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Back to the Future: the Game -- Episode 1: It's About Time
Directed by Dennis Lenart
Written by Mike Stemmle and Andy Hartzell

Back to the Future: the Game
Back to the Future: the Game
Back to the Future: the Game
Back to the Future: the Game
Back to the Future: the Game
Back to the Future: the Game
A review by David Maddox

October 26th, 1985. 1:05am. Twin Pines Mall. The scene begins just as it does in the memory of those who were there in the theatre when it opened, and those countless more who have watched it again and again on television, VHS, DVD and now Blu-Ray. A wild-eyed scientist informs the viewer that Temporal Experiment Number One is about to occur. The cracking voice of a teen can be heard behind the camera. Then the souped-up DeLorean, hooked to a remote control, revs its engine and speeds to the other side of the empty parking lot. Dr. Emmett L. Brown, with a sly grin, announces, "If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88, you're gonna see some serious s#!%." The car takes off! The vehicle, containing Einstein the dog, vanishes in a brilliant flash of light… but then things start to go wrong…

The exciting beginning to TellTale Game's brand new Back to the Future: the Game series lets the player know that they're definitely in for that "serious s#!%" Doc mentioned. Created through a licensing deal with Universal Pictures and with creative consultation by the film's Producer and Writer Bob Gale, the story picks up six months after the close of Back to the Future III. It's 1986, Doc Brown is missing and his possessions are about to be auctioned off by the city of Hill Valley. A saddened Marty McFly goes searching through his old friend's workshop when, suddenly, the DeLorean appears, containing only Einstein and a recorded plea for help from the Doc!

The player must then control Marty as the youth finds himself searching the "present day" Hill Valley for any information on where and when the Doc can be, eventually leading to a trip back to the Depression-era, speakeasy-filled, gangster-run Hill Valley of 1931.

The game follows the point and click interface style that TellTale has become famous for with their Strong Bad, Sam and Max and Monkey Island series. The player must use items to unlock puzzles and gain information from characters to advance the story. The puzzles themselves aren't too hard to figure out as each location has a limited number of objects the player can interact with and the game doesn't let you actually die, you just get stuck in an endless loop until you figure things out. There's also a very generous Hint function that can be turned on during game play. There's no time limit on solving the game, but players will find a rush to figure out the puzzle so the next plot element can be introduced. As usual, make sure you talk to everyone and pick up anything that can be picked up.

Being a five-part story with each episode released at roughly one episode per month, the game is available for the PC and Mac computer platforms and has recently become available on the Playstation Network (which this review is based upon) and the iPad. However, Episode 1 is (as of this writing) absolutely FREE! Trophies have been added, most based of natural story progression, but there a few tricky ones. One plausibly (more or less) explains how the DeLorean still exists after getting crushed by a train.

But what truly makes this game a hit is the amazing amount of respect for the product that has been put into it. Christopher Lloyd lends his voice to the enigmatic Doc Brown and A.J. Locascio literally seems to be channeling a teenage Michael J. Fox in his portrayal of Marty. The caricatures of the main players are wonderfully rendered, right down to Biff Tannen's aqua running suit and out of date (even for 1986) side-burns. And of course there's George McFly's floppy bangs.

The visual locations are brilliantly realized, recreating Courthouse Square with to-scale dimensions. As a side note, as a tour guide at Universal Studios Hollywood, I'm quite familiar with being on that particular set and it's really like virtually being there! The color tones between the separate time periods invoke the eras represented, from the run-down yet colorful 80s, to the muted and somber 30s.

Placing the first episode in this era itself seems a callback to Harvey Comics's 1991 Back to the Future series, the first actual continuation of the story that arrives in stores months before the Animated Series premiered on Saturday Mornings. That also took place in a gangster setting, albeit 1927 Chicago.

Finally, the music is a major factor in this game. The haunting melodies by Jared Emerson-Johnson invoke the same excitement of the movie's classic scenes, while paying homage to Alan Silvestri's original film scoring. Just being the first chapter, the game is not particularly long, but does end with a cliffhanger that will have you waiting with bated breath for the next installment.

Back to the Future holds an historical spot in cinematic achievement that works on so many levels; teen coming of age story, action time travel adventure, romantic comedy and great buddy flick. The game incorporates all these elements, allowing the player to feel part of this fantastic world. The characters are like visiting old friends, feeling comfortable yet new and the additions only add to the overall BttF Universe (wait till you meet Strickland's sister!). In the current world of remakes, reboots and re-imaginings, it's refreshing to see something that holds up so well continue to give us new adventure and story. Do NOT miss this wonderful return to Hill Valley and a much needed jaunt through the past and future.

Copyright © 2011 David Maddox

David Maddox
Science fiction enthusiast David Maddox has been Star Trek characters, the Riddler in a Batman stunt show and holds a degree in Cinema from San Francisco State University. He has written several articles for various SF sites as well as the Star Wars Insider and the Star Trek Communicator. He spends his time working on screenplays and stories while acting on stage, screen and television. He can sometimes be seen giving tours at Universal Studios Hollywood and playing Norman Bates.

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