Back to the Future: The Game – review

PC/Mac; $24.95 (£16.22); Telltale Games

Telltale was one of the first developers to crack a profitable model for episodic gaming, thanks to an inspired reboot of the Sam & Max franchise. Now the same trick is applied to the far bigger property of Robert Zemeckis’s movie trilogy, with five downloadable episodes to be released throughout 2011.

Once again the genre is old-school point-&-click, with every key location in Hill Valley needing to be explored and scoured for clues. Navigation is a matter of cursor keys or mouse, with places you can visit or objects you can retrieve marked as hotspots and NPCs to engage in multiple choice conversations. Sometimes you will not be able to leave a location until a puzzle is solved, but at other times you can wander round the pseudo 3D town working out how to make progress or which of the items in your limited inventory can be used. Luckily, you can also receive a maximum of three hints per puzzle.

Thanks to working with Bob Gale, one of the movie’s writers, the game provides a reasonably credible extension to Marty McFly’s story, filled with in-jokes and cross references. The action kicks off a few months after the end of the third movie before whisking Marty back to the Prohibition Era to rescue Doc Brown and put history back in order … again.

Although the puzzles are plentiful, adventure fans will find them relatively easy to solve – not least by trial and error. It exposes fairly early on that the formula that worked so well before simply feels less effective here. Without Sam & Max’s surreal humour we’re left with a well plotted but an otherwise bland adventure that relies too much on lengthy cut-scenes to compensate for the strictly linear gameplay.

Admittedly the dialogue is aided by a cast that includes Christopher Lloyd revisiting Doc Brown, while Marty and the rest are voiced by reasonable sound-alikes. However, the stylised likenesses and animations are easily forgettable – especially for a younger audience now used to bigger and brasher animated heroes.

Occasionally, Alan Silvestri’s original score evokes some of the old excitement but it also emphasises that by sticking to the point & click genre Telltale are looking like one trick ponies – especially when pacy arcade action is needed to evoke the adrenalin rush Zemeckis brought to the movies. It’s nice to see such a rich franchise reinvented, but lets hope for more ambition and invention in the episodes that follow.

• Game reviewed on a PC

Rating: 3/5 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds