A highly cinematic adventure game, Back To The Future Episode 1 might initially concern fans of the trilogy given all the other poor game version of movies out there. But don’t worry, the app isn’t bad at all and its story was actually made in collaboration with Bob Gale, Back to the Future’s co-creator and writer. At $6.99, the game marks the first title in what the developers say will be a five part series. If the app descriptions are to be believed, each will be released on a monthly basis, and if the quality improves with each one, the series could indicate better monetization potential for story-based games. Fun and full of humor, the only real complaint about the application is that it does feel rather heavy on the non-interactive side and at times seems poorly optimized.
Anyway, on to the review. Players take on the role of Marty McFly a few months after the end of the third movie. Well, for reasons we won’t give away, the DeLorean Time Machine ends up back in the picture and Doc Brown has found himself in a bit of hot water again. Trapped in the past, players must explore the early years of Hill Valley in order to save him.
The basic play is pretty simple. Players move about a 3D world, as viewed through a variety of fixed camera angles, in order to locate and help Doc. Control-wise, the game allows users to move by using any part of the iPad as a control stick, and a simple tap will allow Marty to interact with dozens of different objects on the screen. For each stage of the story, some puzzle will present itself, then players must search the premises for objects that might be useful in solving it.
Thus far, we’ve not encountered puzzles in their traditional sense (something like a jigsaw puzzle, for example), so it is best to refer to them as “riddles.” In order to solve each one, players must typically locate an item and use it with something else. However, there is often a particular sequence that must be done first. For example, the first puzzle of significance is attempting to, ahem, liberate an item from Marty’s good old buddy Biff. Without giving away specifics, players must locate item X, use it on item Y, interact with item Z, talk to person A, then interact with item Y again.
It’s actually not too tough, as most of these elements are fairly logical, and should the player ever get stuck, the game allows users to access various hints to help them out. For each riddle, there are a finite number of hints, with each series starting fairly vague and gradually becoming more obvious. Also, it’s worth noting that the vague hints are very well done in that they give just enough to point the player in the right direction without giving anything away directly.
As noted already, players can also interact with characters around the game world. Since this title is heavily oriented around story, players are able to choose from a variety of different responses whenever they engage in conversation. In many cases, these are present just for flavor or to provide a sense of comic relief, but in others, new and pertinent information can be revealed.
Unfortunately, many of the these moments are non-interactive. To provide some context, the first hour of game-play is around 60% cut scenes (and that’s being generous). Even so, it is worth praising both the content and presentation value. Not only does the game frequently make players laugh with well placed humor, but for an iPad game it looks and sounds great. The characters, especially, are among the better looking ones we’ve seen on the device. Also, the Back to the Future music and voice acting are exceptionally professional as well.
There are downsides to these scenes, other than their frequency. From time to time, the game’s frame rate drops to an unacceptable level and, in fact, even does so when you first load the main menu. It’s not a huge deal, as there is no play happening at the time, but it does detract from the experience.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this game, however, is the fact that it is set up to be episodic. As noted already, this is only Episode 1 and at least four more are on the way. The time frame appears to be one a month, but whether or not each one will cost $7 is unclear at this point. Considering the level of polish gone into the game, it very likely will be. All the same, more than enough is given to the user in Episode 1 to, in our opinion, hook them.
Overall, Back To The Future, Episode 1 HD is a pretty decent addition to the iPad if you’re a fan of the franchise. The riddles aren’t so hard that they become frustrating, and they’re challenging enough to get the user to think, with hints available when needed. More than this, the presentation value of the game is fantastic and the story is actually quite interesting. That said, it does suffer from long sequences where the player is merely watching and there are some optimization issues. All in all, well worth the price for Back To The Future fans.