Back to the Future: Episode I captures the essence of the films and delivers it with a strong story and engaging characters.
The Back to the Future series is one of the most successful, critically acclaimed and culturally significant franchises of all times and it’s surprising how much it took for a video game company to make a deserving homage. Telltale games is a developer not only known for its various graphic adventures releases based on major franchises like Sam & Max, Monkey Island and CSI, but also for the dedication they put on every title they work on. To some extent it’s fairly reasonable that they chose this popular franchise as their next episodic release, but it let everyone wondering if it could capture the 80s essence and nostalgia that the movies had. Fortunately they did much more than that.
“It’s about time” continues the story exactly six months after the events of the third movie, exploring new territories. Apparently everything is not so calm in Hill Valley, as Doc Brown has been missing for a few months and the bank is selling his property due to financial issues. Naturally, Marty opposes to this and refuses to give any of Doc’s possessions to Biff Tanen. At that precise point, the DeLorean materializes outside the house carrying a mysterious message from Doc, who is now imprisoned in the past. Marty needs to find a way to rescue his friend and to do so he decides to leave the present and go to 1931 to the Prohibition era, where Doc is stranded. The believable story follows the interactions of many cartoony looking characters providing an incredible feeling of immersion.
The amazing visual design is strongly delivered and is accompanied by a superb cast of voice actors. Doc Brown is voiced by Christopher Lloyd, while the rest of the characters are voiced by similar sounding counterparts of the real actors. Probably the one that stands out the most is the voice of Marty McFly, played by talented AJ LoCascio, as it sounds extremely suitable. Visually, the game looks simply amazing, the characters have a distinctive cartoony look to them and the different and diverse locations seem quite lifelike. Every aspect of Hill Valley is extremely detailed and it encourages you to keep exploring every part of it. Unfortunately, this is not possible, or at least not to a certain extent as you can’t enter most buildings and you can only focus on the streets and sidewalks. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any indoor places to interact with, but let’s just say that most of the time you’ll be outside.
The control scheme uses the WASD keys or the mouse to move Marty through the different places and the 3D environments, to do so you need to press the left button to select and you need to drag the mouse to move your character around and alternatively the right button is used to run, you can also interact with an inventory to select several items and use them when necessary. Both types of controls work fine, though the mouse only features seem to be more precise and comfortable at times. Additionally, a gamepad can also be used as this game was released simultaneously for the PlayStation 3 and even when it’s not the perfect way to play it; it’s a nice addition that some people will enjoy. As in any other adventure game of this kind, and every time you talk to a non-player character, the dialogues are conveyed through conversation trees. A list of current goals is also provided by the game so you don’t lose sight of your main objectives.
The story is really engaging and the characters are really well presented in it, the gameplay and puzzles are a different story. It seems that Telltale decided to make this game quite approachable for everyone, even for people who don’t usually play adventure games. As a consequence, most of the challenges and puzzles are light and easy to solve. Alternatively, a really useful hint system is provided in the game in case you get stuck, it works out perfectly and it gives useful hits from the most general to the most specific. Episode one is not a long game, I finished it in one sitting as it only lasts less than 3 hours.
It’s about time relies heavily on your knowledge about the movies and even when it’s not completely necessary to watch the films to understand what’s going on in the game it’ll be highly recommendable if you want to get the coherency of the story. So if you don’t want to miss some important references or remarks you might want to reconsider renting the films.
Maybe “It’s about time” is not the challenging game Telltale usually develops, and everyone who tries this game shouldn’t expect an incredible amount of challenge or depth. What you should expect is an adventure full of personality and charming characters, a unique story that fits the universe of Back to the Future perfectly. All these minor shortcomings can be easily overlooked and leave a lot of room for improvement for the following episodes. After finishing this game you’ll anxiously want to know what happens next, and the only thing you can do is wait that the next episode comes out in a few months. It’ll certainly be a promising release.