Back to the Future Ep. 1: It's About Time Review
Northern California developer Telltale Games has had some good luck with existing licenses. The company's Bone, Monkey Island and Sam & Max series have been gratifyingly successful, coming to us on PC in downloadable, episodic form. Building on that winning formula, Telltale's latest partnership with Universal Studios brings us what promises to be an amazing adventure in five episodes based on the hit Back to the Future movie trilogy from the 1980's.
From 1985 to 1990, the Back to the Future films—starring then-media sweetheart, Michael J. Fox and wacky character actor Christopher Lloyd—held us spellbound. The series followed the adventures of skateboard riding, rock-and-roll playing teenager Marty McFly and his eccentric inventor friend, Doctor Emmett Brown. When the trilogy starts, Marty's helping Doc Brown test his wacky, world-changing invention—a time machine made from a DeLorean (for the unitiated, the Delorean was a short-lived 80's sports car)—and that's when things go haywire. The three films take us on a wild ride back in time to the 1950's, then forward to the year 2015 and back again to 1885, and end with Doc Brown leaving the present day to become a time-traveling tourist. The first in Telltale's new Back to the Future series, It's About Time picks up where the third film left off, with Marty safely back in 1986 and Doc Brown missing in action.
You play as Marty and when the game starts, everyone but you thinks Doc is gone for good. As a consequence, they're selling off his stuff and you're doing your best to prevent it. Suddenly, the Delorean reappears along with Doc's faithful dog Einstein and an urgent message from Doc, saying he's in trouble. Your first task then is finding out where—er...when in time Doc is, and figuring out how to save him. Mechanically, It's About Time will be very familiar to point-and-click adventure fans and for gamers new to the genre, it'll be extremely easy to learn. Using the WASD keys to move, you mouse over things in the scene and click to interact when the cursor indicates you can talk to someone or look at something. In keeping with standard adventure game structure, you spend a lot of time talking to people, fishing for information, picking up random items and manipulating the environment to make certain things happen. And true to Telltale form, all puzzles are practical, often funny, and make perfect sense within the story's context. That means you won't find yourself trying to open a door by doing some obscure thing like using three and five gallon jugs to measure out exactly four gallons of water. The puzzles are all very cleverly designed, and fairly intuitive - with the exception of one annoying puzzle that expects you to do the same thing four or five times, without any positive feedback to let you know you're doing the right thing.
Complementing the game's clever puzzle design,It's About Time's great voiceover and excellent art direction really makes you feel like you're living the movies. The characters are represented in excellent caricature and the textures on both characters and environments show a vast improvement to those of say, the Monkey Island and Sam & Max games. Voice-wise, Christopher Lloyd returns as oddball genius Doc Brown and Telltale's found a real gem in novice voice actor, A.J. Locascio, who's managed to purvey his uncanny ability to channel Michael J. Fox into an actual paying gig. If you haven't yet heard his rendition of our favorite teenage time traveler, you won't believe your ears.
While none of the other trilogy veterans are present, the rest of the voice acting is solid enough, and when the authentic film score begins to play, you're bound to get a nostalgic tear in your eye. Which isn't to say that the game's appeal is dependent on nostalgia. As a stand-alone product, the game is a ton of fun, full of amusing characters and great dialog (as it should be, since the game boasts the formidable talent of the film trilogy's co-creator and screenwriter, Bob Gale). That said, fans of the movies will be geeking out big time on the many familiar references and the cool time in which the game is set (Nope, can't tell you—no spoilers!)
For fans of the hit movie trilogy, Back to the Future: It's About Time is exactly what we were hoping for. As an interactive interpretation of the franchise, it hits all the right notes, being funny, irreverent and extremely entertaining. Add to that the great art, spectacular voice acting and the benefit of becoming a participant in the action (rather than a passive spectator) and you have the formula for an unforgettable adventure game series. The only bad thing I can say about It's About Time is now that once you've played it, you'll have to wait till February for the release of the next episode if you want to find out what happens next.