Back To The Future – The Game: Episodes 1 & 2 Review

Title   Back To The Future – The Game: Episodes 1 & 2 Review
Developer  Telltale Games
Publisher  Telltale Games
Platform  Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, PlayStation 3, iPad
Genre  Point and Click Adventure
Release Date  Episode 1 - 22nd December 2010/Episode 2 - 16th February 2011

One of the running jokes between the writers here at GamingLives is the enormous list of classic films I’ve set to see. As the second youngest writer on the, site at the ripe young age of nineteen, (it turns out Dom is a few months younger than me, so now I get to call someone a whippersnapper…) there are a bunch of movies that other GL writers hold dear or find essential viewing that I haven’t yet seen. Thankfully, the Back to the Future trilogy isn’t part of this growing list and has made its way in to my all time favourite movies. The amazing adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown are essential viewing, combining amazing style with impeccable writing, acting and the one concept that automatically gets the geek in me excited – time travel. It’s also one of the many franchises that had yet to see a videogame worthy of its name and this is where one of my favourite developers, Telltale Games, comes in.

Last year Telltale Games announced that they were going to make an episodic series based on both Back to the Future and Jurassic Park (yes, I still need to watch those films), and I was already frothing at the mouth to get more Marty and Doc in my life. The news kept getting better as it was confirmed that Bob Gale, one of the creators and writers of the series, was on board as a story consultant and Christopher Lloyd was cast to play Doc Brown again. This, together with the fact that the developers themselves are massive fans of the franchise meant that their tradition of creating amazing story-based point and click adventures was already looking to be fulfilled before the game even landed. The series has now reached its second episode, with the third being teased in March and the last two coming out in the months afterwards following a short break before Jurassic Park shows up.

Rev up the DeLorean and get ready. You’re going to see some serious shit.

The first game starts off with a loving remake of the iconic scene when Doc first shows Marty the DeLorean’s time travelling capabilities from the viewpoint of the camera used to record the experiment, with the opportunity to help create the scene line for line. It’s an amazing way to kick off the episode and I couldn’t help beaming from ear to ear as the scene played out. However, an unexpected twist occurs and you’re then thrown into the actual game. The game starts several months after the events of Back to the Future Part III, and Marty finds himself in Doc’s Lab once again. Unfortunately, Doc’s been gone for several months and, due to his debts, the Bank has decided to start selling off his possessions, which you discover as you arrive to find George McFly and Biff rifling through his belongings.

Doc’s Lab not only helps ease you in to the control methods and style of play if you’re new to the genre (or serves as a refresher to this game’s style if you’re a veteran) but is also where Telltale Games best showcase how safe the franchise is in their hands. There are plenty of references to the source material throughout the game but, at this stage, the point of it is for the developers to show you that they love the movies just as much as you may do; from the dog feeder to the amplifiers, as well as some puzzles being solved more easily if you remember the films, all your fears start being put to rest quickly and definitively.

Once you’re done preventing a possible catastrophe in the Lab, Marty steps outside to find the DeLorean show up with naught but Einstein the dog, a shoe and a tape recorder. You’ll find out later how the DeLorean showed up after the events of the third film, but for now the Doc’s in danger and you need to save him! It is at this point that you’re taken on a journey which, for the first two episodes, takes place primarily in prohibition-era Hill Valley, complete with gangsters, the McFly and Tannen ancestors as well as a young Emmett Brown currently more concerned about the law than the sciences.

I’d say that this is when you’re going to realise that Christopher Lloyd is the only returning cast member, but the majority of the time you likely won’t notice it at all. AJ Locascio does an incredible job as the voice of Marty McFly, and comes across as a perfect replacement; most of the time you’re completely taken in with how much he sounds like Michael J Fox and his portrayal is so convincing that he never becomes jarring, owning the role. Likewise, Michael Sommers, who replaces Crispin Glover for George McFly and also voices his father Artie in both episodes, is so brilliant in immersing you that I couldn’t help but smile. Another shout out goes to James Arnold Taylor, a videogaming voice-over veteran, who voices the young, pre-doctorate Emmett Brown and who I can’t say enough positive things about. All four aforementioned voice actors do a stellar job and I’d dare say that the game so far has some of the best voice acting in a Telltale Game to date. It’s vital in a game like this that you’re able to pay attention to the story and what’s happening around you, and the voice actors do such a terrific job that I simply can’t heap enough praise onto them for the remarkable work.

