Tue 31 May 2011
Flicking through the episode descriptions on the launcher program, Citizen Brown was always the installment of Back to the Future: The Game that appealed to me the most. But did it live up to my expectations?
Episode 3 of Telltale’s episodic adventure has Marty wound up in an alternate, dystopian 1986 Hill Valley. Telltale has clearly taken inspiration from The Prisoner and 1984; the residents of Marty’s home town wear matching uniform and are under twenty-four hour surveillance by the titular Citizen Brown. Unfortunately, the game starts with the same problems as episode 1: it lacks pace and the puzzles are nothing we haven’t seen before.
The majority of the conversions in the game – and this has been consistent across the season so far – are well written, interesting and fun to play through. In Citizen Brown in particular, you’re first meeting with alternate Doc is a highlight, although the opportunity for a great puzzle was passed up: persuading him to listen to you turns out to be routine and straightforward. Episode 3, in fact, makes a habit of presenting the player with puzzles-that-aren’t-really-puzzles. More often that not through the course of the game I found that a puzzle was solved (or a situation resolved) purely by interacting with everything around me.
The story does however make up for the fairly lazy puzzles and the majority of the experience plays out like an interactive film – a good one. Set in a dystopian utopia, Citizen Brown is full of intrigue and a sense that everything isn’t quite right, under the surface. Telltale’s redesign of Hill Valley works well to reinforce the feeling of unease: everything is bright and clean but somehow too much so. A couple of environments stand out more than others, most notably Citizen Brown’s office. These better environments tend to be the ones where attention to the lighting has been paid, something which overall the episode overlooks – the authoritarian Hill Valley could have done with more shadowy corners.
There are no new major characters to speak of, although the season’s reoccurring residents of the town have all been altered along with the timeline. Jennifer, for example, is now a rebellious punk determined to defy Citizen Brown’s order. Her character provides some of the weaker moments in the episode. One of Marty’s tasks is to win back her trust, as she thinks he is too ‘square’, which leads to an odd guitar face-off with her new boyfriend. I imagine Telltale wanted to capture some of the magic of Marty’s solo at the ‘Enchantment under the Sea Dance’ in the films. In the end, we end up making Marty jump up and down a few times, in an entirely arbitrary fashion, strumming the odd chord until his enemy is vanquished. Furthermore, as the puzzle relies heavily (at least for me it did) on trial and error, it falls even flatter the fourth time around.
All criticisms aside, episode 3 is another solid story-telling experience that fits snugly into the Back to the Future universe. The setting this time around has echoes of Part II and is general more original and exciting in that respect. Sadly, in spite of the trademark excellent presentation and writing we have learnt to expect from Telltale, the gameplay in Back to the Future: The Game still hasn’t changed pace from pedestrian. I have high hopes, however. The episode ended with a solid action sequence, coupled with a nice reference to earlier episodes and provided a great cliff-hanger. My prediction is, from here, the only was is up.
Mark’s Score: 3 of 5 starks
I was going to mention the A Clockwork Orange reference but by the looks of things, there’s going to be even more of that in episode 4.