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Back to the Future The Game: Episode 1: It's About Time
Score: 83%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
Movie-based games are usually tricky, but when dealing with a franchise as beloved as Back to the Future, it's imperative to get everything right. Fortunately, when the idea for Back to the Future: The Game - Episode I: It's About Time hit (which, I'm told, involved a fall from a toilet while trying to hang a clock), Telltale's name sprung to mind.

The way I see it, if you're going to make a Back to the Future game, you might as well do it with some style. It's About Time gets everything absolutely perfect. I loved walking through Doc's lab and seeing all the tiny details - from the dog feeder to the not-quite-to-scale model of Hill Valley from the original movie.

The deeper you venture into the game, the more nostalgic you'll get. Eagle-eyed fans will spot numerous touches, including little things like a shark movie playing in the local movie house. Several camera angles are ripped straight from the movie, as are most of the music cues and sound effects. Voice-work is particularly effective. Christopher Lloyd reprises his role as Doc Brown and AJ LoCascio does a brilliant job at taking over Marty's role.

Visually, It's About Time is on par with Telltale's other games. Rather than go for realism like we'll see in the upcoming Jurassic Park game, It's About Time goes for a stylized cartoon look reminiscent of the short-lived Back to the Future cartoon series. There's the occasional framerate hiccup or stiff animation, but It's About Time still looks great.

Rather than retelling the film's plot, Back to the Future: The Game - Episode I: It's About Time cuts out a new time-jumping adventure for Marty and Doc Brown. The game picks up roughly a year after the third movie. Doc is raising a family somewhere in time and Marty is enjoying not screwing up his family's timeline. With Doc missing, and his debts adding up, the city decides to auction off Doc's belongings. Marty protests, insisting the Doc will come back, but the city won't listen.

During the estate auction, the DeLorean shows up on Doc's front lawn with a recorded message for Marty. Doc is in trouble somewhere in time and Marty has to save him, kicking off an adventure to 1930's Hill Valley.

It's About Time is packed with references - both subtle and not-so-subtle - to the original films. Spoiling them would ruin the fun, but you'll run into several characters from the movies, and even a few throwback scenes, including the Tannen family's unique relationship with the Jones Manure Company. Along with the visual and audio nods, it's great that Telltale was able to create something that not only pays tribute to the films, but also feels like a legitimate extension of the series.

Gameplay is standard for the genre. You go through the story, solving puzzles and finding objects. Neither the story nor gameplay is particularly complex, though it seems like TellTale is trying to set the stage for something bigger rather than blow player's minds right at the start. Though easy, puzzles are well thought-out and, more importantly, follow a logical pattern.

It's About Time is on the short side. The game clocks in about five - six hours, which isn't bad except there's really no replay value once completed. The PS3 version offers Trophy support, a few of which require a bit of extra sleuthing, though I was able to snag most on my first way through.

Puzzles are smart and well designed, but easy, especially for a TellTale game. My only guess is the difficulty will jump with later episodes, keeping with the idea that TellTale is trying to lay groundwork rather than hit the gate at 88 miles per hour. I can only think of two times where I was stumped, but the issue was quickly resolved after exiting and re-entering the area (apparently a cut-scene needed to play out first). The other time was simply an issue with the interface.

In the event you run into a tricky problem, there's an in-game hint system. I never found a use for it, but based on the clues, it does things right. Clues keep things vague enough that you can figure out what's going on, but you're never outright told what to do. There's also an in-game guide that will point you in the right direction if you're not sure where to go next.

Game Mechanics:
The control scheme is easy enough to grasp, though it takes a little while to get used to its subtle quirks. This is something I've come to expect from TellTale's console ports. The systems are workable, but it's clear finding just the right scheme is still a work in progress.

The biggest difference is the lack of a free-moving cursor for selecting objects in the field. Instead, you need to guide Marty near the area until a context-sensitive icon appears over the object. You can also hit the shoulder button, bringing up dots on all objects of interest, which you can then scroll through.

The system isn't too bad and is certainly useable, though it isn't without its issues. Depending on how close items are clustered together, it wasn't uncommon to select the wrong object, such as a short task in Doc's lab where item order was key. The system also proved troublesome during the last level.

Similar to older Resident Evil games, the camera is set in a fixed position. And, similar to older Resident Evil games, camera shifts are accompanied by a jarring flip-flip in direction. Don't be surprised if Marty suddenly reverses direction midway between locations.

Button presses are similarly confusing. Pressing (Square) brings up your inventory, allowing you to study or use items. Once selected, the on-screen display maps the item to a space next to the (Square) button. The Legend of Zelda player in me instinctively assumed pressing (Square) would use the item. Instead, I needed to press (X). It's something you'll eventually get used to, but shouldn't need to. It's unnecessarily confusing.

For the amount of game you're getting, the $20 price tag may seem a little steep, but considering I spent that much just to sit in the DeLorean (see "To The Future" link below), the experience is worth the price. Back to the Future: The Game - Episode I: It's About Time is a fun surprise, especially for fans.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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