If history had taken a different course and Michael J Fox had been spared the effects of Parkinson’s disease, the current appetite for all things 80s would surely have sired a fourth instalment in the Back To The Future franchise. But without its leading man, fans of the time-traveling series will have to be content with this digital sequel which looks and feels like an integral part of Marty McFly’s extraordinary journey.
Originally released as a series of five downloadable episodes via home computers and the PlayStation Network, Back To The Future picks up the story a few months after the third movie’s dramatic finale, and initially sees Marty going back to the 1930s prohibition era to try and track down the AWOL Doc Brown. But as with all instalments in the classic movie trilogy, meddling with events in the past has unpredictable repercussions on the future, in turn creating another time-twisting tale where the flux capacitor and DeLorean become indispensible.
For fans of the series, Back To The Future: The Game is essential. The developers at Telltale Games have clearly studied the movies in intense detail to ensure all the locations and characters are instantly recognisable, allowing Biff, Jennifer and their historical counterparts to exist in a world that will make perfect sense to long-time fans. Perhaps most importantly, the voice acting throughout is spot on, with Christopher Lloyd reprising his role as the Doc, and a stand-in for Michael J Fox who sounds uncannily like the actor in his 1980s heyday. Original music from the films, outstanding sound effects and a fresh approach to Hill Valley that shows the familiar town in a different era are also excellent, and will delight anyone who grew up with Robert Zemeckis’ feel-good flicks.
In terms of gameplay the experience is delightfully simple, employing the same point-and-click interface as used in other titles by Telltale Games such as Sam & Max and Tales Of Monkey Island, and shirking rollicking action in favour of systematically speaking to characters, examining objects, and gradually piecing together the pieces of larger puzzles. And while this old-fashioned structure may disappoint modern gamers with the attention span of a gnat, Back To The Future’s deliberate, measured approach to its beloved source material will be embraced by hoarier players who still cherish fond memories of the movies from when they first hit cinema screens.
A word of warning for Wii owners, though. While using the Wii remote to navigate the worlds makes Back To The Future tremendous fun to play, the muddy graphics, fuzzy backdrops and choppy animation undermine the experience, and you may prefer to experience the game on more powerful platforms that are able to handle its charms with confidence.
Reviewed by David McComb