Before I say anything I’ll point out that as a review of a fifth episode, consider yourself on high spoiler alert. After four excellent installments, Back to the Future Episode 5 has finally landed to bring closure to the series. The story put together by Telltale has tied itself up in suitably complex temporal knots, and the gameplay and voice work has been excellent. Now with the addition of some vocal appearances by the original Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox, we finally get to see how they intended to bring the series to an end.
Having played through the prior four installments, you probably won’t see much new visually in Episode 5. Technically we are shown a new version of 1930s Hill Valley. Not to give too much away, this isn’t so much represented by more things to look at as fewer. Likewise, the clock is turned back just a bit further, to show off the Hill Valley a bit closer to the Wild West setting of the third BttF Movie. A new character or two shows up, at least one depicted by Michael J. Fox. On MJF’s character in particular, the artists managed a suitably authentic likeness, a few shades closer to reality than the more stylized Marty. Because of the downright rampant time travel in the game, you’ll see some fairly epic events, including at least one chase scene in which a vehicle is chasing itself. This comes complete with a clever visual reference to one of Marty’s better stunts from the films. There is also a fantastic scene where a character, who due to the events of the story has been batted around by virtually every other character, finally grows into the individual we know from the films, complete with the appearance of a highly distinguishing feature. (For a fun little challenge, try looking through the gallery at the bottom of the review and see if you can find the things I’m talking about.)
I will say that there were some quirks in the graphics, at times. At one point a police officer is having an animated discussion with Edna Strickland, and if you pull her away for a private chat, you can see the cop continuing to vigorously argue with the space she had formerly occupied.
The same point-and-click, inventory management puzzles make up the meat of this game, but they do take on a few different forms. For instance, one particularly intense sequence centers around you extinguishing a torch and disarming a gunmen, and because they are in a Mexican standoff, you need to do so simultaneously. What follows is technically a physics puzzle, involving the shifting of various weight sources and the construction of a Rube Goldberg machine. For me, this puzzle was plagued a bit by me knowing how it needed to turn out, and finding all of the elements that would allow me to do it, but having severe trouble figuring out how the game wanted me to pull it off.
Another notable puzzle involves the attachment and alignment of a handful of little transmitters. To solve the puzzle, you need to be able to reach all three of them, and once you attach each one, you need to target the receiver dish long enough for it to lock on. (This isn’t a spoiler. You are being specifically instructed to do so, in-game.) While the alignment micro-game didn’t really add much to the game for me, I appreciated them including it to break up the less real-time aspects of the game that had dominated it to that point. What I didn’t appreciate, though, was the reliance of scripted events to drive puzzles forward.
At more than one point in the game I found myself completely unaware of what to do or where to go, as thus far I had interacted with virtually everything that made sense and come no closer to the goal. Then, after trying something that clearly wouldn’t work, I triggered an event that revealed new info or altered something I’d already interacted with. It is possible that there were clues to indicate that such an act would be worthwhile, but if they came up, I didn’t notice them. Thus, there were moments that made me feel as though I was just supposed to blindly try every possible action until the game decided I’d flailed around enough to let me continue. Fortunately, only two such events stick out in my mind. The rest of the game flowed quite well.
The voice work in the game continued to be absolutely top notch. Christopher Lloyd got a few chances for some more serious drama as well as some more farcical comedy. Hearing him do a cartoonishly exaggerated French accent was great. We even got to hear someone else doing an impression of Doc Brown, which was pretty entertaining. This game is introduced with an original song, talking about the wonders of science that the future will bring. It sets the tone for the setting of the first half of the game extremely well.
The main addition to the audio of the game, though, is the voice work of Michael J. Fox. In a nod to the films, he plays multiple roles, one of whom we technically got to see in the films, and another (or several others, depending on who you look at it) who we are quite familiar with. He does a good job, but really, how could he not?
Most of the allure of the series thus far has been the continuing adventures of the characters we came to love from the movies, and thus the story was the main focus for me. If you haven’t played the prior installments, you should probably skip right to summing up at this point, lest you be heavily spoiled. The previous game ends with Doc Brown having understandable but ominous doubts about the clumsy and downright sociopathic way in which his life has been toyed with to assure the “correct” timeline. The day of the Hill Valley Expo, a date he remembers as the day that finally cemented his interest in all things science, has finally come. All Marty has to do to make sure the hellish futures he’s encountered thus far never come to pass is make sure that young Doc goes through with the demonstration of his project. Old Doc, formerly Citizen Brown, has other ideas. He has become convinced that it wasn’t Edna that screwed him up enough to create a police state, it was science itself. Remove that from the equation and all of the problems in his life vanish. Thus, he is once again your adversary in the game, attempting to sabotage his younger self. Edna Strickland continues to be an antagonistic figure. She quickly labels you a subversive, which leads to a silly pop culture reference. Events escalate until the ramifications of an untrained, desperate, and unstable person piloting a malfunctioning time machine become painfully clear.
The story lends itself to a number of very worthwhile scenes. Remember, if you will, that at least one member of the current cast is a product of a time line that all agree must not come to pass. The dramatic potential of this is not left unexplored. Likewise, the characters remain faithful to their motivations throughout the series. Seeing what sort of havoc can be caused by a character with a relatively minor effect in the “correct” history is put into the wrong place at the wrong time is really interesting. It all comes together at the end, which then takes a last minute swerve that conflicted me to no end. I won’t tell you what it is, you’ll have to see that for yourself. What I will say is that, on the one hand, it was completely out of nowhere and left me hanging. That’s par for the course, though, since the first BttF movie did the same thing. It was zany, madcap, and unfortunately, contradictory. Not plot-wise, mind you, because with time travel, self contradictory plot points are usually the driving force of the story. What was contradictory was the fact that the previous game, in an excellent nod to the movies, ended with “To be concluded…” meanwhile, the last screen we’re treated to in this game?
On one hand, I’m happy to know that we may see more games coming out of Telltale in the BttF universe. On the other hand, I feel a little bit manipulated, and I really would have liked some sort of closure.
If you’ve read the rest of the review, you’ll get the impression that this was a very good game, and it is, but when taken as a whole, for some reason it just didn’t strike me as the best one yet. The story was excellent, but we’ve seen better, and the gameplay was good, but nothing special. I loved the series. I liked this particular title.
8.5 / 10: Not the best entry in the series, but a strong and fitting end.