Monday, August 1, 2011

Back to the Future: The Game Wrap-Up Review

With all five of the Back to the Future: The Game episodes now released, we can take a look back to see how well this addition to the Back to the Future franchise fits with the films, as well as some of its high and low points.

When Telltale Games announced they secured the rights for a Back to the Future licensed game, I felt confident that if anyone could create a fun point-and-click adventure game, it would be Telltale. The choice of genre was probably the most conducive for the franchise. The film structure of Back to the Future could transition well into game format; needing to complete several tasks leading to an ultimate goal is the epitome of an adventure game. I can’t imagine seeing Marty and Doc in the setting of a first-person shooter, real-time strategy, or platformer. I might see some leniency towards a third-person action game, but the environments in Back to the Future don’t lend themselves too much to action, and instead focus more on small tasks. Telltale’s recent hits, including Tales of Monkey Island and Sam & Max, made me believe there wasn’t another company that could handle it better.

When they first revealed the concept art, I found its design an interesting departure from the norm. It’s less stylized than games such as Sam & Max, Puzzle Agent, or Hector, but I can see why they wanted to pursue this direction. Telltale’s upcoming releases of Jurassic Park: The Game, and The Walking Dead both look to use the same engine, so it was integral to shift art assets from what they used in the past.

Though gameplay and puzzles make up the majority of an adventure game, it was the voice acting that brought the game to life. Enough good things can’t be said about A.J. LoCascio voicing Marty McFly. At this point, I believe it’s fair to say that LoCascio is a better Marty voice than Michael J. Fox. Near the beginning of the development of the game, there was a big question of why Fox wasn’t voicing Marty. After hearing his contributions as Williams McFly in the fifth episode, OUTATIME, I can understand why Telltale didn’t go down that route. His voice is gravely, and transparent of his current age. Though it’s nice to see him validate the game with his voice, I wouldn’t want young Marty to sound as such. Along with Christopher Lloyd and Claudia Wells both reprising their roles from the films, Telltale was able to bring an authenticity to the game that gives it the oxygen of the films.

So if Telltale got everything so far right, what went wrong? The problem comes when the story tries to do two things. While trailers and such billed the game as being a continuation of the story from the films, it comes off more like being part of the animated series from the mid-90s. This becomes even more surprising when the writer of the script for the game, Bob Gale, was one of the original writers for the Back to the Future film along with Robert Zemeckis.

Through-out the all five episodes of the game, there is no arc for Marty or Doc. Instead, Marty actually does things we learned he wouldn’t ever do, such as hurt his friends to get what he wants. In OUTATIME, there is a point where Marty cuts off Doc’s oxygen to force Doc to reveal where he is hiding young Emmett Brown. Doc Brown himself has so many persona changes through the game, I’m not sure which one to label the real Doc Brown. There is the one that traveled back to 1931, then the one from alternate 1986, and then the future Doc from 1986 that comes back to 1931. The changes in attitudes between these three Docs vary, and keep the player from identifying the same character they saw in the films. The only character to change through all five episodes is Edna Strickland, where she goes from a hooligan and dog-hating reporter, to a hooligan herself, to eventually marrying a criminal and walking neighborhood dogs.

The game also lacks any kind of impact on the Back to the Future franchise itself. Aside from secondary characters like Edna Strickland and Kid Tannen, there is no change to the main story or timeline. Everything returns to normal and there is no footprint left. Like I said earlier, this feels more like part of the cartoon series from the 90s than Back to the Future Part 4. If you were reaching for something, you could point to the change that Doc is now purported to living in his mansion part-time with his kids and Clara, but there is no visual evidence. With the exception of the garage in the first episode, none of the mansion is shown, and when the change happens in the fifth episode, there is nothing to connect it with. There isn’t even an appearance of the train from Back to the Future III.

When it comes down to the end, Back to the Future: The Game is a fun experience for fans of the franchise. If you’re looking for a good, in-depth adventure game, Telltale has done better in the past. Whether we’ll see another season is the bigger question left. At the end, in classic Back to the Future fashion, a ‘to be continued’ line is shown hinting at the possibility of a second season. But that will most likely be determined by sales, rather than quality or popularity.

If you missed anyone of the reviews, you can read them for each episode below.

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