The first chapter of Telltale Games’ Back to the Future: The Game released shortly before the holiday break. It was a moment that fans of the franchise — those also considering themselves gamers — have been feverishly anticipating. So the question that needs to be answered: how does the first chapter (of five) stack up? Is the trip back in time with our Delorean and Huey Lewis best-of mix worth the wait? To answer that question Joey Davidson joins Erik Norris, both hardcore BTTF fans, to double team Episode 1 of Back to the Future: The Game from not only a fan of the movies standpoint, but also from that of a gamer.
Erik Norris: I think I speak for both of us when I say we’ve both been looking forward to the release of this title since its announcement. We’re both big fans of Back to the Future and gaming in general (obviously). So the combination of the two seemed like a wet dream.
I guess the best place to kick off this discussion is with Telltale’s use of the actual Back to the Future license. Did Telltale do justice to such a classic franchise? That’s a big question to answer, but it’s something we can pick away at.
Joey Davidson: I’ll answer your big question as briefly as I can before diving in head first. Yes. This is a great tribute and an awesome new approach to the Back to the Future license. The characters, the voice acting (mostly), the set pieces and the subtle nods are all in place here for the die-hard BTTF fan.
Sure, there are some snags here and there, as Joey Esposito so angrily pointed out during one of our podcasts, but the game is largely a win.
I’ll let you field your own question here in a second, Erik. But I wanted to end my moments of praise with a sentiment I know I’ve expressed to you before. It takes a special kind of gamer to enjoy point and click adventures. Telltale did what they do best here, but the gameplay in this title is a definite tough sell for those that haven’t been introduced to the genre; Back to the Future fans or not.
To serve it back: did Telltale do this franchise justice?
Erik: I believe so. Like you, I do have some minor grips here and there with some of the voicing acting (Biff), story beats and gameplay (more on these in a bit), but for the most part Telltale nailed a BTTF feel for this game. I think praise needs to be heaped onto A.J. Locascio, first and foremost, for his voice work as Marty McFly. Obviously Michael J. Fox could not do his part, outside lend his likeness, so voice actor A.J. stepped in and absolutely nailed it. Even the voice cracks felt authentic. It was damn impressive. Hearing Christopher Lloyd reprise the role of Doc was also something that brought a smile to my face, even if he does sound a good bit older than he already was when the BTTF films released.
However, there are moments, story-wise, where the game goes beyond homage and downright copies the original movie trilogy’s events. Moments that subtlety hearken back to the classic movies are a plenty, and much appreciated, but there are other moments that take the concept of history repeating itself a little too literally.
Finally, because I’m getting long-winded here, I do want to conclude with what you said about point-and-click adventures. I usually avoid them. I’m not a fan of the genre. With that said, it was the Back to the Future license that got me to check this game out, and it was the Back to the Future license that got me to finish it and feel excited about forthcoming episodes.
Joey: I like what you had to say about the odd story choices. It does feel like Telltale leaned a little too hard on classic concepts. While I’m loving the references and nods, I’m not necessarily loving the fact that this literally feels like the first BTTF, except older. As in, it took place earlier. Fans of the movies will see a lot of motifs and themes repeat here that maybe should have been left out.
Erik: It’s as if Telltale included them to appease die-hard BTTF fans, but the truth is this game’s existence gets that job done, in spades. And for a game that pretty much has spot-on humor that isn’t overly forced, these obvious nods to previous BTTF movies just felt out of place and unnecessary.
Joey: Going back to the gameplay, I know we’ve both mentioned that point-and-click is a tough breed to love, especially in the modern age… We’re both into it, so we can dismiss that fact here and now.
What I will earmark as terrible is the way Telltale handled Marty’s walking. The directions just don’t make sense sometimes! You use WASD to walk around, and honestly it can be hard as shit. Half the time I didn’t even realize I could access certain places because of it. Am I alone there?
Erik: No, I think you have a legitimate point. Moving around the environment is a tricky, awkward beast. It doesn’t help that the camera is fixed, making it so when you turn a corner and the camera shifts all of a sudden your controls are reversed. The game is also plagued by invisible walls that make what looks like a fully explorable town really only two or three traversable streets. I basically looked like a mentally handicap citizen making my way through prohibition-era Hilly Valley. I definitely didn’t look like I belonged, I didn’t need a fisherman’s life-vest (bubble jacket) to get that across.
Joey: Right, invisible walls these days are getting inexcusable.
Let’s step over to something else. This is, like recent Telltale projects, an episodic title. We’ll be seeing five game here. I love the style of storytelling, and it should prove to keep me happy for a few months. This single game checks in at around 2 to 2 ½ hours. But what do you think about the episodic nature? Is it any good for a movie franchise like this?
Erik: Absolutely. The Back to the Future movies are no stranger to the “To Be Continued” title card at their conclusion. That same trend continues here with Back to the Future: The Game, literally. When you finish the episode you get a “To Be Continued” message in the font of BTTF (per standard) and a short teaser trailer for the next episode. It hooks you, makes you want to come back for the next episode.
In regards to episodic gaming in general, I’m a fan. I’ve expressed this to you before, Joey. Bite-sized chunks are a great way to give hardcore games a casual game feel (though I wouldn’t consider a point-and-click adventure “hardcore,” per se, but I digress). It makes it so I only have to commit a few hours to playing and then have a nice spot to break at. I loved episodic gaming in Alan Wake, and I love it here in BTTF: The Game. The only difference is with Alan Wake I could instantly load up the next episode, here with BTTF I have to wait till February to get my next fix.
Joey: And that’s just it with this first episode. Telltale has put down the foundation for a great visit to the Back to the Future universe. Fans of the films should, in my opinion, see this first bit of the game as a bright spot for the series. There have been tons and tons of licensed entries into flicks and comics coming from the world of video games, and I think it’s great to see such a great job here so far.
That said, this is only the first piece of the puzzle. Telltale could literally go anywhere from here. Erik and I may see our gripes with the all-too-familiar story elements fade completely away over the next few months. Hell, Bob Gale and the folks at Telltale could blow our effing minds! But we’ll see about that.
Erik: Yea, if I had to point out areas I would like to see improvements in for future episodes it’s the familiarity of story events, control precision and maybe more diverse outcomes for the conversation branching. Otherwise, Episode 1 of Back to the Future: The Game is a solid effort and makes for a good start to the fourth official entry in BTTF canon.