Mar 29, 2011

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Review: Back to the Future, Episode II

As big a fan as I am of TellTale’s games, Back to the Future: Back in Time, the first installment in their revival of the ’80s film franchise didn’t impress me.  The story continues in episode two, Get Tannen!, in which Marty must go back to 1931 to ensure that Kid Tannen is served the proper justice, or face a terrifying world in which the Tannen Mafia rules Hill Valley.  So, has TellTale improved upon the mistakes of the first entry, or does this second episode also fall flat?  Read on to find out.

The game begins shortly where the last episode left off, and soon Marty and Doc are returning to 1986.  Everything seems fine at first, until Marty realizes he is locked out of his house, and his parents don’t believe he’s really who he claims to be, since Marty and his siblings were supposedly run out of town years ago.  Confused, Marty soon realizes the problem as he is accosted by not one Tannen, but three.  Apparently, something in the timeline has been altered, and now the Tannens are a successful and brutal crime family (“The number five crime family in California!” One of them boasts), terrorizing the citizens of Hill Valley, the McFlys included.  It turns out that Kid Tannen managed to escape the law back in 1931, so Marty and Doc quickly hop back into the past to see justice is done, and, more concerningly, to make sure Marty’s grandfather stays alive, to prevent himself from being erased.

So far, so good, right?  Well, you will find yourself in similar locations soon, although the night setting does keep things a little different.  Still, the areas you can explore are extremely limited: basically just the town center, Doc’s hotel room, and the speak easy (and its alley).  It definitely works in the context of the story, but it would have been nice to have a little more to work with.  The puzzles are slightly improved from the previous episode, though, which is welcome, although they are definitely extremely simple, and veterans should have little trouble working through the story.  It was nice to see a few TellTale puzzles (such as the switch-the-music-on-the-piano puzzle), as well as an interesting word puzzle, but don’t expect to be challenged going in, especially since the number of puzzles in general is few, and the answers (if not outright given to you) are pretty obvious.  Again, there’s no combining of inventory items, so when you do have to use something, it’s pretty much figuring out who to show it to and when, for the most part.

Fans of the series may enjoy the story, however; it is definitely a bit more interesting than part one’s drab tale, as you feel like you learn a bit more about the characters, particularly Doc, which may come in handy for the next installment, Citizen Brown.  Still, the story isn’t something you’ll remember fondly, and while the game isn’t nearly as boring as the first episode, it’s still rather disappointing in scope.  Don’t get me wrong: the voice acting is still top notch, and I really enjoyed the various period songs in the speak easy in particular, but I really feel like TellTale has phoned it in so far with this series.

The graphics are also still much of the same, although they do look better if you make sure to turn everything up as far as it goes in the advanced settings menu.  I still dislike the animation for Marty’s walk, however, and it’s also frustrating that parts of the scene seem to be slightly chopped off during certain sequences, indicating the game is clearly not optimized for windowed play (I kept accidentally clicking outside the window to my desktop or whatever other window was open behind it during the game).  I also think it’s a shame that TellTale removed the control options normally found in their games such as Sam & Max, since I really think being able to walk Marty around using the arrow or WASD keys would be much smoother.  Still, these are minor complaints, and as usual, the game runs smoothly with few, if any bugs.

While Get Tannen! Doesn’t do anything inherently wrong, it is extremely short – I would say you could easily finish in half a day – and it also doesn’t do anything particularly epic or ground-breaking either.  Those who are looking for a puzzle or mystery will also be disappointed.  However, fans of Back to the Future will enjoy the casual romp and exploration of some of the series’ core characters.  I’m hopeful things will continue to improve, but as of right now, Back to the Future: The Game is far from TellTale’s best effort.

Back To The Future, Episode II: Get Tannen!

Platform: PC (reviewed), Mac, PS3, iPad
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 02/18/10
Developer: TellTale
Publisher: TellTale
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
MSRP: $5 per episode


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About Rebecca Quintana

Currently playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I've fallen in love with twitter; follow me if you're interested in some good game-, writing-, or book-related conversation: @rrquinta.