Monday, September 14, 2015

VGR Back to the Future: The Game

Back to the Future is already 30 years old. Can you believe it?

BTTF's future did predict a lot of wild stuff. If there's one thing the series foretold is how much 2015 would rely on 80s nostalgia, use the 3D gimmick and produce countless sequels. (Seriously though, this year did saw the release of a new Jurassic Park, the return of Mad Max and soon more Star Wars!!)

Great Scott!! It's 2015! Let's party like it's 1985, with a 2015-special review of a game based on a 1985 movie! Are you still following me here? This is about to get heavy...

Gotta get back in time? Check these previous reviews below!

VGR: Back to the Future: The Game which includes the 5 episodes "Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 1: It's About Time!", "Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 2: Get Tannen!", "Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 3: Citizen Brown", "Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 4: Double Visions and "Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 5: OUTATIME
From Telltale Games 
Played on PC
Also available on Mac, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and soon Xbox One and PS4

Type Point & Click Adventure game
Year 2011

Great Scott! This is Heavy!

Alright, now that I have gotten that out, let's talk Back to the Future: The Game

The game was developed by adventure game developers Telltale Games, a studio founded by ex-LucasArts employees. Following the big success they received on games like the new Sam & Max "seasons" and a really popular sequel to Monkey Island in 2009.

They were able to get a licensing deal with Universal Pictures to use the rights to some of their classic franchises around said franchises' anniversaries. Which they used to produce two nostalgia-heavy games based around popular vintage franchises: the "Back to the Future: The Game" and a Jurassic Park: The Game. This was right before Telltale became even bigger with the later success on award-winning games like the Walking Dead game series.

The story was written by a team of some of the best Telltale veterans, writers Jonathan Straw, Michael Stemmle and Andy Hartzell. They were also able to get Bob Gale, co-creator and writer of the original BTTF film trilogy, working as story consultant and assisting Telltale in writing the game's story. The story itself actually draws from some of the ideas Gale and Robert Zemeckis were originally going to use for Part II, such as the exploration of the Prohibition era and Doc's family history.

For this game, Telltale Games used once more their very own engine, the "Telltale Tool", made to recreate the same basic structure of old classic LucasArts story-driven games. Which also allows for easy ports over multiple gaming platforms. While it might not be the best as far as scripting animations go to be fair (it's starting to slowly show its age here and there), their work on character models has been getting better over the years if voluntary cartoony or simply stylized.

Back to the Future: The Game was originally released sporadically digitally on PC through five episodes starting December 2010. After that an episode came every two months (more or less). Since then the game's been re-released as a complete pack and ported to several systems including Mac, Xbox 360, Wii and PS3.

The story, like all Telltale games, is that of an episodic adventure.

The story opens in 1986, sometime after the end of Back to the Future III. With Emmett Brown gone out in time with his newfound family, the bank has now seized his home and they're about to sell his stuff. Marty McFly is sad with his long time friend not around anymore. And Marty's own dad George McFly is the one that has to sort through Emmett's old possessions. Ol' Biff Tannen is trying to get his hands on any valuables. Marty finds this old notebook with Doc's old ideas, such as the plans behind the flux capacitor which allows to travel through time! Suddenly the DeLorean time machine pops up in the garden! Wait a minute, wasn't it destroyed? And only Doc's dog Einstein is aboard? Where's Doc? 

Inside the car Marty finds a tape recorder with a message from Doc. Apparently this is a "secondary DeLorean" of sorts. Turns out when the DeLorean was strucked by thunder back in 1955, it created a "time duplicate" which ended up sometime in the future. Doc found it once during one of his numerous time travels into the future and converted the car into a safety net in case a time travel ended badly since it's now "unstuck in time". The new DeLorean automatically traveled back to Marty in case Doc ran into trouble in one of his adventures in time. The only clue to where Doc went Marty finds is this mysterious shoe inside the car. He's able to locate its owner, a certain Edna Strickland, the older sister of Marty's school principle Gerald Strickland. She apparently lost it back when she used to be a former editor of Hill Valley's newspaper back in 1931

Marty goes back to the 1930s only to find our Doc in Jail, he got caught by the police as he was trying to find the real identity of Hill Valley's notorious speakeasy arsonist. And he's about to be killed by Irving "Kid" Tannen, the propriety of said speakeasy! Marty is able to get the young 1931 Emmett Brown to finish one of his experiments, a rocket drill prototype, to break out the old Doc. But by accident he inadvertently gets young Doc with this Edna Strickland instead! 

