Review Platform : PC
Release Date :Oct 2013
Price : £7.99 (Steam)
Delphine Software’s original version of Flashback was released on a wide range of platforms in the early 90s and has long been regarded as one of the better games of the time. It featured rotoscoped character animation bringing a (for the time) high sense of realism to the character movements, and looked great. The Mega Drive version is the one I had back then, and remember playing it many many times and being rather proud of myself when I finally beat it.
After the success of remakes such as Bionic Commando Rearmed, original developer Paul Cuisset and some members of the original team have now remade the game at his new studio, VectorCell. The original game being as fondly remembered as it is gives the remake quite a lot to live up to, so how well does it do?
The plot remains much the same as the original, with the player character, who initially cannot remember his name, waking up in a jungle on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. He soon learns that he is Conrad B Hart, a kind of space spy who has discovered a plot by an evil alien race called the Morphs (guess what they can do) to take over the Earth and other associated badness. He travels from the jungle to the Titan city of New Washington, before making it back to Earth and on from there.
I actually quite liked the visuals in the game. They’re obviously not the greatest graphics of the year or anything, but they do convey a good sense of atmosphere for the places you visit. I particularly liked the updated version of Earth, all towering skyscrapers and neon signs – nothing we haven’t seen before in games and Sci-Fi, but pretty decent nevertheless. The character animations are acceptable, well in line for this kind of game however they do lose the beautiful fluidity of the original game which is a shame.
I was reminded quite a lot of Shadow Complex, another Unreal Engine 2.5d shooter, which controlled fairly similar. The map and objective indicators make the game considerably easier than the original – there were a few times playing the original where I would wonder around almost aimlessly trying to work out what to do next, and now there is just an arrow on the minimap showing you where to go. I didn’t really have a problem with that, as games aren’t really made like that anymore and tend to be a bit more user friendly. These, as well as the various components of the HUD can be turned off If you want to make the game a little more challenging and not know how much health you have and so on.
Conrad is quite a bit more agile than the original game, and leaps around the various ledges of the gameworld without problem. Aiming is quite a bit more accurate, as the right analog stick is used for aiming and Conrad’s gun has a laser sight so you always know what you’re going to hit. He can now also aim in multiple directions. The teleporter gadget now also has a recall fuction, so you can’t accidentally lose it anywhere which is helpful.
In addition to these tweaks there are also now upgrades, both to the weapons and to Conrad himself. You gain XP as you play which contribute towards levelling up skills such as health and accuracy, while collectible upgrades in the world improve your equipment. And of course, the game has a modern saving system, so no more passwords or having to start whole levels all over again, there are fairly regular checkpoints where you’ll restart if you die and these are all saved so you can quit and pick up again where you left off.
Overall this has had quite an effect on gameplay, as everything is quicker and more fluid than the original which was quite a bit slower paced. There is more emphasis on action and shooting than the more puzzle orientated original, but it does still have a fair few of these particularly with some ‘avoid the horrible death trap’ navigation puzzles later on.
Sound wise the music is rather unremarkable. It’s ok I guess, but even after having finished the game just a couple of hours ago I can’t remember a note of it. The voice acting is terrible however, and I think the game would have been much better off without it. Having hear Conrad proclaim for the nth time that ‘It’s party time!’ or other such nonsense made me almost want to let the Morphs win just so I’d not have to hear from him again. There are a few bits of modern jargon shoved in to the script as well which really feel out of place in the setting. The voice acting itself is just as bad as the script, with Conrad’s actor giving an almost complete lack of interest or commitment in pretty much every line. I’ve never quite understood the reasoning behind games these days ‘needing’ a voiceover, particularly if it’s not going to be done well. I’d much rather just have well written subtitles. Or hey, Nolan North is always available!
The various changes to the game have also had a side effect on its overall length. While I remember spending hours and hours on the original game, my first playthrough of the remake clocked in a little under 4 hours. I don’t think it was actually any shorter in terms of content, but as you are a lot more guided it is much more straightforward and the lack of any real penalty for dying is also noticable. I didn’t however manage to 100% the game as I missed some collectables, and didn’t earn anywhere near enough experience to get Conrad to the stated maximum level of 30 – the game is clearly geared around being played several times to max everything out, and as the difficulties don’t stack this is basically mandatory for anyone who is interested in the achievements. There is one for discovering 100% of the map for example, which is fine, however there is no ability to backtrack or return to previous areas – once you leave the jungle, that’s it – meaning you have to make sure you don’t miss anything or do it all again on another play through.
I have read online of quite a few people complaining of glitches – some almost game breakingly bad. The only issues I had were the camera sometimes being a bit juddery when it’s moving automatically which was most noticeable on elevators, and one time that Conrad just stopped responding to controls in one of the side VR missions, but that went away as soon as I died a couple of seconds later and didn’t happen again. The enemy AI is very poor however, and quite a few times they would simply face away from me and let me kill them instead of actually attacking.
The remake also has an unlockable extra in the form of the original game. This is presented on a faux arcade unit accessible from the main menu. Time unfortunately hasn’t been to kind to the controls of the game, as it feels a little clunky in comparison to the remake so I had quite a hard time getting into it again, hopefully this won’t be too much of a problem if I come back to it fresh in a few years. The presentation is a little distracting, as there is constant rain effects down the sides of the arcade screen, and faked screen reflection and effects – I wish it had just been presented full screen. The cutscenes are also missing their audio which is apparently due to a rights issue.
Overall, I rather enjoyed Flashback, though I in no way expect it to be as fondly remembered as the original, which is now over 20 years old, and rather expect this to be pretty much forgotten by then. It’s a by the numbers side scrolling shooter that’s let down a bit by its length (and quite a bit more by its audio) but it certainly isn’t a bad game and I’ll probably give it another run at some point to try to unlock everything. It might be a little on the high side pricewise for the amount of content, so it might be one to keep an eye out for when it goes into a future sale. And of course it does come with the original game, though if you’re wanting to replay that it might be best doing it before instead of after so you don’t have the same problem I did with the controls.
Flashback is available now on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.