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Flashback (2013) Review

Give me back my memories.

In 1993 I spent an entire day in an independent videogame rental store that had nowhere to sit except for the front windowsill. So I sat there like a fidgeting twelve year old mannequin, advertising with my endless cans of coke and packets of crisps in my stonewash jeans and Ultimate Warrior t-shirt. I was waiting for something special. I was waiting for Flashback.

It had just been released on Sega Mega Drive and I had no prior knowledge of the already released (but less polished) Amiga version. I’d seen it in some of the magazines back then and it looked incredible: so real and yet so exotic. Mundane in spite of being so over-saturated. It was something new that looked familiar – owing much to the action movies of the day. So I waited.

When it was finally in my hands, I rushed home and lost 24 hours to it. Then I bought it and lost countless more hours over several months. Since that day, I’ve probably played Flashback from start to finish another twenty times. It’s a wonderful moment in the rich and varied history of videogames. Flashback was the game that made me want to write about games.

And now they’ve remade it and I have to tell you all that it isn’t very good.

It’s been remade in the Unreal Engine which, as Shadow Complex indicated a couple of years ago, could be a great fit for an updated version of Flashback. But this isn’t really an updated version of Flashback. It’s almost a remake, with many sections being a screen-for-screen match to the 1993 version. But again, it’s not quite that either. They’ve tinkered with it just enough that it feels slightly wrong. Like three different people recounting the story of a slightly drunken night out.

That won’t be an issue to people playing for the first time, of course, but it does seem to indicate a desire from the developers to move things along – to modernise – without much consideration from the publisher to allow the time required to do that. It all feels very rushed and mostly unfinished, with dreadful voice acting and writing one obvious area that needed much more time and attention than it got.

There are new sections of gameplay that aren’t fully realised or a particularly good fit with the older style of play, too. It seems like someone had a good idea, restricted within the constraints of a remake as it was, but they didn’t have the time or resources to make it a cohesive reality. Everywhere they’ve tried to modernise has fallen flat and actually ends up detracting from the original core gameplay which, in itself, is probably a little too dated to appeal to modern sensibilities.

It’s ostensibly the same game though. You play as Conrad B Hart, awaking without memory in a jungle. You piece together your memory via holographic messages that you had the foresight to leave yourself before you were captured by the aliens that you discovered trying to take over Earth. What ensues is part considered, deliberate exploratory platformer and part action puzzle game.

Later combat and some of the puzzles tend to eventually break down into a rote sequence of button presses rather than anything too fluid but that doesn’t mean you won’t need timing and precision to succeed. This is not a game where you’ll fight your way through a surplus of enemies, it’s much more measured than that. Enemy AI consists of very short patrol patterns – each screen is a largely static space, after all – and repeating the same actions until you’ve dispatched them. There’s more danger in the environmental hazards with things like lasers offering one-hit death and a quick fade to the Game Over screen.

There are times when trial and error is your only way through a section but there are just as many times when taking a moment and puzzling something out will lead you to slightly less obvious solutions to problems. This was always Flashback’s strength and it’s still there, albeit more difficult to discern through that new layer of paint.

The environmental art is fantastic, really bringing those familiar areas up to date with a beautiful, luscious new look that’s bustling with life. The verdant green jungles, bright neon cityscapes and vibrant purples of alien areas are all excellently re-imagined from their older selves.

The same can’t be said of the characters, however. Those are unimaginatively designed – even in terms of the characters they’re updating – with often quite rudimentary animation. Cut scenes are particularly poor, with the dull characters, shoddy animation and dreadful acting and dialogue creating something of a perfect storm for terrible cut scene presentation. Again, it appears to be rushed and made without enough care.

Another new inclusion is that of in-level VR consoles that allow you to partake in XP-building tasks like destroying a certain number of enemies in a certain time frame. They serve to let you level up your firepower, gadgets or stamina and health a little faster but they’re a little disjointed and certain tasks seemed largely broken. Luckily, it’s easy enough to almost entirely ignore this element of the game.

What’s Good:

  • The 1993 version of the game is available off the main menu.
  • Background art is great.