Which results in a dystopian 1986 where Doc is now called Citizen Brown and having renounced in science now instead rules Hill Valley as this totalitarian estate! Marty gets the help from this punk alternate Jennifer to get inside the "Citizen Plus" program to finally meet face to face with this weird Doc who never invented time travel (which doesn't affect the duplicate DeLorean by the way). He's able to reach Doc Brown, but Edna throws her "husband" into the Citizen Plus program as well. They escape from this manipulative strict Edna who's really ruling the town and go back to 1930s to break up the younger Emmett and Edna. 

But along the way Marty gets his own grandfather Artie McFly in trouble with Kid Tannen and romantically involved with a young singer Trixie instead of his own grandmother Sylvia

And things only get worse when Edna steals the time machine to disappear into past.... and then the entire town of Hill Valley proceeds to vanish!! 

Where and When did she go and How can they put everything back to normal!?

Back to the Future: The Game plays just like good ol' 2D adventure games. Telltale adventure games might be modern 3D ones but they mostly play like classic "graphic adventure" games. The only real different is that they use 3D environments now. Which makes spotting interacting objects much easier compared to the ol' days of pixel-hunting.

With the mouse you can spot and interact with objects. The keyboard can also be used to control Marty directly and unlike the first few 3D adventure games (say, Grim Fandango or Monkey Island 4) the game doesn't use "tank controls" (although it also presents a problem of its own whenever the camera changes brusquely, which can happen a lot in this game that is trying to go for a more cinematic presentation like the films). 

You can interact or look at various objects. The core of the gameplay is talking to the various characters via very easy to use-conversation trees (you will never miss dialogues with this, believe me). And solving puzzles. Through the interaction between characters and the use of items from your inventory that you can pick up through the game (which amounts to A LOT of objects, all kinds of stuff you might not expect to use).

But fear not, this is one of these pretty easy adventure games. You always get clear goals that can pop back on screen (or you can also deactivate that if you prefer some challenge). And the game even features a really newcomer-friendly hint system that can give up to 3 clues to help you solve puzzles. So you will rarely if never get stuck really.

As for voice acting, the game saw the return of some familiar BTTF faces. 

Michael J. Fox couldn't really reprise his role of Marty for an entire game, sadly, even it was just voice acting. But instead we got a really good actor to take over. They were about to use regular Telltale Games actor James Arnold Taylor (best known as the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Clone Wars) do Marty McFly, but instead this kid A.J. Locascio sent some very impressive audition samples during the game's development. It impressed everyone so they gave him the role of Marty. It's really uncanny how good and faithful he sounds to Fox's performance in BTTF. He did really great. Christopher Lloyd returned to voice Doc Brown. Both Lloyd and Michael J. Fox allowed the use of their likenesses for the game, and Michael J. Fox was finally able to voice some cameo roles for the final episode, some really fun surprise characters that appear late in the game. James Arnold Taylor would actually voice young Emmett Brown. Claudia Wells also reprised her role as (the first) Jennifer.

My only complaint? They didn't even bother to get Tom Wilson back! Why?! Tom Wilson IS FUNNY!! People from Telltale claim they tried to get him, but Tom Wilson said several times nobody contacted him! Why's that!? Tom Wilson voiced a few video games characters, he even popped up in Crash Bandicoot! I doubt he would be that expensive to get, it just feels like they didn't even bother getting him back as well.. Which means all the Tannens are really the only voices I'm not a big fan of in the game.. Why didn't they offer him the role!? Kid Beyond provides the voice for Biff Tannen instead...

