It's not easy adding a new installment to a classic movie franchise. Just take a look at what happened to “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” when its actual creators dared to mess with perfection. Some things are better off being left alone to be fondly remembered as masterpieces of their time, and if you had asked me, “Back to the Future” was definitely one of those things. An epic trilogy of science fiction cinema at its finest, “Back to the Future” was practically flawless. It seemed foolish, even criminal, to consider adding more to the story and potentially messing up its legacy, especially if the chosen medium was an episodic video game for the PC.
It's a good thing Telltale Games never bothered to ask for my opinion, because “Back to the Future: The Game” is everything that a “Back to the Future” experience should be. Yes, it's episodic (meaning we won't get the next chapter for another few months) and yes it might not be the most exhilarating game you've ever played, but for anyone who grew up dreaming of traveling through time in DeLorean or shredding through the streets on Marty's hover board, “Back to the Future: The Game” will sate that lingering urge for a Back to the Future sequel you've been enduring for the last two decades.
If you've never seen “Back to the Future” (or hell, if you haven't seen it in the last six months) go watch the trilogy now. This is primarily because the “Back to the Future” is easily one of the best sci-fi franchises ever created (arguably better than “Star Wars” considering the rather sordid state its canon is in) but also because “Back to the Future: The Game” assumes you're already intimately familiar with them. Set only a few months after the end of “Back to the Future III”, “Back to the Future: The Game” has Marty McFly traveling through history once again to rescue his friend, the eccentric Dr. Emmett Brown, from an untimely death.
If you've played some of Telltale Games' past work, like “Sam & Max” or “Wallace & Gromit”, you should already be well acquainted with the adventure style of gameplay that “Back to the Future: The Game” uses. As Marty McFly, you'll navigate areas of Hill Valley (both in the present and the past), discovering items and engaging in branching dialogue trees with other characters in order to unearth clues that will lead you to the whereabouts of Doc Brown.
Each area presents a sort of self-contained puzzle that needs to be solved in order to move on to the next area and progress the story. Some times this means using an item you discovered in conjunction with a character or a part of the environment. Other times it means merely engaging in a conversation with someone or clicking on an area of interest to trigger a cut scene. It might sound simplistic, but the key is really figuring out what actions will allow you to continue and the answer is seldom sitting right in front of you. Common sense and a little bit of thinking outside the box will usually work, but occasionally the game throws some real head scratchers at you, some of which rely on you recreating iconic scenes from the movies. Again, if you haven't seen the movies, you might feel a bit lost at times. Hardcore fans, though, won't have any trouble figuring out what you're supposed to do with an electric guitar and the humongous amp in Doc Brown's garage.
The gameplay, admittedly, won't be for everyone. It can be a bit slow and tedious at times, even with the game's hint system designed to ensure no puzzle is impossible. That said, even if you're not a big fan of adventure games, Telltale Games' exceptional writing and storytelling will keep you hooked. The storyline has all the trademarks of a “Back to the Future” plot, the characterization of the film's cast is spot on, and the dialogue is as witty and clever as always.
At the end of the day, the real reason why you'll want to play “Back to the Future: The Game” is because you loved the movies and want to find out what happens next to Marty and Doc. “Back to the Future: The Game” answers those questions, and it does so with such style and strict adherence to its source material that its difficult to distinguish the game from the movies. Everything about the game does such a terrific job of recreating elements from the films, from the locales you'll explore, to the characters you'll interact with, to the incredibly solid voice acting (it's been said many times before, but it's hard to believe that the actor voicing Marty isn't Michael J. Fox), that even the most devout fans will have trouble finding anything too objectionable about it.
There might be some who are genuinely concerned that “Back to the Future: The Game” might tarnish the franchise, like “Star Wars: Episode I” irreparably did to the “Star Wars” saga. Rest assured, that isn't the case. Telltale Games should feel incredibly proud of themselves for not only again making an incredibly enjoyable adventure game (provided you actually like the genre), but adding a new chapter to the “Back to the Future” series that fans will have absolutely no problem in embracing as an addition to the official canon.
Final Grade: A-
“Back to the Future: The Game”
Developer: Telltale Games
Platforms: PC (via download)
Release Date: 12.22.10