Back to the Future: The Game

If you love the movies you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this well-made adaption on your Mac or PC

Back in 1985 the movie “Back to the Future” was released and it was an instant hit. Two well–received sequels followed in 1989 and 1990 respectively and to this day the Back of the Future trilogy remains quite popular. Recently the trilogy celebrated the 25th anniversary of the release of the first movie with some fanfare which included a new Blu-ray box set release. And now Telltale Games have stepped in to revive the Back To the Future franchise in another format – a point and click adventure game. Telltale Games have in recent years become sort of a leader in the revival of the adventure game genre so it only seems natural that they would be the one to take on such a task.

In case you’re not familiar with Telltale Games they typically released their adventure games in an episodic format, usually five episodes in all, over a period of a few months. Usually you can purchase each episode separately but for some reason the only purchasing option for Back to the Future is for the whole game (all five episodes) for $24.99. As of this writing the first two episodes “It’s about Time” and “Get Tannen” have been released with the next three to follow in the next few months. This review is based on these first two episodes.

The game is essentially a direct sequel to the last Back to the Future movie, with the first episode taking place shortly after the events of the third movie. As you may recall at the end of the third movie Doc Brown had decided to settle in the 1880s with his true love while Marty McFly went back to the present, which is 1986. The first episode begins with an estate sale at Doc Brown’s house. With everybody believing he is dead all of his belongings are being sold off. As Marty McFly you need to try to put a stop to this. Before long the DeLorean shows up with Doc Brown’s dog Einstein and a clue that ultimately leads Marty McFly back to 1931 Hill Valley to save the doctor from a rather unfortunate predicament. Much of the rest of the game, at least the first two episodes anyways, takes place in this time period as well as 1986. As Marty McFly you’ll encounter numerous “familiar” faces, including Biff Tannen’s gangster father and a young Doc Brown, and familiar locations all while trying to avoid messing up the timeline.

It’s pretty clear that the designers of this game are big fans of the movie trilogy because the first two episodes really capture the magic and atmosphere of the films. Doc Brown is voiced by Christopher Lloyd from the movies and Marty McFly is voiced by an actor who sounds almost exactly like a young Michael J Fox! The rest of the supporting characters are also voiced impressively. The dialogue will also remind you of the movies with iconic phrases such as “Great Scott!” and “this is heavy”. They’ve even incorporated the same music from the movies, including the music that Huey Lewis and the News did for the movies. So this feels like a Back to the Future movie in every way possible. So if you like the movies and have long wished for future sequels in a sense you get them with this game. It’s really quite impressive how well Telltale Games have managed to reproduce this vision for a computer game. This bodes well for licenses they’ve acquired of other well-known franchises for future games.

In my review of Tales of Monkey Island, another Telltale game, I talked about how difficult some of the puzzles were and how often I had to refer to a walk-through to solve them. This is mostly because solutions to the puzzles were often obscure and not obvious at all. The good news is that’s not much of a problem with Back to the Future. There’s a fair amount of handholding here so most of the puzzles are really easy. And even if you run into a puzzle that isn’t very easy there’s a built-in hint system that provides different levels of hints, depending on how much help you need, all the way up to the solution itself basically. I managed to get through the first two episodes with only referring to the hint section on two occasions. So this was much much easier than Tales of Monkey Island for me. Depending on what your preference is this can be either a good or bad thing. I like the movies and really enjoyed the stories in these episodes so it didn’t bother me that getting through these episodes was a cakewalk. It also went pretty quick for me – around five hours for both episodes. This is due to the fact that besides being easier these episodes are also shorter than those of Tales of Monkey Island. Once again I didn’t mind this either for the same reasons I just mentioned as well as the refreshing change of playing a game that didn’t take an eternity to complete. Your mileage may vary.

From an accessibility standpoint this game is almost exactly the same as Tales of Monkey Island. Normally you would assume that adventure games would have simple interfaces and be easy to play for just about anybody. The words point and click and adventure gaming pretty much went hand-in-hand back in the day after all. But for whatever reason Telltale Games decided to do something different with the interface for no apparent reason. To move Marty McFly around with the mouse you have to left–click and drag in the direction you want to go. It’s extremely clunky and if you’re a disabled gamer that has trouble clicking and dragging this is going to be a problem for you. Moving around is a little easier than in Tales of Monkey Island because locations aren’t as cluttered but it’s still awkward. Fortunately you can also use the arrow keys on your keyboard for this. Since the game can be played in windowed mode then that means you have full access to KeyStrokes and SwitchXS for easy arrow key access. It’s still a bit on the awkward side but you may very well find it much better than the other method or if you can’t click and drag at all at least there is an alternative. The only other issue to worry about is that you have to press the “Escape” key to access the game menu. If you’re already playing in windowed mode anyways, and use something like Keystrokes, then this won’t be a problem. If you play in full screen but can’t press the “Escape” key on a physical keyboard you could use something like Dragon Dictate to activate the key with a voice command. I’ve tried this and it works.

Note: All the screenshots in this review make it appear that I’m playing the game in full screen mode which is not the case. It is in windowed mode but the game window just happens to fill my entire screen with the exception of the Mac OSX menu bar at the top of the screen. My display resolution is set to 1920 x 1080 and that’s the same resolution the game’s graphics settings are set to. The window just happens to fit perfectly which gives the appearance of full screen gaming which is nice! So far all of the Telltale Games I’ve played work this way. In the screenshot below you can see my KeyStrokes keyboard.

If you’re a fan of the movies I would definitely recommend getting this game, even if it’s on the easy side and doesn’t take long to complete. It really is a great bit of nostalgia and fun seeing and hearing these characters we fell in love with in the movies again. If you aren’t familiar with the movies you probably won’t enjoy the game as much. But it’s important to note that at $24.99 you don’t have too much to lose. However as far as I can tell there is no demo available and since you can’t buy episodes individually it’s either all or nothing with Back to the Future.

Mac System Requirements:

Minimum:

  • OS: Snow Leopard (10.5.8)
  • Processor: 2.0 GHz Pentium or equivalent
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: ATI or NVidia card w/ 256 MB RAM
  • Hard Drive: 2 GB Space Free
  • Not recommended for MAC Minis or early-generation MacBooks

Recommended:

  • OS: Snow Leopard (10.5.8)
  • Processor: 2.3 GHz Pentium or equivalent
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: ATI or NVidia card w/ 512 MB RAM
  • Hard Drive: 2 GB Space Free
  • Not recommended for MAC Minis or early-generation MacBooks

PC System Requirements:

Minimum:

  • OS: XP Service Pack 3 / Vista / Windows 7
  • Processor: 1.8 GHz Pentium 4 or equivalent
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: ATI or NVidia card w/ 256 MB RAM
  • DirectX®: Direct X 9.0c
  • Hard Drive: 2 GB Space Free
  • Sound: Direct X 8.1 sound device

Recommended:

  • OS: XP Service Pack 3 / Vista / Windows 7
  • Processor: 2.7 GHz Pentium 4 or equivalent
  • Memory: 3 GB RAM
  • Graphics: ATI or NVidia card w/ 512 MB RAM
  • DirectX®: Direct X 9.0c
  • Hard Drive: 3 GB Space Free
  • ound: Direct X 8.1 sound device

Paul Natsch