The other returning characters from the films also received voicework from various voice actors.

Speaking as fan, there's a lot of great effort put into the game. There's a lot of references to the franchise and the lore. The game can easily be considered canon, part of the BTTF film continuity. The game even makes a ton of allusions to the Back to the Future animated series, such as names and dates being dropped out. The name of Marty's grandparents come from the novelization of the films, Emmett "Lathrop" Brown and Marty "Seamus" McFly's middle names as well as a mention of the "Tannensaurus", Beauregard Tannen or even Verne's penchant for videogames come all from the cartoon. The art style's also sort of based on the cartoony look of the 1991 series. I know it has its detractors, but I for one really preferred the stylized cartoony approach over too realistic graphics which would have been way too easy to mess up and completely miss the feel of the trilogy.

Personally? I like to consider the game a prequel of sorts of the cartoon, which explains how they got a DeLorean back on the show. The "missing" adventure Marty and Doc had before Jules and Verne's adventures in the animated series, if you will. 
Telltale did a pretty great job adhering to the films' theories on time travel and the same use if different timeline realities.

The coolest thing about the game is that it was clearly been made by fans for fans. It's a love letter to all things "Back to the Future". The series always received some of the worst video games ever back in the old NES and Sega Mega Drive days. You can look that up!

But once they had Bob Gale on project, they were easily able to capture the essence of what Back to the Future is. Even better than the 90s cartoon ever did.

Each episode sort of capturing the tone and formula of a different movie. The first episode taking for the most part place in the past of one of our protagonists. The second one is clearly a sort of take on Part II, coming back there a second time to avoid an alternate dark timeline, along episode 3. And the last two episodes are clearly meant to represent Part III with time travel shenanigans, our heroes getting in trouble due to how instable time travel is and even finding their way back into the far off distant past.

Of course the game is a bit on the easy side. And the chapters are way too short. The game is really easy, and it's one of these adventure games that doesn't allow you to combine different objects, which makes most puzzles a lot easier to solve.

But as an interactive story, this is as good any Back to the Future game will ever get,

Personally, Super Back to the Future might still be one of my favorites at heart, but this one is far superior to most game adaptations, if anything for its story alone!

It's funny. Respectful to the franchise.

It kind of reminded me of the 1991 cartoon series, it had a sort of similar tone and look and offered its own idea of a continuation of the film trilogy.

Sadly they couldn't get Alan Silvestri to compose for the game. But resident Telltale Games composer Jared Emerson-Johnson did a fantastic job playing with Alan Silvestri motifs around the game. He didn't really compose any original new piece for this game, but the sound alone does its job making you believe this is as official a Back to the Future product as it ever gets.

Overall, Back to the Future: The Game was a fantastic game, and I Highly Recommend it to any fans of the series or adventure game fans out there!

My only real complaint maybe is that the game was way too easy and you really zip through this entire game even if you try to make it last. Specially the last two chapters, they feel real short compared to the rest.

The game received a hugely mostly positive reception at the time. No surprise here, it turned out to be the most successful Telltale Games title to date!Although in my eyes it's not without its flaws.

Where Telltale did a really great job was how well they captured the feel of the trilogy. It simply feels like a new (albeit cartoonier) BTTF film. It's inspired, and simply feels, looks and sounds like Back to the Future. It's like playing a Back to the Future: Part IV we never got (or more precisely, an entire new trilogy of Back to the Future films, you could combine some of these episodes into a single film easily). The story is really good, funny and its perfectly captures the tone of the series. The adventure side is kind of light and not very challenging, so time goes by really fast and you probably won't really stuck in this game, even if like me you try to explore everything and interact with everything. And A.J. Locascio's performance was simply amazing! I found him truer to the character of Marty than the now-older Christopher Lloyd.

lLke most Telltale games the first episode "It's About Time" can now be downloaded for free from Telltale Games' website. 

Also, apparently Telltale Games will re-release the game on Xbox One and PS4 this October 13 2015, for the 30th Anniversary of the franchise.
I give it:
2.5 / 3 Murrays!

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