After at least four alternative time-lines, a new DeLorean, and two instances of horse manure, Telltale Games’ Back To The Future series reaches episode three. Marty McFly finds himself in a lot of trouble when he crash lands into another alternative 1986 and a giant billboard calmly explaining that “We have everything under control”. Ironic words considering the DeLorean is halfway through the billboard, Hill Valley has turned into an Orwellian nightmare, and Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer is a punk rock chick who dumped this reality’s Marty for being a square!
So, does Telltale keep up the momentum from the first two episodes? Will Marty be able to harness the Power of Love to get his girlfriend back? The rest of the review as well as some spoilers after the jump.
The first thing you should be prepared for in this episode is less time-travelling shenanigans than you went through in the first two episodes; you’re in the present-era Hill Valley for the long haul this time, with the emphasis on the new reality caused by your actions in the first two episodes. Due to all that meddling you did to the past version of the town and Doc Brown, he’s now become First Citizen Brown, who has become the new leader of Hill Valley along with his new wife Edna. The two have slowly turned the town into their perceived Utopia; it’s closed off from the rest of America, all vehicles are golf-buggies run on electricity, no dogs are allowed, and public displays of affection are banned!
Claudia Wells reprises her role as Jennifer Parker and gets a chance to mix it up as due to Marty’s meddling in the past, she’s now a punk rock rebel, and now oddly one of the most normal people in the town thanks to the Citizen Plus Program, which has brainwashed Biff to the point that even thinking of committing a crime makes him physically ill. As a side note, it’s really funny provoking him as a result.
Exploring how your actions in the past have changed familiar places and characters was a particular highlight for me of playing Citizen Brown; the way that Telltale have crafted the new alternative present is fantastic and if you’re like me you’ll be spending most of the time in the episode checking out how everything has changed. Make sure you look around and explore the self tours scattered around, as they help provide more context and make the new alternative present something that puts a strong impression on you in such a small amount of time.
One thing I did notice during my time with the episode was the the film references were almost entirely absent from the proceedings, and Telltale have instead focused the humour so that while at times it isn’t as prevalent, it’s still a satisfying part of the experience. That’s not all though, as the dynamics between familiar characters are also handled expertly, meaning that you’ll find most of the humour from the way you interact with the new versions of familiar characters, even if they’re also a lot like their original selves.
The best example I can think of is a puzzle that relies on the relationship between Marty’s parents now Lorraine is back on the sauce and George is a peeping tom again; it feels fresh and you’ll be laughing too much be aware that you’re actively trying to solve a puzzle. The humorous moments are still there in force, but they never feel like they’re taking over and may feel less frequent as a result.
Sadly, the episode is not without its flaws, and while some I can admit to as being nitpicky there are a few factors that I feel still deserve a mention. It may be me but I could almost swear the puzzles are becoming less obvious and require on more experimentation and guesswork than I’ve been aware of in the past. On top of this the inventory seems almost completely useless this time around; be aware that most of what you carry won’t come in useful and it’s mostly items you’ll gather in this episode that have one use that will solve puzzles. Then there’s the fact that the absence of (Citizen) Brown to only a couple of scenes feels weird at first, and you may start to miss him being there by the time he finally shows up in a scene that feels too brief to fully enjoy it.
Actually, my chief complaint with the episode is that it feels too brief. Granted, the episodes are by nature short, but I was finished with the episode after just over two and a half hours, and I explored everything I could, exhausted every conversation I could have and ate lunch while playing. It probably would have helped a lot more if it wasn’t for the fact that the pace seems a bit off in comparison to the other episodes; it didn’t feel like there was much of a build-up to what I was doing and I didn’t realise the crescendo event was so until just before it finished. The pacing and climax of the episode just seem a little odd, and that’s why I felt that the cliffhanger to the episode was just pure evil.
I’ll clarify that by saying that it’s not evil in the sense that it’s bad, but it felt so unexpected and is genuinely evil considering how desperately I need to continue playing now and have to wait for nearly a month to find out what happens in part four. It’s hardly fair!
Essentially, despite the negatives I’ve listed, you’ll have a lot of fun with Citizen Brown if you’ve been enjoying the episodes so far. It’s a great middle chapter that’s brilliantly written and will have you wishing there was just a bit more of it to tide you over before the penultimate episode arrives.