In terms of the gameplay, it’ll be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a Telltale game in the last couple of years. Movement is controller through the ASWD or regular arrow keys, with the shift buttons allowing for faster movement and the mouse to highlight and interact with the world around you, select items to use and so forth. In other words, there’s no fundamental surprises popping up in the gameplay style if you’re familiar with their other games, and there’s nothing too difficult to get used to if you’re new. You’re gradually eased into the puzzles and the world around you through the opener and the bit at Doc’s Lab, so by the end of the episode you’ll be more than adept at the whole process.

Saying that, there were a couple of odd snags that kind of bugged me, two of which were long standing problems with the whole genre that their Sam and Max series fixed in its latest season but which, for some reason, seem to have returned in this game without explanation. The first of these is the classic problem that some point and clicks have where, when you choose the dialogue for your character, they’ll either entirely ignore what you say or say the written line pretty much verbatim anyway, meaning that you’re essentially experiencing the same line twice. The first part of that is nearly always done for comic effect and so can be forgiven, but the second part was fixed by only giving the topic or a general idea of what the final line would be, which this game only occasionally does. It’s not a big issue, but it’s just confusing to see something fixed, then practically ignored later on. The second of these issues that the third season of Sam and Max fixed, and which returns here, is the visual clue that a line of conversation had been exhausted. This is, again, another minor thing, but this was fixed by dimming that line in the dialogue tree to make it clear that clicking it wouldn’t yield anything new, but no such obvious visual clues are present. Again, this is not a massive issue, but it’s a confusing and slightly disorientating decision considering the steps the company had previously taken to eliminate these problems only to bring them back.

The following problem may have just been me, but I also found that occasionally in both episodes there were moments where the solution to a puzzle wasn’t clear or well telegraphed at all. Granted, the game offers to give you hints if you’re struggling for too long, much like the Professor Layton and Puzzle Agent games, with the final hint basically telling you how to complete the puzzle. There’s not a limit to the amount of hints you can get as far as I’m aware, but it doesn’t feel satisfying to solve a puzzle with the hints, so you’ll likely avoid using them due to a matter of pride (I went through with an earlier save file to test out the hints so I didn’t spoil any current puzzles). While the hints are useful to those who are new to the genre or who want to progress quickly, it’s a shame that some of the puzzles seem not to offer a clear solution and result in a bit of pixel hunting, or are too easily telegraphed. It seems that, after getting the balance perfectly right before, they’ve very slightly skewed it this time. It’s not a truly negative thing though, as I appreciated the hard-earned “Eureka!” (or should that be “Great Scott!”?) moments when I’d finally solved the problem, but I doubt I’m going to be the only one who experiences this minor setback. Be aware also that some puzzles have the same solution, and so going with your gut reaction is a safe bet the majority of the time. Some puzzles also come back in the next episode, and while this isn’t a negative, it’s a shame that a recurring puzzle becomes a bit too obvious.

The first episode leads up to its conclusion in a brilliant manner though, and you end up with a finale that, to any Telltale veterans, is in some ways quite similar to the ending of the first episode of Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures, but ramped up with higher stakes. Some of the tension can be downplayed because it’s the first episode of five, but I found myself thrilled by the way the finale is set up and the way that the end of the first episode plays out, with a cliffhanger ending and a trailer for the next episode that leaves you salivating for more. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long at all as I bought the series when episode two was released, and got to play it straight afterwards.

