. Marty is reluctant to let the sale go through, and even more reluctant to let any of Doc's possessions go to his nemesis, Biff Tannen. But soon the DeLorean mysteriously shows up with a recorded message from Doc who is stranded somewhere in the past, and Marty has bigger problems to deal with. Marty has to figure out a way to save his old pal, which kicks off an oddball time-traveling rescue mission set in Hill Valley's prohibition era. The entertaining story that follows is enhanced by believable character interactions, imbuing the adventure with a great sense of authenticity.
Marty and Doc are strong and likeable lead characters, and the impressive visual designs mixed with the expertly delivered voice work make them all the more entertaining. Doc is actually voiced by Christopher Lloyd, while the other main characters are voiced by sound-alikes. The killer verbal delivery sounds spot-on, and Marty sounds especially good. Even with a cartoonish sheen, the characters and locations really come to life in the first episode. The game is one of Telltale's best-looking efforts yet. Hill Valley offers a highly detailed and interesting streetscape to explore. However, it's a little disappointing that the town is not more interactive. When Marty enters most buildings or storefronts, your point-of-view remains stuck out on the sidewalk. During such moments, Marty typically engages in a quick snippet of dialogue behind closed doors before being booted back to the street. There are only a handful of key indoor locales in which to venture around. They're well developed and offer some neat puzzles, but they're few and far between.
The PlayStation 3 control scheme works similarly to its PC counterpart, though remapped buttons make it easy to quickly access various submenus. The left thumbstick moves Marty around directly, and you can select hot spots you're standing next to with a tap of the X button. The shoulder buttons let you cycle through available hot spots to interact with manually. It's a nice touch that saves a little time when you don't feel like manually walking across the screen to grab something. Moving from one area to the next often switches camera angles. This can make it awkward to get your bearings at times, but it doesn't take long to figure out where you are or which direction you're moving in.
A well-penned story, compelling characters, and a stellar presentation drive the game more than anything else. When it comes to the gameplay and puzzles, It's About Time is surprisingly light on challenge and content. The flow and scope of the game is very standard adventure-gaming fare. You follow the plot cues and often find objects to interact with or items to pick up and carry around until they're needed. Most puzzles you encounter are interesting and well thought-out. For example, trying to figure out a way to con the young version of Doc into finishing a peculiar invention to unknowingly save his older self has you running around on a cavalcade of amusing errands. The puzzles almost always skew on the easy side, so while they're still enjoyable to solve, you shouldn't come to It's About Time looking for a challenge. If you do find yourself stuck, there's a scalable hint system that you can call on to give you a nudge in the right direction.
Despite lacking some of the complexity and puzzle depth of Telltale's other work, Back to the Future's premiere episode still holds you pretty tightly in its grip for the few short hours it takes to plow through it. It's a brief trek that packs plenty of plot and personality to balance out its other shortcomings. Considering the strength of the story and the fact that the plot thread runs throughout the whole series, you're sure to be left feeling anxious to see what comes next. This series holds a lot of promise, and the taste in episode one definitely provides a strong foundation for Telltale to continue building on in upcoming episodes. The future looks bright indeed.