There is surely no more appropriate title for Telltale Games' take on the Back To The Future series than It's About Time. There have been numerous games based on the classic film trilogy in the past, but few have been memorable and most have been just plain bad. However, if the first chapter of this episodic series is any indication, I may have reason to put my rage to rest in the very near future. Certainly, anyone with a PC, Mac, or PlayStation 3 has a real treat in store over the coming weeks.
Video games have always had difficulty telling stories that complement feature films, but thanks to the passage of time and the collaboration of those key to the creation of the original films, the story in Back to the Future: It's About Time gets off to a strong start. The game begins in 1986, where Doc Brown's disappearance from the "present" is starting to have repercussions throughout Hill Valley.
After dealing with said anomalies and chatting up the locals, Marty McFly comes across the time-travelling DeLorean in fine shape, but without a driver. After conducting a little research he is directed to a new time period in Hill Valley's storied history, which, without spoiling too much for Future-fans, features a previously unseen generation of the town's famous families for Marty to interact with, as well as a much younger version of one of the trilogy's most beloved characters.
While the plot is almost at the level of the film trilogy and it's great to interact with characters from the franchise, the one thing that really bothered me about the game was the lack of scale. The game mainly takes place in a single large exterior location, and brief forays into a handful of smaller interior and exterior spots makes the lack of variety glaringly apparent.
It's About Time's central set-piece - a chase across a courtyard - feels similarly downsized, coming across like a diluted version of the films' amazing skateboard sequences. A few more minor infractions might annoy Back To The Future fanboys, like the lack of depth to the new characters and a few poorly-explained plot anachronisms. The former may be improved over the course of the series, but the latter is incongruous with the trilogy's tight scripting.
Despite these quibbles, it's obvious that the team working on It's About Time knows the trilogy backwards and forwards, and it shines through in almost every facet of the experience. The cartoon visuals allow for some impressive standalone sequences - the aforementioned chase notwithstanding - while still keeping the ability to pay tribute to the events of the films.
The two leads are voiced extremely well, with Christopher Lloyd reprising the role of Doc Brown, and Marty McFly tackled by A.J. Locascio, who does the best Michael J. Fox impression one could hope for. Even better is the musical score, which is a masterful continuation of Alan Silvestri's iconic work on the films.
Where we're going, we won't need roads
More importantly, Back to the Future: It's About Time's gameplay is pitch-perfect, and will cater equally to both Telltale fans and trilogy aficionados. The controls offer enough variety to cater to those who know their way around a keyboard and mouse, but can be simplified for those who rarely dabble in video games - I was able to complete entire sections of the game using only my Macbook's trackpad, thanks to the game's secondary "drag and move" control scheme.
As a staunch Back To The Future fan and a somewhat lapsed adventure game player, the puzzles are pitched at exactly right difficulty for Telltale veterans and fourth-dimensional-thinking Back To The Future fans alike. My playthrough for the first chapter lasted a little over three hours, though I thoroughly examined almost every dialogue choice. Players who want to breeze through the story can probably clear it in less than two hours, but given the fun and familiarity of the universe I doubt many will want to keep their conversations curt and their explorations short.
As the first of five parts of a $25 package, it's hard to complain too much about the small scale of Back to the Future: It's About Time. Telltale Games has done an amazing job of replicating the audio and visual elements of the trilogy, while still telling a story that starts strong and has the potential to get even better.
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