Citizen Brown’s gameplay can be easy and shallow, but the plot’s dark tone makes this an interestingly unique adventure game.
Back to the Future Episode 2 was a good game, but the novelty of its setting (Hill Valley’s version of the Prohibition era) was declining really fast. At the same time, the game felt slightly recycled, even when it was really fun and engaging. Fortunately, Citizen Brown explores new territories, as the timeline has changed once again. Instead of following the same story already established in previous games of the series, Telltale has decided to create a new timeline, which by the way, is the most absorbing and appealing so far. It’s really nice to know that the company is willing to take some risks even after two months of playing it safe, as a result, we get one of the most compelling (but disturbing) plots of the past months.
Episode 2 finished right after Marty had apparently saved his grandfather from assassination and when he helped arrest gangster Kid Tannen. However, when Marty goes back to 1986, he finds out that Doc has disappeared. Immediately after that, he crashes the DeLorean into a billboard from which he apparently can’t escape. Once he gets out of the trap, Marty realizes that a new alternate reality has been created as a consequence of his actions in the past. Hill Valley has become a utopian society where people live in fear of Citizen Emmet Brown. The scientist has become a totalitarian leader, who, along with his wife Citizen Edna, rules the city ruthlessly.
Most of the fun things to do have been banned and people receive a “demerit” every time they break the law. As a consequence, there are no such things as alcohol, cigarettes or PDA (public displays of affection) and each citizen has to wear matching clothes according to the day of the week. Now Marty has to find out what has been going on for the past years and to do that he needs an audience with Citizen Brown.
The game has a completely different tone when compared to the previous episodes, as now most elements (characters, story, jokes and even the setting) feel darker and much more believable. The graphic design is amazing and the architecture really stands out. The city is really well modeled and it truly feels like a science-fiction citadel. This new inspired approach tells the story from a more authentic, funny and disturbing spot. Some science fiction fans may believe that the game now falls into clichés really proper of the genre, but considering the number of changes and refinements that Episode 3 has suffered, this is something that can easily be overlooked.
Most primary and secondary characters have suffered some interesting changes. Marty, Biff and even George seem more complex, and considering that the timeline is now much more bizarre, they act more accordingly to their motivations. Lorraine and Jennifer (Marty’s mother and girlfriend respectively) make their debuts in really memorable ways. Jennifer is a punk rocker, who wants to rebel against society, so she decides to vandalize and kiss in public. On the other hand, Lorraine’s personality has been completely reshaped and as a consequence she makes a lasting impression. Most of the citizens of this Hill Valley seem like a part of an intricate Pavlovian experiment, as they have been conditioned not to question the society where they live in. Unfortunately, some of them appear only for a few minutes, but considering that most of them were given new “personalities” this is a detail we could ignore.
As I previously mentioned, this episode feels darker and has a more adult tone. You’ll hear things like “What’s the big deal? It’s only hormones!” or “loads of bull”, there are many references to alcohol and “illegal substances”, talks about other people’s private parts, hookers and so on. These references make “Citizen Brown” a more adult-oriented game so it’s definitely not suitable for children. Considering that the movies dealt with mature topics like incest and alcoholism, and that it mixed those topics with drama and comedy we could say that the game is trying a really similar, but bold and interesting approach.
Additionally, the gameplay remains unchanged, so if you didn’t like it in previous episodes chances are Episode 3 isn’t going to change that. Many people complained that Telltale’s adventures feel like pretty interactive movies, so if you think this you probably won’t enjoy this game. The controls in general haven’t changed and are now becoming more standard for Telltale games. Most puzzles are logical and really easy. Solving one of these usually involves using one of the items you have, but these almost never require more than one. In any way, a very helpful hint system is included in case you get really stuck.
The soundtrack is one of the game’s most engaging elements. Jared Emerson-Johnson makes a really good job at making the music really similar to Alan Silvestri’s (the composer from the films), as a consequence the themes are more varied and suit the totalitarian setting quite well. Additionally, and from a more technical perspective, Citizen Brown feels like a very polished game and there aren’t any major bugs or glitches. I ran into one when two characters were talking and one of them wasn’t there, of course this isn’t critical and it only took a second before the character reappeared where he was supposed to be.
The game lasts about three hours, but it doesn’t feel short. Probably because developers have paced it better so you are always part of an engaging conversation or listening to some character’s dialogues. There are hundreds of lines of dialogues to listen to, and even though you’ll always get to the same part you’re supposed to, it’s really nice to find out what each character has to say about a particular topic. The game does feel slow at times, but it should be noted that it’s setting up the tone for the rest of the episode and this takes a while. Still, the result is more than surprising.
In conclusion, “Citizen Brown” feels like a more complex and consistent episode when compared to the previous games of the series. The new setting and tone are more than welcomed and are more satisfying. The game, as all the others, finishes with a huge cliffhanger that’ll probably last until “Episode 4: Last Visions” is released. For everyone looking for a dark, adult-oriented adventure that’s both funny and very atmospheric, try “Citizen Brown” and you won’t be disappointed.