Flashback Review: Like the Old Guy at the Disco

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Delphine Software’s Flashback: The Quest for Identity, originally released in 1992, was a critical hit due to its smooth rotoscoped animation, hand-drawn backgrounds, and challenging gameplay. So it is not surprising that fans were excited about the HD remake, especially since members of the original team – including lead designer Paul Cuisset – are involved. So is the updated Flashback worth going back to the future past?

Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: VectorCell
Genre: 90s Platformer Redux
Release Date: August 21, 2013 (XBLA), Fall 2013 (PC, PSN)
ESRB Rating: Teen

flashback-boxFirst, a disclaimer: I never played the original but, having heard so much about it, I was eager to jump into the remake. And it makes a great first impression: The visuals and artwork are outstanding, especially in the bright and colorful neon glow of the nightclub level. However, like the ubiquitous middle-aged balding guy at the nightclub trying to relive his youthful days of glory, Flashback feels dated and awkward.

This is despite numerous updates, including 360 degree aiming, new gadgets like a special vision mode that highlights enemies and interactive objects, revised levels and puzzles, and other tweaks to try and modernize the gameplay. For example, while the original featured a lot of running back and forth, the remake still forces you to go over the same areas numerous times, which is not only tedious, but feels like the developers are doing it just to extend the extremely short gameplay (you can finish it in a couple of hours or less if you try). The melee combat is also frustrating because the hit detection is poor – your attacks won’t register while standing right against an enemy, yet they can effortlessly smack you for massive damage.

The platforming puzzles have their fun moments but you will die a lot, thanks to hidden dangers that are impossible to see until they’ve killed you. Fortunately, a generous checkpoint system alleviates much of the frustration, but still, it can feel unfair at times. It’s old school trial-and-error platforming, so if you don’t like that sort of thing, then this is definitely not the game for you.

The story remains intact, with you playing as Conrad Hart, a mysterious man who is shot down in the jungles of Titan, only to awaken with no memories of who he is. Over the course of the game, you retrieve your memories and uncover a nefarious plot that naturally only you can stop. Fans will no doubt be overjoyed at the thrilling remake of the opening chase sequence, rendered in beautiful HD glory. Unfortunately, things fall off the rails from there, with some of the corniest dialogue you’ll ever have to suffer through. To make things worse, the voice acting is so atrocious you’ll actually enjoy watching Conrad die just so he shuts the hell up.

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There are also some annoying bugs, like how the game won’t give you the XP bonus for a stealthy assassination – unless you walk over the dead body, which will cause the assassination prompt to mysteriously pop up on the screen again. Hit the button and you’ll go through the same lengthy execution animation against thin air and get your XP. Where this really gets annoying is when you’re swamped by enemies and are trying to melee them. Since the assassination and melee buttons are the same, you’ll often start executing an already dead body instead of attacking enemies who are kicking the crap out of you. And while a minor quibble, the numerous typos in the subtitles look sloppy.

The game includes a port of the 1993 version (not the 1992 original), which sounds great on paper. Unfortunately, the game is played on an arcade machine with a screen so tiny you’ll need binoculars to see anything. With no music and barely any sound effects, it feels like something the marketing department threw in at the last minute to fluff up the feature list.

So while the HD remake of Flashback looks outstanding and has some fun platforming puzzles, the dated gameplay hasn’t aged well. Add in bad dialogue and horrible voice acting, and you’ve got something that should have remained untouched and fondly remembered with warm nostalgia. As it stands, this is really only for hardcore fans of the original looking for a pretty update; everyone else can find better games for the money.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Flashback was provided by Ubisoft for the purposes of this review.

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