25 years ago my love affair with adventure games began. As I sat, patiently waiting for the Hobbit to load on the Spectrum that my dad had brought home with him little did I know that typing in single letter commands, waiting for the sun to set and getting stuck in a dungeon with a lanky bearded wizard would start me on a path that would eventually pass through games like Monkey Island, Sam and Max and the brilliant (but criminally overlooked) Kingdom o’ Magic. Meanwhile, Back to the Future was embedding itself as one of my favourite ever films.
Imagine then my delight when TellTale Games announced they were working on a Back to the Future series, even going as far as bringing Christopher Lloyd back to voice Doc. But such excitement always brings the fear that the end result might not match hopes and expectations, so has Part 1 of the time-travel-em-up (it’ll catch on) managed to bring the world of Hill Valley successfully onto the PS3?
The main part of the game takes place in the 1930s after Doc’s initial time travel experiment appears to go wrong and he fades into non-existence, leaving Marty to travel back in time to rescue Doc before he gets killed for apparently blowing up a speakeasy in Hill Valley. The first thing to strike you is the musical score, which has been taken straight from the films and used to fantastic effect to bring you closer to the experience. As you wander around you’ll hear the ambient music in the background, which builds to a far more exciting and fast paced series of tunes during the action sequences. The voice acting too is excellently done, and any fears that a lack of Michael J Fox would make Marty sound totally wrong can be dismissed entirely – A.J. LoCascio does an almost unbelievably impressive job of mimicking the slightly croaky and youthful voice of Marty, and once you relax into the game you begin to forget it’s not the genuine article.
Graphically you can tell this is a TellTale title (try saying that after a few pints) with that typical Sunday morning cartoon style which only TellTale can seem to manage while still maintaining the charm to suit the subject matter. Everything is crisp, bright and well designed and animations are smooth and well produced. Moving around is generally straight-forward, although there were occasions when I’d have to push in one direction in order to move in another which was a bit odd, but something you very quickly (if not begrudgingly) learn to accept. Controls are very simple and nicely matched for the job in hand, and are set up in such a way to allow younger or less experienced gamers to make steady progress through the adventure, which considering a sizeable chunk of the game’s audience will fall into one of those camps is just as well.
Also helping you along is the intelligently set up hints system. Offering you a series of clues ranging from the subtle to the blatantly obvious, you can call up the hints panel at any time you’re a bit stuck and receive some help in completing your current objective. Those of you with substantial pride and intelligence will want to get through without using a single hint, but most people will need the occasional nudge in the right direction and the varying levels of help will let you get a small pointer without giving the game away entirely. It’s a well designed system, because while all of the puzzles have a fairly logical solution if you’re not used to the mindset needed to solve them it can be a bit baffling for a while. By the time you reach the end of the game you’ve got your head round how you need to think and things are a lot clearer, which is just as well considering there are a few more parts to this adventure still to come.
Sadly you don’t get to see much of Hill Valley, with almost all of this chapter revolving around one small part of town, and the game is pretty short and won’t take long to get through. But let’s not forget this is the first part of a longer series so the full game doesn’t end when you complete this part, and hopefully future episodes will let us explore more of the surrounding area. But despite a few flaws, this is Back to the Future. It’s got great voice acting, sticks faithfully to the ideas of the films and gives you a brilliant taste of what’s to come.
So far, so good.