Remember 2011 for: Back to the Future: The Game

As 2011 draws to a close TVGB takes this week to look at some of the best games of the year. No, we’re not going to be the hundredth site to tell you that Portal 2/Skyrim/Batman/Uncharted 3 was the best game to release in the last 365 days, but rather remember some of the titles that, while not necessarily forgotten, won’t be at the forefront of the GOTY nominations. Great Scotts! Today’s pick is Back to the Future: The Game!

It makes sense that, for a franchise all about time travel, Back to the Future: The Game proves to be a satisfying love letter to a genre that has died a slow death over the years – the point and click adventure.

Of course, it also makes sense because, well, how would you ever twist the events of Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s crazy lives into an FPS or RPG? Instead, Back to the Future, like so many of developer Telltale’s games, hits 88 mph and takes us back to the original days of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Monkey Island and Sam and Max. Though not without its faults, this adventure proved to be one of 2011’s more interesting – if not more polished – games.

Billed as the sequel to the iconic film trilogy, Back to the Future plays out through five downloadable episodes (one of which released late 2010, the others earlier this year). Each episode hit different notes in terms of quality but when it was at its best, BttF soared like a DeLorean from 2015.

Taken strictly as a video game, it was very much a throwback to Luacarts’ brilliant adventure games, with most tasks requiring players to scour the area for necessary items and then basically guess how to use those items to overcome whichever security guard/high school bully/time paradox stood in your way.

These days it takes a certain kind of mentality to appreciate a point and click game; I’ll be the first to admit that. It’s a dated genre to say the least, especially in a post-Heavy Rain world in which there is no defined path and failure is an option. BttF sticks out as one of 2011’s most noteworthy titles then, not just because it’s a successful resurrection of a great franchise, but also a showcase for the genre. It stubbornly refuses to conform to how things are these days. Problem-solving is largely trial and error-based, some of the action sequences have to be played out with complete guess work, and there’s no combat to speak of.

But bringing the genre back to the industry today, complete with full voice acting and, for lack of a better term, current graphics makes this sort of like a museum, or a time capsule, so to speak. Like one of those books that tries to make Shakespeare appealing to kids. If it succeeded or not is another question, but it certainly gets marks for trying.

Episode three is the highlight, in which the events of the first two episodes catapult Marty into a present unlike anything we’ve seen in the films or (awful) cartoons before. Warped by the changes made to his past, Doc Brown ends up as the totalitarian mayor of Hill Valley, with some very interesting theories on how the town should be run. It’s up to Marty to save to good Doctor and Hill Valley, which he does by, of course, playing guitar too damn loud.

At a time like this BttF strikes the perfect balance between light-hearted comedy mixed with a sense of adventure that’s only really been felt in the films before it. Arguably the linear gameplay path and minimalist player input means that this may as well have just been the next film, but marrying the characters, story and setting with the chance for you to come up with the insane schemes you carry out adds something that no film can provide. This isn’t a Back to the Future to be shared with the masses, but one just for you, one that you’ve pushed forward and overcome.

When basing a game of this style around such a beloved franchise, you’ve got to be committed to authenticity. Given the amount of dialogue in the episodes it would be easy to assume Michael J. Fox’s absence would kill the game before it’s even started, but Telltale were lucky enough to find a sound-alike so stunningly similar to the original character you drop your jaw when you hear him speak for the first time. Paired with Christopher Lloyd’s excellent reprisal of Doc, it’s as close as we’ll ever get to a fourth Back to the Future flick which, judging by other recent 80’s resurrections, is probably a good thing.

Back to the Future definitely takes some wrong turns, mainly to do with its technical performance, and its slow, guess work gameplay isn’t going to appeal to many that started gaming after the 90s, but that’s exactly what makes it worth remembering.
Here’s a game that went back in time in more ways than one. And for my money, it was one 2011’s nicest surprises.

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