Things weren't looking so good the last time we saw Marty McFly. Having assisted in taking down Kid Tannen once and for all in 1931, he and Doc Brown headed back to the future only to crash into a Hill Valley billboard which promised that "we have everything under control". Worse, Doc had vanished from the time machine. As we join the third episode of Back to the Future: The Game from Telltale Games for the PC, Mac, and — later — Sony PlayStation 3 and Apple iPad, we find that something went terribly wrong in 1931 that altered the timeline. In this changed 1986, Doc Brown is now known as First Citizen Brown, the mayor of Hill Valley. Ruling with an iron fist from his office inside the Hill Valley courthouse clock tower, this incarnation of Doc found inspiration with law rather than science and has turned Hill Valley into a forced utopia with its many over-reaching laws, constant surveillance, and harsh punishments. It's clean, it's bright, and it's efficient, yes, but it's not exactly a nice place to live. In "Citizen Brown" it's up to Marty to infiltrate this changed Hill Valley and seek out First Citizen Brown in an attempt to fix the timeline.
While I criticized the two previous episodes of Back to the Future for holding players' hands a little too much, "Citizen Brown" finds the sweet spot between helpful hints and interesting challenges. Much of the action here involves talking to familiar franchise figures such as Biff Tannen, George & Lorraine McFly, and even Marty's girlfriend, Jennifer Parker (performed by Claudia Wells reprising her role from the original film) to solve puzzles based around making decisions instead of using items or completing action moments, but considering the nature of the alternate timeline, these are not the characters we once knew. Biff has become friendly and helpful thanks to the Citizen Plus brainwashing initiative. George mans the town's massive array of security cameras and spies on everyone's comings and goings like a 1980s Ned Flanders. Lorraine's drinking problem has resurfaced. The most drastic change has to be Jennifer, however; she's become a rebellious purple-haired punk with an affinity for bad boys. When Marty approaches her, she wants nothing to do with the square Martin McFly from this timeline.
Marty's quest to gain a meeting with First Citizen Brown requires him to break some of Hill Valley's many laws and rack up a handful of demerits. At first, Marty is in the dark as to which laws he needs to break. By talking to the characters wandering around the town, he'll eventually glean enough knowledge to set him in the right (er, "wrong") direction. Fortunately, some of the clues overlap and there are enough dialogue options with each character that it's possible to pick up the correct sequence of events without talking to absolutely everyone, but since I'm such a Back to the Future fan, I wanted to talk to everybody and hear everything. There are some great in-jokes and references that you'll miss otherwise. For instance, the courthouse basement contains an old box of used pinball machine parts that in the original timeline were used to build a fake bomb for the Libyans. In what has to be the deepest reference yet, George can be seen sitting alongside a big box of peanut brittle (a reference to a deleted scene from the original film). One of my favorite moments involves a confrontation with Biff that matches the same camera angle as when Marty faces off against the Tannens in the films. I won't spoil all of the surprises, but this episode is packed with more fan service that will make Back to the Future fans smile.
Eventually, Marty manages to score a meeting with Brown inside the iconic clock tower. There the two discuss matters, and while I refuse to reveal anything specific about this scene so as not to spoil you, I must credit Christopher Lloyd for his performance as First Citizen Brown. He brings a cold, Judge Doom-like quality from his performance in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit to this version of Doc that can be chilling at times. AJ LoCascio plays Marty's bewilderment perfectly as he attempts to reconnect with his friend who in this timeline does not know him as a skateboarding, guitar-playing time traveller. It's in this scene that "Citizen Brown" hits its high point. I'm sure you can find the scene on YouTube if you hunt around, but trust me when I say that to get the most out of it, you really need to take the whole ride and play the entire episode to understand the gravity of the moment. It's heavy stuff.
Back to the Future: The Game continues to be recommended, particularly now. While "Citizen Brown" still clocks in at around two hours in length like the previous two episodes, the story has become more engrossing and the stakes have been raised to the point that I felt satisfied with the length this time around. Up next, Episode 4 looks to continue the tale of the alternate Hill Valley as the true villain of the piece reveals herself...
Back To The Future: The Game