Review – Back to the Future: The Game – A Franchise Better Left to the Past

Back to the Future pre-dates Telltales Games' The Walking Dead . . . and it shows.

So apparently I had Back to the Future as one of my purchases, alongside The Walking Dead, on my Telltale Games account. I don’t even recall purchasing it back in April. Perhaps it was part of a bundle.

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First off, you don’t play a Telltale game for the action or the complex puzzles. You play for the immersion and the story. At least, that was my experience with The Walking Dead. I quite enjoyed that experience.

I’ve gone through two episodes of Back to the Future so far, to give the game a fair shake. I won’t be playing through any of the other episodes. I enjoyed the movies well enough, 25 years ago. The game does capture some of the spirit and humour of the films, but it mostly falls flat. It has too much of a Scooby-Doo feel to it, with respect to the action and puzzles.

The Walking Dead puzzles were pretty straight-forward, mostly because they were grounded in a sort-of-reality. The action wasn’t cartoonish, thus the puzzles weren’t either; there was real-world logic to the puzzle-solving. Back to the Future goes in the opposite direction. I can admit that I was stumped on a few of the puzzles for a while simply because they didn’t make a lot of sense to me. They might have made sense to a twelve-year old; kids are more immediately versed in the rhythms of Saturday morning cartoon logic. I haven’t been twelve for many years, though.

For instance, you give an item to Einstein the dog to sniff and he will immediately bring you to the owners of those items, even if those items have no scent trails for the dog to follow. Filling an inkwell with chloroform will somehow knock out a near-sighted artist. Switching up the mood of a speakeasy performer’s songlist will convince a down-on-his-luck cop to start spilling his soul and turn his life around… And so on.

Most of the puzzles take leaps of logic to solve. Which I did not enjoy. I was hoping for more of the films and less of a Saturday morning. (Granted, the film trilogy did become increasingly cartoonish as it continued on past the first film.)

The story itself is fine, disregarding the puzzles to get through it. It begins where the films left off. Marty is back in 1986 Hill Valley. Doc hasn’t been seen in a few months. Marty eventually learns that Doc is trapped in 1931 Hill Valley, where he will eventually be murdered by local mobster Kid Tannen (Biff’s grandfather.) Marty springs into action with the DeLorean to save his friend.

The voice acting is fine to great, throughout. A.J. Locascio voices Marty McFly and does a bang-up Michael J. Fox impression. Christopher Lloyd reprises his role as Doc Brown and he too brings life back to the character. The rest of the voice acting is fine, not distracting; the actors do well-enough jobs given their roles.

Where problems come in, it’s with characterization. Other than Marty and Doc, most of the characters are flat, downright dull, dimensionless. Nothing particularly Biff-like is brought to any of the Tannen roles. The Edna Strickland character is downright annoying. The McFly family too, something is lost in the translation. The only supporting role that was made interesting, did have some depth, was teen Emmett Brown (young 1931 Doc Brown.)

The user interface is quite clunky and often ruins any immersion that the game might be sort-of accomplishing. Thankfully, two years later, with the release of The Walking Dead, they cleared all those user interface annoyances up.

Another oddity, why would Telltale buy the rights to a 25 year old franchise? It was probably cheap enough, I suppose, and allowed them to demonstrate their Telltale Story system on something recognizable, without a lot of financial risk. The current gaming generation likely has no experience at all with the films. Struck me as an odd choice, though I’m sure Telltale had their good reasons.

Unless you’re simply a gigantic fan of the Back to the Future series, I would not recommend this game to you. It captures some of the spirit of the original, but not nearly enough to make for an engaging or rewarding experience.

Review – Back to the Future: The Game – A Franchise Better Left to the Past
Back to the Future pre-dates Telltales Games' The Walking Dead . . . and it shows.

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Poetic Stanziel
Just a dude who likes to write about games, comic books, television, and film.