Telltale games have long had a movie-like quality, but the developer has almost always had the benefit of creating their own worlds. Back to the Future: The Game, on the other hand, carries unavoidable comparisons to the classic Robert Zemeckis films from the 1980s. Fortunately, Telltale has risen to the challenge and created a story that sits comfortably alongside the movie trilogy.
A year after the third film, Marty is lamenting Doc’s absence and trying to protect his property as the local bank hosts an estate sale. When the DeLorean returns automatically to Doc’s lab, Marty travels to prohibition-era Hill Valley to find him. A few minor plot holes aside — where are Clara, the boys, and the train? — the story feels like a natural extension of the universe. It’s refreshing to explore a new era instead of falling back on the ones presented in the films.
Click the image above to check out all Back to the Future: The Game screens.
With several episodic games under their belt, Telltale knows how to balance plot points. This first entry resolves one major conflict while leaving several other threads dangling, including an unforeseen cliffhanger; like Tales of Monkey Island, you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but you’re left wanting more.
By taking cues from the films, this may be Telltale’s most cinematic entry to date. Particularly in the cut-scenes, the camera and musical cues evoke a feeling of watching the movies. And the excellent voice-acting from A.J. Locascio as Marty certainly helps. I feared that Telltale had picked only the best lines during its impressive promo videos, but Locascio pulls off his uncanny Marty impression throughout.
Like a movie, though, the experience is very linear. Most adventure games don’t carry much replay value, but Back to the Future seems even more limited than usual. There’s usually only one way to solve a puzzle, and you’re often locked in a small space until you solve it. Dialogue trees are presented, but don’t seem to impact the outcome in any significant way. Sometimes Marty says the same thing no matter what dialogue option you choose, making your involvement in the experience feel a bit superficial.
The puzzles themselves are fairly simple, but if you get stuck the game offers a robust hint system. Even minor actions between puzzles, like where to go for the next one, have at least one associated hint, so you’ll never feel completely stuck.
Back to the Future is a promising start for the five-part series and a treat for fans. While adventure aficionados might hope for harder puzzles and larger spaces to explore, casual players and first-time adventure gamers should have fun reconnecting with familiar characters. Most of all, Telltale deserves credit for showing how its polished storytelling can make this episodic series live up to its namesake.