Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, 1.8 GHz Pentium IV or equivalent CPU, 2 GB RAM, 256 MB graphics card, DirectX 9.0c, sound card
ESRB rating: Teen
Release date: Available now
If there’s anyone who should know that messing around with past events is a bad thing, it should certainly be Marty McFly. The Hill Valley teenager has had his present upended multiple times because of his excursions to the past with his friend, eccentric scientist Emmett “Doc” Brown. But in Back to the Future: Citizen Brown, the third episode in developer Telltale’s series based on the classic Back to the Future feature film, Marty instead must escape from his new present to restore his old one.
Marty returns to 1986 after successfully completing his mission in 1931 to make sure that Hill Valley crime lord Kid Tannen is arrested and sent to jail. But his arrival back in his own time is anything but smooth. After crashing the DeLorean/time machine into a roadside billboard, he encounters a Hill Valley surrounded by a brick wall and ruled by Citizen Brown, aka his good friend Emmett. Brown has turned Hill Valley into an Orwellian nightmare, outlawing alcohol, chewing gum, public displays of affection, and dogs, among other things. He has also instituted a mind-control program that makes residents physically sick if they break any of his rules. Marty has to find a way to get an audience with Citizen Brown and try to make him see the error of his ways, since only Brown has the knowledge to fix the wrecked DeLorean so that Marty can once again go back and repair the timeline.
It appears that Telltale has stepped up their game in the graphics department with this new episode. The gameworld seems more colorful than before, and facial features are much more detailed; even the characters’ lip movements are more closely matching the dialogue, although they still have much more work to do. And one of my pet peeves, typos in the subtitles, has been greatly improved; I only spotted one misspelling this time (someone at Telltale must’ve discovered the spell-checker button). But there are still some glitches here and there. I spotted a cart moving along the street with no driver. Character movements are still much too wooden. Marty would run a half a block up the street every time you failed to complete a certain puzzle, forcing you to walk him all the way back to give it another try. And you still can’t freely wander around the neighborhood, even though one of the first tasks you get is to explore the town. But there was one major problem that is rare in modern games. We reviewers frequently bemoan the habit of developers sacrificing story for gameplay. But in Citizen Brown, you have just the opposite. You spend much more time talking than you spend doing. I didn’t actually put a clock to it, but it seems that you spend far more of the game’s 3½-hour running time participating in conversations than you do solving puzzles to advance the story. Many discussions have at least one, maybe even two layers of dialogue choices to read. Only in the game’s final scene do you get anything close to drama in which you directly participate.
I’m still waiting for the Back to the Future series to find the forward momentum that Telltale’s other episodic series had found long before Episode 3. So far we’ve been back and forth from past to present several times, and there still doesn’t seem to be an obvious destination in sight. As nice as it is to be back in touch with these characters after 25 years, we need to know that there’s a method behind all of this madness. There are two more episodes to go, so I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.