Back to the Future: The Game – Episode 4 Review (PC)
So far we’ve been to movie-era 1986, prohibition era 1931 and an altered, dystopian 1986 and have a DeLorean that was thrown forward in time to 2025 before returning to 1986. It’s time once again to put your time travel hats on as Telltale Games enter the penultimate episode of their so far impressive continuation of the beloved Back to the Future franchise. As with all the previous parts, Back to the Future: The Game – Episode 4, subtitled ‘Double Visions’ is a direct continuation from the proceeding episodes, so if you haven’t read those reviews so far, give them a quick read to get yourself up to speed on the series so far (1, 2, 3).
Double Visions begins shortly after the conclusion of Episode 3. In Episode 3, Marty was left stranded in a dystopian version of Hill Valley, where Citizen Brown (an alternate version of Doc) and his wife Edna ruled over the town using Doc’s inventive talents. Marty eventually manages to speak with Citizen Brown and convinces him to help repair the DeLorean, but before they can begin the work, Edna discovers their plan and captures them both. Episode 4 picks the story up a few hours later, with Marty waking up in a cell inside the Citizen Plus re-education clinic. The mandate for this episode is clear – escape the clinic, save Citizen Brown and find a way to fix the timeline.
The biggest problem Double Visions suffers from is that this plot point never really develops across the entire episode. While in previous episodes there has been a larger theme at play, but with smaller goals to achieve within the overall aim, Episode 4 sends you on numerous fetch quests which only lead to manoeuvre characters into a slightly different role by the end of the game. When the credits roll, you will have saved Citizen Brown, but you will still be looking for a way to fix the timeline albeit in a slightly different sense.
Despite the lack of progress to the overall plot, this episode does feature some character development, although again, not enough to really help the plot stand alone as the other episodes have done. Whereas in Episode 3 Citizen Brown seems to drop Edna as soon as Marty proposes the idea, in Episode 4 we see more of his internal struggle at essentially ruining the life of the woman he loves. It’s a nice arc that spans most of the episode, but unfortunately it is the only noteworthy character development throughout, with Edna particularly getting very little screen-time. There’s also a scene at the end of the episode which completely tarnishes Marty as a character. Emmett has made it onto the roof of the Courthouse and you need to talk him down. You are given two options – a friendly word in his ear or pure abuse, telling him he’s a failure. It turns out that no matter how many times you try, Emmett won’t respond to the friendly words, and you have to be increasingly brutal with him to talk him back into inventing. It’s extremely out of character and actually makes you as the player feel bad about having to choose that option. In a game that has so far been reasonably free on how you go about dialogue, it’s a shame to be forced into this aggressive confrontation late on.
In previous episodes, the game has essentially locked you into the town square, with small forays into new areas that only serve as small detours to the overall plot. Episode 4 features the biggest shake-up in locations seen in the series yet, but it’s not entirely for the best. The game opens in the Citizen Plus clinic, which while small, features a series of clever location puzzles which involve you breaking out, going under-cover and freeing Citizen Brown. On the whole this area is an interesting challenge, but it is over far too quickly, and in the end, it is easy to forget once you leave.
The game then returns back to the town square in 1986, again. Thankfully the time you spend here in this episode is barely noteworthy, but it is worth mentioning as the clever ‘over the shoulder’ camera angle returns, helping you to find exactly where you need to go with ease. This also helps prevent any fatigue at being back in the same area again, as you only see the area that you are directly heading to, rather than wandering aimlessly around an area you know all too well by now.
The final section of the episode, and by far the longest, sees you travelling to the first Hill Valley Science Expo outside of the school, where the aim is simple – split up Edna and Emmett and restore the timeline. It’s here that most of the character development and what little plot advancement there is takes place, although the area as a whole is lacking any sort of character itself. Featuring two tents which reveal themselves in turn only when you leave the area and return, the entire explorable area features little else to look at. The puzzles here are also reasonably dull, with characters asking you to obtain increasingly obscure items, which chances are, you picked up accidentally by talking to a character or interacting with something earlier. It’s a shame that this area and its puzzles are so dull as it takes the momentum entirely out of the episode. The sheer amount of time it takes moving back and forth to find items which often make no sense until later in the episode is a real problem, as it just causes the plot to stall.
This part also sees you returning to Doc’s lab, albeit a slightly different one from previous episodes. The lab features a few puzzles to get your head around, with one particularly time consuming puzzle seeing you making a new mind map for Emmett to help discredit him with Edna. Once again this boils down to hitting switches at the right time, and the sheer amount of time needed to complete such a trivial puzzle is an annoyance.
But that’s not to say the entire episode is a complete disaster. Despite a few needlessly time consuming or trivial puzzles, there are a few fun time travelling escapades which are satisfying to solve. For instance, you need to age a formula by 12 hours, so what better thing to use that the DeLorean? It’s a clever solution that only Back to the Future could achieve, and it helps add more credit to the so far believable universe Telltale have re-created.
As expected, the graphics look as good as ever, and the voice acting is still superb, with Christopher Lloyd and AJ LoCascio continuing to put in fantastic work as Doc and Marty respectively. There’s some genuinely witty dialogue in there too, with Telltale proving once again they understand the time travel mechanic of the series, as Citizen Brown often finds himself many hours (or years at one point) before or after the intended time jump thanks to some faulty time circuits. The point and click gameplay is as good as ever, and yes, the puzzles are still overall on the easier side, but feel a bit more clever this time, with objects needing to be manoeuvred into positions to achieve your aims for example. With all the fetch quests and obscure tasks, this one will take you just over 2 hours, but it will feel a lot longer, as there just isn’t enough here to keep you entertained for that length of time.
In an episodic series there is always the chance you could over-reach slightly, and that’s exactly what this episode feels like. While there’s nothing technically wrong with it, the persistent and often boring fetch quests in this episode grind the narrative to a halt until the very end, where it suddenly picks up again. When you look across the episode as a whole, you have to think that maybe this could have been split into episodes 3 and 5, and just cut the toal number of episodes down to 4. As it stands though, Episode 4 continues the downward trend started in Episode 3, bringing the overall game to a slight standstill before suddenly kicking back into gear again. Episode 5 will be very interesting indeed.
Final Score: 3/5
Review copy of game purchased on Steam
Played to completion ~2.5 hours