Review: Back To The Future Episode 1 Barely Hits 44mph

When Doc Brown enthuses that we're "going to see some serious shit" in this game's intro, he may have been exaggerating just a touch.

This new series of adventure games takes place a few months after the events of the third Back to the Future film, with hero Mary McFly out to save his old friend Doc Brown - trapped in the year 1931 - from a date with the hangman's noose. This episode, the first of five instalments, certainly looked (and sounded) like a Back to the Future experience. Question is, does it play like one?

Ideal Player Back to the Future has one demographic in its sights: fans of the 1980s comedy film franchise, who having suffered through some abysmal platformers back in the day will be buoyed by this, a game with (at first glance anyway) a deep amount of respect and reverence to the movies.

Why You Should Care Telltale, with its reputation as a company that makes games out of others people's properties, does a good job in selecting those properties. I mean, everyone loves Back to the Future, but when was the last time you actually played a Back to the Future game?

Did you enjoy it? Not as a game, no. I haven't enjoyed many of Telltale's previous adventure efforts that much, actually, as I find their pace too slow, their controls cumbersome and, worst of all, they just feel..."wrong". Like a good copy of a great painting, walking the walk of the franchise's original creators but never really talking the talk. Back to the Future retains most of these flaws.

Those Flaws. Explain Them. It's a pain getting Marty around the screen, as the game's control system relies on moving him around like an action game character instead of just clicking where you want to go. The supporting cast are, for the most part, entirely devoid of charm or interest (or in some cases even decent texture work). It was never, not once, funny. And once you get past the authentic music and the amazing voice work, you quickly find that this game just doesn't feel very Back to the Future.

How so? The movies were cheeky. Stupid. But also tense. Episode 1 was none of those things. Instead, you wander a deserted 1930's town completing a handful of puzzles (one of which, involving a door and some soup, is incredibly frustrating due to poor scripting) at a pedestrian pace, and...that's about it. No hijinx, no laughs, no risk. It's all - aside from the very beginning and very end - a bit boring.

But it's only Episode 1! I don't buy that argument. These episodic games, like comics or TV shows, need to grab people from the start. Convince them that the entire series is worth investing in. The next instalments in Back to the Future could be a white-knuckle thrill-ride and I wouldn't know, because after such a dull opening episode I probably won't be looking into them.

So it's a write-off, then? Almost. But not quite. See, while it's a disappointing adventure game, it may still interest fans of the movies who don't care how bad the gaming is so long as the trimmings are OK. Marty McFly's voice actor is amazing, and Christopher Lloyd (reprising his role as Doc Brown from the movies) also does a good job. There's official music, Einstein is in it, Biff is in it and, best of all, you get to sit in, explore and then use the DeLorean. For a series that hasn't had a good game made in years, that will be more than enough for some fans.

The Bottom Line Don't expect a great adventure game here. That's not Telltale's thing. Telltale's thing is making passable adventure games out of beloved old properties nobody else is making games of. And that's exactly what Back to the Future's first episode is: a middling affair of a game, but a rose-tinted indulgence for old-time fans of the movies.

Back To The Future: Episode 1 was developed and published by Telltale Games for the PC and Mac. Retails for $US24.95 (which includes all five episodes when released). Released on December 22. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed episode on PC.


Comments

    This is the first bad review I've seen for the game. I think if you enjoy Telltale's previous stuff (seeing as Luke here does not), you're likely to enjoy this one.

    "Telltale, with its reputation as a company that makes games out of others people’s properties"... This is an incorrect statement. The Sam and Max series was co-developed with Steve Purcell, creator of Sam and Max, along with many of the original "Hit the Road" creators. Tales of Monkey Island was developed in part by Dave Grossman with input from Ron Gilbert. Far more than the travesty Lucasarts created with MI4. Bob Gale, co-creator of the Back to the Future franchise, developed much of the script of this game.

    Perhaps it would be nice to have a review from someone who is at least familiar with Telltale and Adventure games as a whole.

      Only if that review was placed along side this one. As someone who is not familiar with TellTale's other games, but loves Back to the Future, Luke's review is very relevant to me.

      And I generally agree with his review here.

    I have to agree.
    Ive read nothing but good reviews for the game, but after playing it for a number of hours Im finding it rather painful to play.
    Its very slow, the dialogue is boring and the controls are terrible!

    When the game first started and Marty and Doc are in the car park it looked like it was going to be great. But, within minutes, the game hit a wall and (to me) is extremely dull to play.

    Ive forced myself through almost four hours of the game hoping it would improve, but I seriously dont see myself playing it any further.

      You can only buy the whole thing for $25 from Telltale or Steam, not each episode. So what are you going to do? Just ignore what you paid for and not download the new eps when they come out? Lol.

    I like the game a lot. My first point and click adventure game actually. They made a good story for a continuation of Back To The Future and it was great to see them talk about what happened after the third movie.