What’s Bad:

  • Changes to the original rarely add anything, often detract.
  • Movement control isn’t modernised enough and so is jarring.
  • Dialogue and acting is atrocious.
  • An opportunity that was almost entirely missed.

In 1993 Flashback was a fantastic blend of well told, tense story with revolutionary visual flair. In 2013, it’s a bit of a confused mess. There was an opportunity – given some time, cash and care – to remake a classic game in a modern way. That opportunity has been almost entirely wasted and instead what we got is an insult to the memory of the original. For newcomers to Flashback this will likely be an unappealing, disjointed experience. For those of us who remember the original with fondness, it’s a slap in the face.

Score: 3/10

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  1. scavenga
    Since: Jul 2009

    What a letdown! :o

    But, you say the 1993 version is available – does that play like it’s supposed to? The original version would be worth the price of admission to me…

    Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 13:43.
    • Peter Chapman
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      Nope, the original version is presented as if it’s in an arcade cabinet (No idea why…) so large portions of the screen are taken up with “arcade cab art” – you play the game in a window. There’s a slightly distracting fake screen glare imposed over it too. It’s also more like the 92 version, I think. It’s labelled as the 93 version but there’s no sound in cutscenes, I think that was an Amiga hang up from 92.

      There’s a playable version of it for PSP that doesn’t require to to hack your handheld and it’s on anything with Android via emulation too.

      Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 13:49.
      • scavenga
        Since: Jul 2009

        Many thanks for valuable information.
        TSA is the very best! :D

        Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 13:57.
      • MaD dOctoR 79
        Since: Dec 2010

        that’s likely to be to save time and money rather than upscaling the graphics to HD

        Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 18:34.
  2. Scotty34
    Since: Apr 2011

    This is the game that got me into games, at the time i was quite young 7ish, i would just watch my dad play it on the amiga so i have fond memories of the original. Since then i have played it on amiga emulators and ios. Was so excited when i caught wind of this remake, but so disappointed they couldnt deliever.

    At least the 1993 version still holds itself and on portable devices i perfect as there are so many games going back to retro styles it still fits. I want a film lol, but not made by these people or that Anderson director chap.

    Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 13:59.
    • Peter Chapman
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      You want a film? Just watch Total Recall and They Live back-to-back!

      Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 14:02.
      • sabbat7001
        Since: Jun 2010

        Forget the game, that’s just good advice in general. ^_^

        Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 17:52.
  3. TSBonyman
    Since: Dec 2009

    Oh dear, i think i’ll stick with my hazy memories of the original.

    Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 14:11.
  4. sabbat7001
    Since: Jun 2010

    That’s disappointing. I was hoping for something closer to what was done with Prince of Persia Classic but it looks like I’ve saved myself the cost (based on this review at least)

    Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 18:00.
  5. hazelam
    Since: Feb 2009

    well, that’s a shame.

    i think i’ve got the original Megadrive version somewhere.
    i really need to get one of those little Megadrive consoles one day, they’d be easier then getting out my MD, external power pack and all.

    Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 20:09.
  6. trollmonster
    Since: Jan 2010

    Do you still meet the alien bloke near the start who says “mysubar” That is the only memory I have of the original.

    Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 20:31.
  7. Dar-Kaus
    Since: Apr 2009

    Flashback was my favourite Mega Drive game, so it’s a real shame that this has turned out to be such a wasted opportunity, but many thanks for the heads up on the review Peter.

    Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 20:47.
  8. ignorbert
    Since: Forever

    Thanks for the heads up..
    Nice story.. about your memories of the game.
    It’s funny that most people here know the original game.. make me feel more at home..

    p.s. is the iOS version any good? if not I do have the original MD version somewhere..

    Comment posted on 21/08/2013 at 21:28.
  9. Sitorimon
    Since: Jul 2011

    Terrible shame if that’s how it comes across. I wonder why they insist on putting the original in an arcade case. That’s so un-flashback-able lol

    Comment posted on 22/08/2013 at 00:38.
  10. gaffers101
    Since: Oct 2008

    Oh dear! I was hoping for something better. Still I have my MegaDrive memories.

    Comment posted on 22/08/2013 at 21:48.