The videogame industry is sadly famous for its wealth of truly horrible movie tie-ins. With limited development time and, more often than not, an eye on the quick buck at the very heart of the “creative process”, the term ‘movie tie-in’ has become somewhat synonymous with poor quality. As a massive fan of the Back to the Future trilogy (who isn’t?), to say that I was a little concerned at the prospect of returning to the series that I love so much in videogame form would be something of an understatement. Well, thanks to the storytelling talents of the folks at Telltale Games, my fears were largely abated. However, before I can go giving this anything like a glowing recommendation, one very important question has to be asked – is Back to the Future: The Game really a game?
When approached purely as an entertainment experience, I find it very hard to be critical of Back to the Future: The Game. The delivery by the original Doc, Christopher Lloyd is every bit as eccentric and enjoyable as you would have hoped while Marty stand in, A J LoCascio does an admirable job filling in for Michael J Fox. Heck, the man himself even gets a couple of brief but hugely enjoyable cameos towards the end of the game. The delivery throughout is ace and for the most part is matched by a brilliant script. Anyone fearing that this might have been phoned in need not be alarmed. If this was purely animated or turned into a live action production, it would easily stand toe-to-toe with the three movies that came before it.
After Doc gets himself in something of a pickle, it’s down to Marty to go back to 1930’s, prohibition era America. The setting is perfect and the nods to the original trilogy and its wide ranging cast are handled beautifully. The theme of changes in the past effecting the future is also dealt with readily, helping the game to fall skilfully in line with movies that came before while helping the game stand out from the point and click crowd (not that there’s much of a crowd anymore). Needless to say, everything about the story, the cast, the characters and the delivery surpassed even my most ambitious expectations for the game. It really is that good.
The thing is, as good as the story and delivery might be, at times, it feels like a videogame structure has been forcibly, and dare I say, unnecessarily stuck on top. With only the simplest of point-and-click-based puzzles to navigate and rudimentary dialogue options to choose from, you will probably spend most of your time pushing through the gameplay as quickly as possible to get to the next part of the highly enjoyable story. It’s not like any of it is particularly bad, but it’s all so simple as to be borderline redundant.
It’s as if Telltale Games are aware of it too – with hints provided regularly and the challenge throughout rarely anything greater than mild, Back to The Future: The Game seems painfully aware that the ‘game’ portion of the experience is without question, Back to the Future’s weakest aspect.
Of course, none of this is helped by technical deficiencies that simply wouldn’t exist if this were an animated show – the framerate dips despite the visuals failing to push the PS3 hardware, while an inconsistent camera and fixed controls can see you walking back and forth between views a la PSOne era Resident Evil. The problems are never major enough to ruin one’s enjoyment of the overall experience, but for those looking for a “proper” Back to the Future videogame, Telltale Games’ take on the franchise might well disappoint.
For those just happy to get another high quality slice of time travelling adventure though, I really can’t recommend Back to the Future: The Game highly enough. Sure, it’s not much of a game, and yes, the visuals aren’t of a mindblowingly high standard, but this is an experience dripping with charm and a true affection for the source material so often found lacking in videogame movie tie-ins.
The full retail release does nothing new with the content that has already been available online in an episodic format for months, but for those without an online set-up or for those who simply prefer a boxed product, Back to The Future: The Game is an addition to the franchise that deserves to be experienced by as many fans of the original trilogy as possible. It probably won’t wow those new to the Back to the Future universe, but c’mon, this game isn’t made for them. It’s made for fans by fans, and that is why Back to the Future: The Game is quite so easy to enjoy despite its underlying technical issues.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.