In a move destined to earn me endless ridicule from my "hardcore" gaming friends I decided to take advantage of a deal this week. Sometimes it's just too hard to resist a sale on Steam. http://store.steampowered.com/app/31290
Why ridicule? Well, unlike most of my other gaming pursuits this game is a bit lower key and higher brow.
I wasn't lining anyone up in my sights, hurtling 6 figure cars down the racetracks of Europe or trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with the orange propulsion gel. Instead I was spending time with some old friends.
Back to the Future: The Game was offered on Steam for $10 during a mid-week sale. Normally the game is $24.99.
Following on the storyline of the original movie trilogy the game is set 6 months after the third Back to the Future film. We open on a very familiar shopping mall parking lot with a certain Delorean prominently featured. The first 5 minutes of the game mirror the first movie until we discover something's not quite right.
The game is divided into 5 stand alone episodes which were released between December 2010 and June 2011. A number of the game's characters are voiced by the original actors from the movie trilogy including Christopher Lloyd as Doc "Emmet" Brown. Currently, all five episodes are included in the price.
You play the character of Marty McFly interacting with other characters in Hill Valley. Movement is accomplished with either arrow keys or mouse movements. I played the PC version of the game using mouse and keyboard. As of this writing there is also a MAC, IPAD and PS3 version available that allow movement via their own control surfaces.
Without giving away any spoilers the game stays true to the original trilogy's storyline mostly due to the influence and direction of Bob Gale and the support of Universal Pictures. At this writing there are a number of reviews and wiki pages available if you're the type that likes to read the end of a book first.
The game manages to evoke the feel of the movies and it's hard not to hear Huey Lewis lyrics in the back of your mind while you play. The look of the game can be only described as a cross between animation and those large head caricatures you can purchase at a tourist trap.
In any other context the game might be considered a weak visual effort but the whimsical nature of Back to Future allows for it. As I played through all 5 episodes I noticed a painstaking attention to detail in character expressions and speech synchronization. It's small details like this that can transcend what would otherwise be a comical presentation.
The story was well written and the characters are well developed and spot on to their Live Action counterparts. In fact Back the Future" The game is so well written that it feels more like an interactive movie than a game.
And that's where we lose a lot of gamers. There was no dearth of negative comments from gamers on multiple forums. Character controls are horrible and most of the puzzles intuitive only to the game developer. Fortunately there's a hint system that allows you to progressively reveal more information on the solutions. Only your ego is penalized for using all the available hints for any given puzzle as there is no obvious point system.
As I referred to earlier, moving Marty around can be at times frustrating as you have an awkward, front facing , third person view. Marty can only follow rigid paths set on the map which only allow egress between relevant plot points. Camera movement is sluggish as well and more than once I found myself stuck on a map until I found the right control combination to reveal otherwise hidden areas.
If Universal and Bob Gale hadn't been involved I'm sure the game wouldn't have been anywhere near as enjoyable if Telltale games (the developer and publisher) were left to their own devices.
In this case, tight control of a licensed property is a good thing.
A treat in the final episode is the inclusion of a character voiced by Michael J. Fox as a relative of Marty McFly.
The best way to approach this game is to forget it's a game. Treat it more like the Back to the Future movie sequel that will never come. Gamers without an appreciation for the original trilogy won't find much value in this title but fans of the franchise will.
With a heavy reliance on the "hints" I managed to complete each of the 5 episodes in about 3 hours of play. Even with it's failings as a game I still felt compelled to see what came next, much like the movies.
For a classic movie series I'd actually prefer to see a sequel done like this as opposed to the rash of "reboots" or remakes which rarely capture the feel of the original. Nothing is sadder than Hollywood "re-imagining" a classic story. In desperation they try to give it relevance by peppering it with cameos from actors from the original. Yes, I'm thinking of J.J Abrams remake of Star Trek. Let's hope Back to the Future continues forward and doesn't try to "re-imagine" itself.