Resurrecting a cult classic is never an easy task, and one that is likely to be met with a series of cheers from its fans. What people tend to forget, however, is that just because a game can be brought hurtling into the modern era with a shiny new paintjob, doesn’t always mean that it should. Case in point is Flashback; a rotoscoped adventure hailing from 1992 that, without a good deal of tinkering, would prove too frustrating and unwieldy to stand alongside the side-scrollers of today.
Platform: Xbox LIVE Arcade (Reviewed), PlayStation Network, Windows PC
Release: (XBLA) August 21st, 2013, (PSN) Fall 2013, (PC) Fall 2013
It’s clear that developers VectorCell were aware of such an issue. While the animation and sci-fi setting once earned the original Flashback acclaim, gamers today would be far less forgiving of its slow pacing and control issues. The remade rendition is a much more action-centric affair, boasting an easier jump/climb mechanic and smoother gameplay overall. There’s an emphasis on gunplay this time as Conrad can now swivel his pistol, charge up and land shots with the help of a laser sight. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Flashback is a different beast to the one of yesteryear.
The story isn’t the most engaging and nor was it ever. The game begins with the hero, Conrad, escaping from a group of gun-toting attackers before crashing into a jungle with no memory of his true identity. There’s very little tact to the way this tale plays out, dropping stiff, black and white storyboards in lieu of proper cut scenes when memories are retrieved. The rest of the game looks decent enough with graphics on par with Shadow Complex; if anything, Flashback has the edge thanks to its wider range of environments. This is where the one-upmanship ends, as Flashback fails to match that game in every other conceivable way.
Despite the ability to level up and allocate points to three attributes (the effects of which are negligible), there’s no real character progression beyond moving on to the next stage. You’ll never get lost thanks to the map’s constant waypoint system and while there’s very little that the game gets horrendously wrong, there’s not much here that hasn’t been done before, and done better at that. The grenade-like teleporter is a neat touch, but it comes too late in the game and is used in the same manner each time.
The lead himself is cut straight from the Nathan Drake-alike school of design, with dialogue that stays true to any college frat boy on an average day out. The story isn’t to be taken seriously at all, exuding a cheesiness that would befit any afternoon show on the sci-fi channel. Those who enjoy a well-woven and thoughtful yarn are best served elsewhere, as Flashback treats its story as an afterthought, even presenting a ‘skip’ button that sits obnoxiously towards the centre of the screen in every cut scene.
The minute-to-minute gameplay involves scanning the landscape for items to interact with, jumping across gaps and blasting enemies. The problem is that combat is clumsy at best, demanding that you make use of Conrad’s shield and roll techniques. Villains can survive a heap of shots on the default difficulty, but the checkpoint system is forgiving enough that frustration is avoided. Flashback isn’t a disappointment due to its glitches (and there are a few), controls or challenge level, but because it commits a major sin that will see it fall into obscurity a week after launch – it’s downright boring.
Beyond the short campaign, Flashback comes with an emulation of the original, albeit a decidedly poor one. Fans will rightfully scoff at the bordered-off cabinet complete with screen glare, but most of today’s gamers can expect to move along after a cursory glance. Don’t go in expecting any replay value here either; once the main story is over then you’ve seen just about everything Flashback has to offer. Even if you can look past the dialogue and so-so shooting, there are far better titles out there worthy of your attention.
There seems to be an influx of remastered editions hitting the home consoles right now, but not all of them are warranted. Flashback is a prime example. The development team appears to have made a real attempt to bring the adventure in line with modern successes, but some bizarre design choices and a lack of clear focus have taken their toll, and that’s ignoring the technical hiccups such as freezing in place or when items fail to register. Given the game’s focus on gunplay, it’s possible that two-player co-op could have gone a long way to save it, but as it stands, this is a flashback best forgotten.
5.5 – Average. While it does nothing exceptionally bad, it does nothing exceptionally good either. It may be fun for a while but it will struggle to maintain any interest.