Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's About Time Review

Back to the Future: The Game: Episode 1: It's About Time is Telltale's first game to be released as part of their partnership with Universal. It is a direct continuation of the story as featured in the films, taking place six months after the events of Back to the Future Part III. Like Tales of Monkey Island before it, the Telltale crew has consulted one of the creators of the license, in this case Back to the Future co-creator Bob Gale, in order to keep the game faithful to the films. The result is very impressive, but there are a few hiccups in Telltale's first foray into the Back to the future universe.

Telltale has opted to interpret the game in the art style of their other humorous adventures, rather than using realistic characters and scenes like their CSI games. The result is very pleasing, especially considering Telltale targets low-end hardware as much as high-end hardware so they can attract as many audiences as possible. This is a good thing, as it helps keep the game out of the uncanny valley. Telltale has captured the look of the Back to the Future characters very well in this style, and the characters do exude more emotion in their faces and movements than Telltale's previous games. The animation is still stiff, but they still managed to capture the erratic nature of Doc Brown well. The background images also are done well. They captured the look of the iconic images from the films, and the re-imagining of the town of Hill Valley in the a different time period was just as fun to see as it was in the films.  I did notice one hiccup with the animation where characters mouths were moving when no words being spoken.  It didn't happen too long, and it only happened once, so it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the game too much.

In this case, the time period visited is the 1930's during the prohibition era. We also get a glimpse of the 1980's at the start of the game, and here from all of the main cast except for Marty's girlfriend Jennifer. Telltale did a remarkable job in finding voice sound-alikes. The only actor to return from the films was Christopher Lloyd as Doctor Emmett L. Brown, and he still does the character brilliantly. A.J. Locascio is just as spot-on as the marketing for the game led you to believe. It really is amazing how much he sounds like Michael J. Fox as Marty. The rest of the cast isn't as eerily accurate, but they do sound like the characters from the films. We only get to hear Lorraine, Marty's mom, in the opening, but she does a classic line from the films, and she nails it.  George McFly is very convincing as well, and we get to hear more from his middle aged self than we ever do in the films.  We only get to hear Biff as his pushover middle aged self, but Andrew Chaikin has his voice afflictions down.  The new characters are also all voiced very well.  I especially like James Arnold Taylor as the 17 year old Emmett L. Brown.  He has Doc's vocal oddities down pat, and really does sound like a young Christopher Lloyd.  Members of the Tannen and McFly family always show up in the past, so here we get Artie McFly, Marty's grandfather, who looks very much like Marty's dad, and sounds a lot like Crispin Glover in George McFly's teenage years.  We also finally get to see Biff's father, who was absent in the films.  He's a gangster named Kid Tannen, who surprisingly doesn't look or sound like Biff, but rather has a New York accent.  It's a bit of a departure from the films, who always had the actors portray their relatives.  However, it works well.  My favorite new character is Edna Strickland.  Her 1980's elderly voice is a bit jarring, as it sounds a bit forced.  However, the voice is given a lot of range, so it doesn't quite jar as much as the Soda Poppers did in Telltale's Sam & Max series.  Her 1930's voice on the other hand, is very well done.  Her voice fits her character perfectly, and in retrospect, the 1980's voice does as well since we see how her character got to be the way she is 55 years later.  As long as Telltale doesn't overuse elderly Edna in future episodes, I'm sure her character will sit just fine with most people.

The music is always a high point in games by Telltale Games, and it certainly doesn't disappoint here.  he thing I was glad about was that get to hear period music in 1930's, as was the case in the movies, and fans will be glad to know there's a bit of Huey Lewis and the News in there as well.  As far as orchestration, Jared Emerson-Johnson does a great job blending the film's soundtrack with new music.  The soundtrack that is taken from the films is the original orchestrated score, which helps bring a sense of grandeur to the game.  The new music is not performed by a full orchestra, but it fits in the game just fine.  As evidenced by Poker Night at the Inventory, Jared is skilled at blending different music styles together, and he does the same remarkable job here.

Telltale's first episodes in any season always have easier puzzles than usual, but since they were aiming to attract an even more casual crowd than usual, the puzzles are easier than most of their first episodes.  A previous interview mentioned that Telltale were taking steps to attract even non-gamers, and the problems mentioned have been addressed here.  There is now an objective screen, which will tell players what they have to do next.  This can be turned off in the options, with the exclusion of the intro tutorial which is similar to that found in the first episode of Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse.  Even when the objectives are turned off, they can still be viewed by clicking the exclamation point in the right corner of the screen.  The hints system has also been overhauled, getting a system similar to the Universal Hint System format, where the player can get a simple hint, a more detailed hint, or a hint that tells the player what to do.  I have always liked the UHS format because players can choose how detailed of a hint they want, so I'm glad to see Telltale adopt the format in-game.  I personally didn't have a problem with the easy puzzles and the catering to casual gamers, as the rest of the game design made up for it in my opinion, but it may be a problem for some.

It's About Time is a great start to what looks to be another great series for Telltale Games.  The story, voice acting, art design, and music all stay faithful to the source material.  The story is engrossing, and it makes you want more.  There are a few technical hiccups which take you out of the experience somewhat, but they happen few and far between.  The puzzles are easier than a lot of adventure gamers would like, but in my opinion the rest of the game design makes up for it.  The game shouldn't disappoint most people who are fans of Back to the Future and the adventure genre.

Update: 12/1/15: Since I wrote this review, a remaster called the 30th Anniversary Edition has been released.  The improved textures aren't really that noticeable, however they also managed to get Tom Wilson to reprise his role as Biff.  The authenticity of having Tom voice Biff works really well in the situations where we get to hear the tough Biff, which we only get a taste of here, but is much more noticeable in later episodes.  If you have yet to play the game, pick up the remastered version if you can.  If you've already played it, it's not really worth picking up again, unless you're a big Back to the Future fan.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

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