Flashback is a remake of the 1992 game of the same name. The title was originally released in 1992 on a variety of systems including the Amiga, MegaDrive and SNES and has now been updated for XBLA as part of this year’s Summer of Arcade initiative, with a plan to release onto the Playstation Network later this year.
Now going in, I didn’t have a huge affinity for the original game (and I was gaming when it was released originally) but there has been a large interest from fans of the original, which has helped push this project into development. The remake has been so faithful that the game’s publisher, Ubisoft, has actually looked to the original game designer and five of his team who worked on the game back in 1992 to ensure an authentic and faithful adaptation is brought to life.
It was helpful then, with my lack of knowledge of the game, that when I booted up the game for the first time, I was offered the choice of playing the newly updated game or the 1992 ‘classic’. It is a clever addition to the package that I am sure will keep fans of the original title very happy.
Going in fresh faced it was enjoyable to experience the cold openness of the gameplay and plot. Straight away you are thrown into action and left to control the protagonist as you journey together, exploring who you are and why you are lost within this world. It really scratches the sci-fi itch and the plot is carefully crafted to drip feed you information while keeping you still in suspense.
You start off knowing little but finding your first holocube gives you a background on who you are. The holocubes are messages you have often left yourself with pre-recorded messages or memories that play out in a series of stills with some poor voice acting overlaid. The art of the stills however is great.
The story follows a very similar line to the first title in which you find yourself waking up to a world where aliens have invaded. You then piece your memories back together through clever dialogue, meeting and interacting characters from your past, some of whom have recurring roles within the gameplay. Once you reach civilization, you start to take on jobs to get enough money and this sees you visiting one area to another repeatedly.
The scenery and looks of this game are great and looking at the original version, which I have since played, fans will be impressed to see the Unreal engine used to bring these new environments up to date.
It is a shame then, that with all the will in the world to make a game for the fans, which was so highly regarded originally, that Flashback falls short in some way.
While there are slight tweaks and changes to this updated version, the game is pretty much a carbon copy of the original. This means for long term fans of the franchise there is no real incentive to play it all again, and for new gamers they are playing an outdated formula of the platform genre. Born of the generation of going back and forth amongst few levels to seek additional weapons or unlock new passageways, the level of variety does become repetitive quickly. The puzzles also start to wear thin quickly and become repetitive and do not feel leading or innovative, which is again, a bit of a disappointment.
The game has been given a new levelling system to try and add something new to the formula, but even this fails to add much to the game. How the levelling system works is that the player earns XP through completing challenges and killing enemies. As you then level up, you are awarded three skill points to distribute to help enhance things like weapon accuracy, health and damage. Unfortunately I found little benefit in anything other than adding the skills points to health, as the level system did little to impact gameplay.
The platform genre has greatly improved from what we experienced as players in the early 90’s, and making a like-for-like copy is unfortunately not bringing the game up-to-date for modern audiences. The cutscenes, while good, also make the game standout to be an arcade title rather than a retail release. There have been some hugely successful original XBLA titles in the last 12 months alone and it is a shame to see Flashback fall short.
Also, as I mentioned at the start, the original game version is included. For a new player this offers very little as the game is played on an arcade machine within what is basically a sub menu of the start menu.
The game screen is not optimized for current generation technology, the image takes up a small amount of my TV and the audio is poor – to the point where I didn’t hear any. The addition of the original title within the remake is a nice idea, however the execution of it slightly cheapens the original game in my opinion.
Overall I am glad I experienced Flashback in some iteration of the title. The story and plot is still a fun and interesting idea, and the way it is executed here works well to keep people interested in playing. I often ran around the space station, gun in hand, not knowing who I was or why I was shooting alien robot hybrids, thinking that this would have been a good Total Recall tie-in.
The 2.5D graphics and environments look great both for new players and also for those returning to the title who can see the world a lot more fleshed out and detailed. The game has a few flaws in its gameplay and execution however is an enjoyable romp.
Flashback is not groundbreaking and not something that will be driving the XBL platform, but it is worth the time of any fan of the original and is worth getting in a sale for those that like a platform or sci-fi game.