Keeping in the same era as the first episode, the second episode hits a slight snag at the beginning with a sequence which lags slightly due to the fact your movement is severely limited and a lot of what happens feels too out of your control. This feel dissipates as soon as the sequence is over and, apart from one little snag that presents itself afterwards, the rest of the episode was clean sailing. You see, upon arriving in the past in the first episode, you get to pick a name to be called by, continuing Marty’s tradition of naming himself after characters from films. You pick from one of three names and throughout the episode the characters would refer to you by that name, but in the second episode no one seems to be sure of what the character’s name is. Some will call you by one character name throughout, and some will call you by one and then another later on. It’s slightly disorientating and puts a tiny damper on what was a great touch in the first episode.

After this, the second episode hits the ground running and delivers right off the bat with a great sequence where you have to work around yourself and your actions in the first episode, which is a great touch and made the time travel aspect feel more prevalent in the story, especially with the resulting sequences that occur. In fact, the second episode is when I most noticed the fact that the traditional mission structure used by developers is shaken up here. While older games would employ three main obstacles to overcome, or items to obtain, and be quite obvious about this, Back to the Future doesn’t do this, or at least hides it to a point where I couldn’t notice it, which is a testament to both episodes.

Another great thing about the way the episodes play is that while the first episode uses a lot of references to help make puzzle solutions easier and to help throw you into the world that’s been created, the second episode slows this down, focuses on the world itself for puzzle solutions, and never are the references a crutch but something that brings a massive smile to your face every time. Once the game starts focusing on the game’s world rather than the world of the films, the quality never drops or even stutters. Also, both finale events so far have been simple, quick and inspired, never overstaying their welcome or going too far and managing to change the pace of the game without standing out like a sore thumb and luckily feeling like a natural progression of the story of the episode.

To me though, the highlight of both episodes has been the impeccable writing. One of my favourite things about any Telltale title is that you’re introduced to a series of characters who are amazingly written as well as a world filled with its own special brand of humour and a great understanding of the source material for any franchise they take on. That tradition continues here, as I don’t think I could possibly say enough positive things about the writing. It shows a perfect understanding of the already familiar characters in the franchise; Doc and Marty are pitch perfect to what they were in the films despite the game taking no safe bets with what to do with them. Exploring Doc Brown’s past feels completely natural and brings up a new side of his character that doesn’t jar with anything previously established. Any new characters introduced never feel like they’re over-imposing or stick out; they all feel as though they have a natural place in the proceedings and never outstay their welcome. The approach and feel of Back to the Future is thoroughly in place throughout, with the style of the writing perfectly matching what you’d expect and shows that the writers loved the source material without ever going too far with it. Coupling that with the spot-on humour, which will have you smiling from ear to ear at worst and rolling on the floor at best, the humour captures the spirit of the films and combines it with Telltale’s previous experience. It doesn’t take the forefront, with the game always being about the story and the writing, and as a result I couldn’t help but feel this was possibly Telltale’s finest hour thus far, purely from a story and writing standpoint alone, and for those factors alone it is well worth a purchase from anyone who considers themselves a fan of the franchise or genre.

  • An incredible tribute to the Back to the Future films.
  • Stands as an amazing adventure in its own right.
  • The references can't fail to put a smile on your face and permeate without ever becoming too much.
  • Constantly filled with humour and often hilarious.
  • Brilliant pacing prevents the game from dragging and keeps you eager for more.
  • Works to ease in newcomers to the genre without alienating the hardcore.
  • Music fits without intruding or jarring with the events on-screen.
  • Constantly sharp and impeccable voice acting; especially Christopher Lloyd, AJ Locascio and James Arnold Taylor.
  • Possibly the best writing and story from Telltale thus far.
  • Not clear when a line of dialogue has been exhausted.
  • Rare iffy camera angles.
  • Some recurring puzzles and a few puzzles with unclear solutions.
  • I can't wait for the rest of it!

