Review: Back to the Future: Citizen Brown

March 31st, 2011 by | 5 comments

(No Spoilers! Feel free to read, it’s safe)

After “BTTF – Episode 3: Citizen Brown” ends, one may feel the need to close his eyes, look up and say: Yes! Finally! They’re back on track!

At least that’s what I did…

We have reached the middle of the season and I was genuinely getting worried that I bought a series meant for children. One is able to understand Telltale Games’ approach in this case: big old franchise, let’s not mess it up for new players. Still, this didn’t explain the “Pause/Play Movies” from the previous episodes. Yes, that’s what I am calling them now… “Pause/Play Movies”. The game Pauses at one point, and you need to click on a button to get it going again, like an old VCR-player that keeps jamming.

Thankfully, Episode 3 is not like that…at least, not as much.

Eric Parsons, the director behind episode 3, did his job well. You can feel the way he changed the player’s approach. There were times in which I was scared of picking a wrong dialogue choice, even though I knew it was not relevant in a TTG game. You could actually feel the characters’ pain in certain moments and, let’s face it, they’re just 3D models with human voices. Mr. Parsons managed to get the player beyond that, to emerge him in the world he thought he knew and present a different side of it… a side I am not sure I was ready to see.

The writing was brilliant as well. Writer and Designer Mike Stemmle really nailed it this time. At least, I recognized his style… I’m certain Mr. J.D. Straw, Lead Writer and Designer, has his good parts in this, as well as Mr. Andy Hartzell. I’m just more familiar with Mr. Stemmle’s way of telling a story. Sure, there are a few plot-holes here and there, but nothing too big or disturbing to take you out of the atmosphere. The chapter plays out nicely, with a few unexpected twists that are clearly well thought out. Children may get a kick out of this one since you, as a player, have to “misbehave” so you can achieve your goal. To think outside the box is a great thing, but Mr. Stemmle accomplished something even better: he asks you to bring that “free-thinking” inside the box and wreak havoc, all for the greater good. If you are a parent and you are reading this, trust me, your kid might learn some good life lessons after playing this episode.

Now let’s get to the general stuff: The animations are good, most textures are nice (especially close-up ones), the cinematic-work is incredibly well made… for instance, the town-intro sequence is based almost frame-by-frame on the movie’s similar scene. There are a few graphical bugs (the flowers on the stone fence disappear when the camera pans, or one of the monitors’ displays can be changed AFTER it is clearly broken), but nothing too bad.

One thing that bothered me the most were the invisible walls. I usually can’t stand those in other games, but in this game… it became utterly annoying. Don’t block Marty with thin air if he wants to go to the left, put a CAR or something there! Put a wall! If this was part of the artistic design, then congratulations, you’ve reached your goal of making the players feel trapped… otherwise, I honestly don’t know why this wasn’t fixed.

Stories can be told in various ways and everybody knows that human patience grows thin, especially in our days. Apparently, chapter 3 suggests another type of approach in storytelling: Dialogues. Many, many dialogues. I have never seen so many dialogue options with sub-dialogue options for so many characters. Besides that, you’ve got tourist-plaques all around which give you a tour of the city… I felt it was a bit too much. It’s good that it is optional, otherwise I would’ve probably skipped the cutscenes which explained the situation. I suppose there was no other way to do this, especially in such a short production time… but it still felt like it was too much dialogue.

However, on a good note, the talk Marty has with his father is surprisingly entertaining. The gestures, the facial expressions, the dialogue options, the answers… It all felt so natural, so nice! Michael Sommers, who plays George McFly, did an awesome job with the character and the animations enhance his performance, taking it to a new level of quality which can rarely be seen in big-budget games like Crysis or Call of Duty. Telltale Games focuses on character development and story. When they nail that, the rest simply fades into the game’s atmosphere. Who cares that a shadow glitched in episode one, when I can see the emotional shifts in Young Emmet’s features and it makes me, as a person, beyond the player, feel bad for what I did?

On top of it all you can see the scene behind the clocktower. That dialogue sequence alone is so tense, so well made… it can easily be breathtaking. I can’t talk about it without spoiling it, but it’s one experience I will never forget.

Overall, the ideas that this episode conveys, the acting, the cinematography… all of it makes it a lot better than the previous two episodes. The puzzles were more difficult and I really had trouble with some of them. I disliked the repeated animations of Einstein in one particular puzzle, got annoying at times, but went through that one quickly. Free advice: No hard feelings towards the other directors but, please, keep Mr. Parsons for the next two episodes. I was going to give this episode 8 out of 10 flux capacitors… but seeing how all this was made in one month… let’s make that a 9 out of 10. Call it an “optimistic score” for the next chapters.

5
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5 Responses to “Review: Back to the Future: Citizen Brown”

  1. Harris McMahon says:

    Am I the only one who thinks that this place should have taken place two years earlier?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four

  2. Marty says:

    Brilliant review! I also reviewed the game here:

    http://alternativemagazineonline.co.uk/2011/03/31/game-review-back-to-the-future-the-game-episode-3-citizen-brown/

    I do think it is important to remember that these games are made in the space of a month, on a budget, for fans of the films.

    I got some criticism for my review score in the Telltale forums (half a point higher than this one), but I was reviewing it for what it is, not what I want it to be. Are easy games such a bad thing if you are still having fun? Apparently so, but I still disagree.

    It is perhaps a bit too easy but as you said, the final scenes were breathtaking this month and the overall experience more than makes up for any minor misgivings.

  3. nitramred says:

    Great review, I agree totally. Too much dialogue, just a few puzzles. I really like the way the crew tells the story, too. To summarize it: Telltale Games is more and more just “Telltale” – and not so much “Games” – when I’m stuck in an endless cut scene it sure is nice watching, but it isn’t a lot of fun when you hope for an adventure game.

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