    Who the hell is Chris Guerin, and why has Kotaku logged me in as him? O.o

    Fix your bugs Allure Media. :P

    I'm not overly impressed with the game. It feels like they've made another Back to the Future cartoon, and converted it to an adventure game.

    The dialog and voice acting ranges from really good (Marty) to nearly AWFUL (Ms Strickland). Speaking of Ms. Strickland, she single handedly killed the whole game for me because she doesn't feel like part of the BttF universe AT ALL. Sure she's Principal Strickland's relative, but her dialog, voice and character just seem completely alien to me.

    Some harsh commetns about Tellatle in there. Considering I just finished Puzzle Agents and loved it, as well as my previous great experiences with Sam and Max and Strong Bad, its hard for me to relate to this review. Perhaps someone without atleast a preconception about Telltale should have reviewed the game.

    i agree whole heartedly with the reviewer. Snore. I felt myself forcing myself to keep playing and that's when I realised I should probably turn it off.

    I'll give the game a go, just because i like BTTF, but im not expecting anything good.

    I disliked this game so much I couldn't even bring myself to read this review for it. I read the comments and pretty much summed up that the review shares my opinion. Painful and dull.

    I remember police quests, kings quests, etc being much fun. Maybe its just my fond memories. Either way, this story did not engage me one bit. I read a comment before that said the gamer was forcing themselves to play. I felt this exact same way. Partly because I love back to the future. Partly because I bought the entire series and didn't want to feel like I wasted my money. I should have spent the money on the blue ray release of the movie...

    Anyway, I just wanted to add my two cents. Unrewarding gameplay, unreliable controls with a kick ass intro (yeah, it gave me chills)

    Rather harsh review considering you openly state you dislike telltale games. If you've ayes any of their stuff you know what to expect and personally being a fan of both telltale and bttf I loved the game and can't wait for the next installment

    I'm a big fan of point and click and desperately want to enjoy Telltale's adventures, but unfortunately I've been finding myself trying too hard to enjoy them.

    I had high hopes for this series, but this review does not surprise me one bit. Puzzle Agent was excellent, but I've been finding the Telltale games clunky, verbose, slow and lacking in the surprise needed for good comedy. The comedy feels like it needs canned laughter to punctuate the funny bits and they could really benefit from an editor for the dialog to cut it down by half.

    I only say this out of love for the point and click genre, Telltale should have the resources to get it right.

    I somewhat agree with the reviewer. But then I wasn't expecting a thrill ride given Tell-Tales previous games. The only thing that came close was the scene near the end, but you never feel like you're in danger, and you have all the time in the world to figure out the puzzles.

    I think an easy way to improve the game is to throw in some minigame-esque moments that may result in puzzle bypasses or more puzzles. For example throwing a Frisbie, a pistol shooting moment, etc.. or something to that effect. There was a chase scene around the town, but you didn't get to control Marty for it.

    Some of the characters need work. Why result to using the name Strictland when they could have created someone else for the series. The Biffish character was also without any essence, they could have built him up more. The great thing about the film series was that each eras versions of the characters had subtle differences, Telltale should use that to their advantage. They had a great opportunity to build more motive for the characters with the Prohibition going on. Also, I chose a different name for Marty than what people were calling me...

    Where is the train time machine, I may have missed it, but it should be at least noted somewhere.

    I do like the throw backs to the Film series in the dialog (ie manure, the mayor, the shark poster, etc..), but telltale have an opportunity to build in their own continuity tags between eras. The music was great as expected, and some of the puzzles were fun. However, I hope they address some of the issues in the upcoming episodes.

    Lastly, I was dissapointed with the trailer for the next game, without giving too much away it looks like episode 2 won't involve moving to another era.

    I'm trying so hard to love this game, but as soon as you go back to 1931 ti just hits a brick wall.

    The 1986 portion, with the different take on the Twin Pines scene, was amazing. But in saying that all of the puzzles were so basic that it just felt like they were an afterthought to the sets & characters.

    Also that effing barrel puzzle! I can't, for the life of me, figure that damn thing out. Why is that the two games I've had trouble with lately, all come down to bad scripting around barrels? (BTTF and Black Ops [f#*@ing "Defend Khe Sanh"])

      *SPOILER*
      Tell cueball to add an ingredient which will make him walk away. Then tap on the red pipe to make the shelf tip over.

    Personally i think people are forgetting this is episodic content and that this is the first bit in a complete story. As such the story is not over and shouldn't be so heavily criticized.

    When playing the game myself I kept feeling disappointed that it didn't ring true to the movies. I mean, everything was there except the one thing that actually made the movies a success - charm. In the end BTTF was really a character piece of the leads, more than anything that really happened in it.

    And is it just me or did it feel like even more toned down script than the films? I mean, the first film had hints of incest, rape and some great insults. This has... ... prohibition?

    On an aside, if Telltale is reading - two easily fixable things. 1.) Have old lady Stricklen call people 'slackers' a lot more.
    2.) Have Biff use the phrase "Butthead".

    These things felt notably missing when I played it.

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