Despite listing a few negatives, I'm only able to find them because I'm trying hard to find them to bring more balance to the review and prevent it being me gushing non-stop about how amazing this game and TellTale Games are. While both episodes have the same issues and those bugged by something in the first episode are likely to be bugged by it in the second, I found myself enjoying the second episode a lot more and overall loved both of them. It's been really difficult not to spoil anything more than I have because the way that the story is woven into the game is so brilliantly done and shows so much love for the franchise that there's tons I want to write on it but simply can't. Yes, the gameplay may have some niggles for veterans, but it does such a great job of easing you in that you can't help but love it if you're old or new to the genre. Each episode may only take a few hours to complete, but they never feel too short or too long and they keep you itching for more.

What Telltale Games have done in two episodes is completely reignite my love for Back to the Future. They've managed to not only create one of the greatest tributes to the series possible, but create a stellar beginning to a game in it's own right. I don't even care what kind of horrible paradoxes I'd cause, I need to go (back to) the future and get my hands on the rest of the series!

Last five articles by Edward



  1. Adam Adam says:

    Couldn’t agree more Ed. I sat and played Ep1 and loved it, so much so that I’m committed to buying the full series but only once it”s out. I had a great few hours playing that first episode but I really needed more and by more I meant the rest of it.

    The voice acting is fantastic and the sound and feel of the game is spot on. Theirs always a doubt whenever any major franchise makes it to the games industry but Telltale are doing a great job with it.

    I should point out that the faults you found with the games are indeed faults, but you really have gone out of you way to point them out! I found it irritating to retread the same dialogue but as soon as I’d started the next conversation, I’d forgotten all about it. The Game is that good :D

    Awesome review

  2. Tania Tania says:

    Great stuff Ed, this one is going on my to-buy list. Though I’ll wait until all the episodes are released. :)

  3. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    This is beautiful… such gorgeous art style. Sickens me when people are just shit hot at this kind of thing, but also great as it gives me something to aspire to even though I could never come close to that level of awesomeness. I adore the Back To The Future trilogy, couldn’t even tell you what my favourite is, so I’ll wait until all episodes are available and play through them in one go rather than having to wait.

    I do really like the sound of it, especially the fact that you’re going back to before Emmet was even Doc Brown or even CLOSE to becoming Doc Brown! Perfect way to screw with the whole time paradox thing. Enjoyed this dood, made me rethink my original stance of “Nah, can’t be arsed”, so well done!

  4. Ben Ben says:

    Want to play this but just don’t ‘get’ the whole episodic thing. Give me the full game and I’ll part with my money, until then it’ll get spent on something else sadly.

  5. Stu stu says:

    I agree with Ben in episodic content not really doing it for me, but this is a compelling review and I’m sorely tempted to reneg on my ‘no episodes’ policy as it seems I’d be spiting myself and missing a great little gem.

    Nice one, Ed. :)

  6. Richie rich says:

    This reminds me of Bully. Fuck all this LA Noire shite, give me Bully 2.

    Good review, Ed.

  7. Lee says:

    You’ve sold it to me Ed :) I shall be picking this up on the iPad

  8. Samuel Samuel says:

    “Rev up the DeLorean and get ready. You’re going to see some serious shit.”

    I have a new favourite line in a game review, ever. I’ve only played episode one, and a few things niggled me about it, but it was free so I won’t complain too much. I won’t pick the others up though until they finish the season and release the lot on a compilation disk, it’s just the way I roll.

    Good review Ed.

  9. Edward Edward says:

    Thanks for the kind words everyone :)
    I would emplore you all to try and get the game regardless of the episodic thing, but the fact I’ve managed to get you to take a look at the game and consider it when it’s completed puts a smile on my face :D

  10. Lorna Lorna says:

    Great review, very passionate :) I’ll have to admit that I wasn’t overly fussed at first. It looked at a glance like a simplistic adventure, and worse, episodic. However, you’ve pretty much convinced me to take a shot once they are all released. Not only that, but the art style looks simply gorgeous, with many of the characters appearing spot on. I look forward to this one, but am sad that it has to be added to my ever teetering pile of games to be played.

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