Another month has passed, and another installment of BTTF has arrived. The game so far has been excellent, developing the story and characters very well, and featuring some tremendous voice work by series originals and gifted imitators. The last installment treated us to Hill Valley as a police state. One can only wonder what they have in store for us this time. As always, watch out for spoilers for prior episodes, since some are unavoidable.
In terms of visuals, Episode four didn’t have too much to add. Most of the environments have been seen before. Two notable additions are the inside of the citizen plus facility in alternate 1986 and the front lawn of the hill valley high school, decked out for a coming science expo. Both of them were suitable, and each took the opportunity to mix in at least a hint of the “history keeps repeating itself” gags that make BTTF so entertaining as a series. One, for instance, is the massive speaker rig, presumably designed by “Citizen” Brown. Evidently regardless of his history, Doc loves his sound equipment.
Another thing that the relatively short list of unexplored areas gave me a chance to do was to really appreciate the little details. Telltale rarely has to produce a world that is in any way intended to represent our own, so generally they don’t have to worry about little things like product placement and licensing. Now, after no doubt paying a bundle for the likeness and franchise rights for the film series, not to mention the DeLorean name and logo, they probably didn’t have much money left to be spending on some of the little parts of the universe, which led to some great creativity. My favorite was the can of what is obviously supposed to be Tab, but is instead “alt.” Classic.
As with the visuals, the gameplay was mostly more of the same. A few aspects were added that I got a kick out of, though. One dealt with a chemical developed by young Doc Brown that takes on a very different behavior once it is more than 12 hours old. Putting it to good use involved one of the few uses of the DeLorean as a puzzle solving tool, rather than just as a means of transporting you from one setting to another. Another aspect involves prompting positive and negative responses to certain stimuli. It was a multilayer task, as you need to determine what items in the environment can cause good or bad reactions, and when they are to be used.
In addition to the clever new spins on puzzles, I really appreciated the way the game was designed. By their very nature, certain items are used for different purposes depending on what point in the story you are. The chemical I mentioned earlier has uses both before and after its aging process, for instance. Thus, care had been put to reveal different aspects of the game areas only when interacting with them wouldn’t lead you to remove a key item from your inventory before it had been fully used. This was particularly noticeable in the Expo area in front of the school, where different stalls were opened for public viewing as the time rolled on.
This being the penultimate entry in the series, the pacing of each episode is becoming easier to appreciate as well. I like how they spread each episode into a handful of distinct and fairly well mapped out goals, and how each episode ends with a more intense, life-in-the-balance puzzle. It keeps things flowing nicely, and makes sure you end in a high note.
I really have the least to say about the sound this time. Good performances, all around. One moment that sticks out for me is the instance when Marty has to disguise his voice, giving the voice actor the bizarre task of trying to sound like someone trying not to sound like himself. It was comical, but intentionally so. Everyone got to stretch their acting muscles a bit. A moment that takes place on the ledge of the clock tower as a storm is beginning to kick up both gave the voice of young Brown a chance to show some emotion and provided Marty with a scene that, for some reason, seemed more authentically Marty McFly that I’ve seen yet. Also, there were once again a few in jokes for the series, and another blatant Star Wars reference or two.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD. This being episode 4, you really ought to have played the first three before reading this, because there is no realistic way for me to discuss the events of this portion of the story without at least mentioning the resolution of the earlier plots. You’ve been warned.
I LOVED the story this time. Not only did it touch on elements that are staples of the series, it added exploration of concepts I don’t think the series has yet touched upon in any of its incarnations. At its base, it is the familiar problem. Someone is falling in love with the wrong person. Miss Strickland is the main reason young Emmett grew up to be Citizen Brown rather than Doc. She was something of a Lady MacBeth, pushing him to shape the city according to her own ideals, which are less than… well, ideal. Thus, your goal, with the help of a reformed Citizen Brown, is to prevent the relationship between young Brown and young Strickland. This involves learning what she seeks in a man and subsequently at least seemingly eliminating those traits in Emmett.
What really stands out about the episode, though, is the fact that almost for the first time, the characters are beginning to address the single-mindedness of their meddling. We are, after all, dealing with the alternate Brown. He is actively attempting to prevent the circumstances of his own history. Even early in the plot he requests that you not discuss your plans with him, lest his resolve to help you weaken. As it becomes clear just how much you are tearing apart the life of his younger self, he begins to question if what is being done MUST be done. Marty stubbornly refers to his own timeline as “the RIGHT timeline” and will not compromise, even when he realizes that without Doc in her life, Miss Strickland turns into the lonely demented cat lady we see in episode one. Throughout the series, their attempts to fix the timeline have been a bit like doing surgery with a hand grenade, but this is the first time I’ve seen the characters begin to consider the other lives that they are affecting, and the lives they are preventing from playing out. Once again, this story ended with a setup that has my mouth watering for the conclusion of the tale. And in true BTTF fashion, we are told in no uncertain terms that a conclusion it will be.
As before, if you enjoyed, or at least could tolerate, the gameplay of the earlier episodes, then this is absolutely a game worth playing. If nothing else, there are a few golden moments that show just how deep and philosophical a madcap time-caper can be when you stop to think about it.
9.0 / 10: Another strong story kept me interested all the way through. Dying for the final chapter.