If there's anything to be learned from sci-fi-drenched tales of time travel, it's that fiddling around with the past and altering key historic events almost always has unintended--and potentially catastrophic--consequences. It's a hallmark of the classic Back to the Future films, and a plot mechanic that's getting a lot of clever play in Telltale's new episodic adventure gaming spin-off of the series. The debut episode set the right tone with a strong story and engaging characters, making up for its gentle puzzles and limited scope. Things get rolling more steadily in Episode II: Get Tannen with its snappier pace, entertaining character developments, and some minor but meaningful tweaks to the formula.
Following a time-traveling romp to Hill Valley's Prohibition era to track down his missing pal Emmet "Doc" Brown in Episode I: It's About Time, Marty McFly finds that his celebration of a job well done at the cliff-hanger conclusion is short-lived. His heroic meddling in the past has the unfortunate side effect of setting events into motion that will erase his existence if he can't find a way to stop them. As the spunky protagonist is starting to fade, he hightails it even further back in time to try to set things right. But what seems like a quick fix to a big problem soon makes the situation even worse, and Marty gets stuck trying to infiltrate and take down a drove of gunslinging mobsters to save himself, his dad, and his future. Like the first episodic installment, Get Tannen features excellent character interactions and a gripping plot that feels faithful to the spirit of the films. It's easy to get sucked into the events that unfold from one time period to the next, and the blend of carryover characters from the last jaunt is beefed up by some colorful newcomers. A love-scorned lounge singer, mullet- and mustache-adorned hooligans, and an impressionable cop with a bit of a drinking problem are just a few new faces that spruce up the tale. Humorous moments abound throughout this episode too, making the few short hours it takes to complete this installment absorbing from start to finish.
Get Tannen plays out across some of the same settings explored in the previous episode, though you also visit a couple of new spots that offer some welcome changes of scenery, like a seedy nightclub that transforms into an "ice-cream parlor" at a moment's notice. Changes in perspective and different camera angles minimize the feeling of deja vu when you're returning to familiar areas like Hill Valley's park and downtown. Beyond making old scenes feel fresh, the way the camera works this time around is a definite improvement. There are still moments when sudden changes in the camera angle during transitions from one area to the next make adjusting your direction in mid-walk a little awkward, but many sections switch things up with dynamic views that shift as you go. Some puzzles feature a static first-person perspective that lets you pan around a scene a full 360 degrees to interact with your surroundings. There are even a few spots where the camera offers a more traditional third-person perspective and moves closely behind Marty as he meanders. This constant shifting blends well with the new areas to explore and keeps the episode from dragging. You never have to stay in one spot for too long, and the time it takes to hike between areas is minimized.
Back to The Future's puzzles are still a cakewalk compared to those in other similar episodic adventure games like Sam & Max, Tales of Monkey Island, and Wallace & Gromit. That said, the puzzles are exceedingly clever and fun to play around with, even if they're a little on the obvious side. Get Tannen features a handful of the standard "use item X on hotspot Y" adventure game puzzles to bridge the gap between dialogue-based challenges and more elaborate conundrums. Some of the episode's more entertaining puzzles include creative challenges that have you fiddling with sheet music to influence important characters, jockeying for position among a gang of ill-dressed ruffians seeking to cave your face in, and using your surroundings to pick off mobsters without being caught. Overcoming these obstacles isn't very hard--the game's multitiered hint system is rarely needed--but they fit so well into the context of the situations you find yourself thrust in that the lack of a real challenge is forgivable.
On the whole, Episode II: Get Tannen shows a marked improvement over Episode I. The pacing flows better, the latest installment has a broader variety of locations and character interactions, and the creative puzzles evolve in interesting and enjoyable ways. While heavy-duty adventure gaming veterans may turn their nose up at the meager difficulty, there is something to be said for not having to pore over pages of a detailed walk-through every few minutes. Strong writing and great personality continue to carry the series upward and onward.