Flashback is like a portal back to the early ’90s. I guess that’s exactly what it needed to be in order to faithfully recreate the original game but, for someone who isn’t going on a nostalgia trip, it can be be somewhat jarring.
Gone are the rotoscoped animation cells and hand drawn backgrounds, replaced by Unreal Engine graphics and Havok physics. While it’s not going to blow your socks off, it still looks pretty good. Despite the new engine underpinning the game, it stays true to its roots as a 2.5D side-scrolling action-adventure game.
Your character wakes up in the middle of a jungle, not knowing who or where he is. Although it’s become quite a cliché for your character to start out as an amnesiac lead, this isn’t a state which lasts for too long. Very quickly you come across a holocube, out of which springs a holographic recording of yourself. You inform yourself that your name is Conrad B. Hart, that you’ve had your memory tampered with, and that you need to find a man named Ian in a nearby city. Oh, also you’re not on Earth, but rather on Titan!
Moments later, Conrad finds a gun and is soon putting it to use against flying drones which try to attack him. The controls are a simple dual stick affair, with movement on the left stick, aiming on the right and a button press to fire. A couple of quick shots puts these drones down, but you’ll have to be wary as they explode shortly after.
The problem with the controls, though, is that even though they’ve been updated somewhat, they defy the expectations of this genre. Movement feels like it lags a fraction of a second behind controller inputs, leading to failure when trying to make simple jumps from one platform to the next, or falling multiple levels and losing a large chunk of health.
Jumping up also confounded me, as the jump is only really meant for moving horizontally. To jump up to a higher ledge you need to stand roughly underneath the ledge and push up on the analogue stick, something the game doesn’t seem to explain. Maybe I missed the tutorial screen, it’s extremely frustrating when your preconceptions don’t match up with the game’s implementation.
However, the controls do fit with the game’s pace, feeling like they help to set it. Flashback isn’t quite as action oriented as, say, Guacamelee!, but moves more slowly, with the controls lending themselves more to the narrative and puzzle elements. Yes, you’ll still get into gun fights, but it’s a more grounded kind of fighting; you won’t be zipping around an arena and bouncing off the walls.
The first area set in the jungle was very much about learning the game, but a few tantalising threads of plot were laid out as Conrad first encounters, and shoots down, a stranger trapped in a tree by his parachute. You have to find his personal teleporter to help him get to a hospital, but not before an odd case of mistaken identity. Or rather, he was meant to meet a Galaxia Bureau of Investigation agent, and Conrad didn’t have a foggy clue if he was said agent. I’m guessing that he probably was…
The real cliffhanger came as I entered the city of New Washington and walked into a rather sticky situation. Ian was there to meet me, although held at gun point. As I walked into the open, the gunman took to the air with a jetpack, but I was quick enough to gun him down. An understandably grateful Ian escorted me through a door, as we headed off to try and get Conrad’s memories back, the first step on what is no doubt a twisty sci-fi adventure.
The small team at VectorCell, a good chunk of whom worked on the original game, know what they’re doing to bring this game to a new generation. They’ve very carefully walked the line between the old and the new, and once I’d gotten past my expectations about the game’s controls, it became clear that they’re doing a good job of modernising this classic title.
Flashback is set to release this year via PSN and XBLA.