As promised, here is my list! As with last year, I’ve highlighted noteworthy achievements, as opposed to trying to single out favourites (so you will see some that I thought were more interesting than fun). I’ll kick off with what I thought were the year’s overarching themes:
Theme of the year I: march of the small games. Every year has its notable short and/or cheap indie games, such as FTL in 2012, and in 2013 these included Skulls of the Shogun, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Papers: Please, and Gone Home. However, the year also saw a large publisher, Ubisoft, throw its hat into the ring with Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Ubisoft is set to continue this trend with Child of Light, and it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which other publishers follow – especially after Tomb Raider missed Square Enix’s expectations, sparking the latest bout of soul-searching about the future of AAA games.
Theme of the year II: iteration. In 2012, my favourite games (XCOM, Wargame: European Escalation, Analogue: A Hate Story), as well as other notable titles (FTL, Journey) were all quite novel. Even XCOM, while thematically faithful to the 1994 original, was mechanically unique. 2013, though, was more like 2011 in its preponderance of evolutionary rather than revolutionary games, from the big end of town (Assassin’s Creed IV) to the little guys (Dominions 4), plus expansion packs (Civilization V: Brave New World, XCOM: Enemy Within). That said, we’ll see exceptions below.
I’ve just finished Episode 1 of Back to the Future: The Game, a 5-part point-and-click adventure game from Telltale Games of Walking Dead fame. (I estimate Episode 1 is around 3-4 hours long, which suggests that the entire series is 15-20 hours.) Rather than overlapping or rehashing the Back to the Future movies, the game is an original story that “begins” sometime after the end of the trilogy. It is very much a traditional adventure game, in which players control Marty McFly as he solves puzzles, uses items on the environment, and makes wry observations on his situation; if there are any elements of action or reflexes in BttF, I haven’t seen them yet. So far, I very much like it for two reasons: it succeeds both as an adventure game and as a homage to the movies.
As an adventure game, Episode 1 of BttF has the genre’s traditional strengths: it’s witty to the point of being laugh-out-funny, and solving puzzles makes me feel like a genius. The puzzles themselves are sensible and well-designed – no cat-hair moustache here! – and one, in particular, is amongst the best puzzles I can remember in an adventure game; while not challenging, it’s unique, hilarious, and perfectly fits the characters’ situation (1). Production values are a mixed bag; I do not find BttF’s graphics very attractive; but its excellent voice acting makes up for it.
As a homage to the movies, Episode 1 works equally well. The voices, as noted above, help; Christopher Lloyd reprises his role as Doc Brown, and AJ Locascio does a great job as Marty. But the writing is key, and I wish I could spoil it for you! As is, all I can say is that Episode 1 strikes the right balance between familiarity (“hey, cool, this is just like the movies!”) and originality; while it recycles the movies’ formula, the juicy details are all its own.
Overall, if you enjoyed the Back to the Future movies and you are a fan of adventure games, you should definitely check out Episode 1 of Back to the Future: The Game. While I can’t vouch for the quality of the other episodes, I do look forward to trying them out.
(1) For those of you who’ve played the game: “You’re treating me like a BACTERIA!”