With 12 story based point and click adventures under their belt that explore the universes of Bone, Sam & Max, Homestar Runner, Wallace & Gromit, and CSI, Telltale received their big break in obtaining the Back to the Future license in 2010. I knew nothing about Telltale seven years ago, but I specifically remember the video game and movie media that I followed discussing the Back to the Future game in anticipation of its release. It was advertised as a pseudo-sequel to the movie trilogy with many of the actors from the movies voicing their characters in the game (Christopher Lloyd and Claudia Wells) and screenwriter Bob Gale was brought in to assist the Telltale writers in the game’s script and overall story arc. Michael J. Fox only made a cameo in the game but voice actor A.J. Locascio perfected a young Marty McFly impersonation and was hired to voice the main character.
All three Back to the Future films came out before I was born and I have never felt an urge to watch them. My desire to play this game back in early 2014 on my PS3 was formed out of my respect for Telltale after playing their Walking Dead game. As I played through the Back to the Future: The Game the first time 3 years ago I remember enjoying myself and searching the internet for information on future Telltale releases. The Walking Dead was my first exposure to Telltale and Back to the Future: The Game solidified my personal belief that interactive story based games is my favorite genre.
Telltale re-released Back to the Future: The Game on modern consoles in late 2015 in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the first movie and to cash in on a product they already made by exploiting their new found success and fame promoting the game to most of their new fans who were probably unaware of its existence. Giving into my materialistic nature I purchased the re-release (I at least waited for it to go down in price) and just recently replayed it.
The changes to the 30th anniversary are minor. The game performs a little better at a higher resolution and actor Tom Wilson re-recorded the lines of Biff Tannen (Wilson played Biff in the movies) to replace the voice acting of Andrew Chaikin (known as Kid Beyond) in the original release. A mini-doc was included with the new version which includes interviews with the writers, designers, and voice actors who described the history of the game and what their intentions were in making it. I liked this short video as it brings the fans behind the curtain to see some of the behind the scenes process, but there were a few corny lines that I vividly remember. Towards the end of the video, the tone changed into a promotional commercial for the new game and their excitement to re-release the game on the modern consoles to make the game look shiny and more impressive.
The game didn’t look new and shiny. It still chugged along during some busy moments and there were several times that polygons didn’t load in. When I served Artie McFly his subpoena, he looked at it in disgust and waved it around in his hands explaining why he can’t testify against Kid Tannen in court. As he did this, the subpoena never loaded in and Artie McFly was staring and waving around an empty hand. Another moment that I remember specifically is the scene in the speakeasy where a person was drinking at the bar and the drink glass never loaded in, the person raised and lowered an empty hand to their mouth. The title screen for the 5th episode fluttered and cut in and out while other polygons bled into the background outside of the high school in the 5th episode as well. I found it disappointing that even on a PS4 the game still runs and performs below acceptable standards.
Back to the Future: The Game plays like a point and click adventure, more so than Telltale’s recent games. All 5 episodes of the game have multiple puzzles that require a lot of exploration and trial and error to solve. These puzzles are what make this story based adventure a game versus an interactive movie which the newer games have evolved into.
Telltale’s strongest attribute is making a hashed out universe interesting again. After three movies, the Back to the Future well was long dry but Telltale created an interesting story arc that is worth exploring. The time travel theories had loopholes and fell apart at times but the developers were self-aware enough to make fun of the absurdity of the situations Marty and Doc found themselves in. One plot advancement technique that was used too often in this game was the “hey, what’s that over there?” distraction strategy to obtain and item or to get away from an enemy. When this was done in the 5th and final episode to officer Parker, he stated “I should really stop falling for that.” That self-awareness goes a long way with me.
The art design of the game made it feel like a light hearted cartoon. This theme meshed well with story and characters and from what I have heard about the movies, it matches the atmosphere of them as well. I found it interesting that this game is rated “T” for teen as this is by far the least offensive and violent Telltale game I have played. There are gun fights and the characters say “shit” several times, but I didn’t think it warranted a T rating.
Without spoiling the ending of the final episode, the game ends on a strategic cliff hanger. Following the credits a “To Be Continued…” graphic appeared on screen in the Back to the Future font implying that there is going to be a second season. I would be shocked if a second season was ever created as Telltale is currently frying bigger fish in much more popular and relevant franchises such as The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Minecraft, Batman, and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Back to the Future: The Game is a little rough around the edges and dated, but it is the stepping stone for what Telltale has become.