Just to set the record straight, I was born the year that the original Flashback was released. Needless to say, I can’t say I ever played the classic sci-fi game, so I came into this remake blind. All I knew was that it was a side-scrolling platformer that was known for its unique story and decent gameplay. Luckily, the original version is added to this package, meaning you can revisit if you’re a fan or experience it for the first time if you’re not. We’ll come back to that, though.
The remade version is the meat and potatoes of this downloadable release, and it’s been updated in a huge way. Fans are probably wondering whether or not these updates are a good thing and if they do justice to the original game. The answer? How much you like this version all depends on how much love you hold for the original Flashback.
Conrad B. Hart returns as an amnesiac agent on a journey to try and restore his memory after waking up in a forest without any. As he slowly does so, he uncovers a sinister plot being put into motion by aliens that stealthily invade the upper reaches of humanity. The basic plot is the exact same as the original game, although dialogue has been tweaked and updated graphics make the cutscenes much more coherent.
The original development team returned to retool this remake, which means that tons of love was put into translating the story from the original Flashback. Fans of the original will relish the chance to play through the game with added polish, but the story itself hasn’t aged well. It plays like a mix between Total Recall and They Live, both of which have a much better handle over their plots. In 1992, this was a surprisingly deep story to play through, but the details and general lack of pacing highlight its true age.
Even if the plot doesn’t fair well, the gameplay has been drastically overhauled, making this version much more action-oriented. Conrad is given a 360-degree aiming field, and the game’s running and jumping mechanics have both been smoothed out exponentially. Leaps of faith are much more forgiving, and icons appear on each ledge that you can reach. However, as easy as it is to spot them, climbing up onto new levels is laboriously slow, breaking the action up and leading to more than a few deaths.
Enemies are restricted to a handful of skins, but the floating droids are by far the most numerous and obnoxious. Conrad can gain levels throughout the campaign and assign skill points to his health, accuracy and gun damage, but the upgrades are hardly noticeable, and enemies can soak up a ton of damage. One playthrough takes between 3-4 hours, and that’s hardly enough time to scour the levels for hidden collectibles or upgrade Conrad to full power.
Despite Flashback being such a brief experience, much of the game feels repetitive because there’s little variation in how it plays. You run, shoot, jump, and at one point ride a jetbike, but it’s never enough to be exciting or unique. The Death Tower sequence feels overly long and frustrating, while trying to dodge insta-kill lasers is an enormous pain. It wouldn’t be so bad if the game wasn’t so glitchy, but there’s a definite lack of polish in the animations.
Conrad is given a personality this time around, rather than remaining mysteriously silent, but he resembles the biggest douchebag this side of the feminine care aisle. He’s a jerk to everybody he meets when it’s not necessary and his devil-may-care attitude comes off as arrogant instead of awesome. Not once was I interested in finding out more about his past because I knew it meant I would have to listen to him run his mouth again.
Even though there is a lot to hate about this remake, the gameplay isn’t completely broken. The gunplay works, and now that Conrad can shoot while running and movement has been streamlined, combat is doable. I wouldn’t say it was ever compelling, but it works. A few elements are removed from the original (such as the ability to throw stones to distract guards), and the new additions are hardly ever worth using. Conrad can enter a stealthy pose if he lands behind an enemy and sneak up on them for a takedown, but he’s so slow that half the time they turn around before he can catch up to them.
There are a few puzzles scattered throughout the game, but they can be solved by simply turning on the molecular glasses and shooting anything that’s a different color. A lot of gimmicky mechanics are carried over from the original, but since the difficulty has been drastically lowered, they’re hardly ever necessary to win.
A set of new VR challenges is thrown into the mix, allowing you to practice different types of combat and gain some extra XP, but since the upgrades are hardly helpful there’s not much use for them. They do provide the challenge that the main story is missing, though, so if you’re looking for a fight, give them a shot.
Perhaps the biggest draw for fans of the original is that the 1992 version of Flashback is included from the start. Players can relive the challenge of the original and gamers out of the know (read: me) can try their hand at it for the first time. Sadly, the game is played on a small screen that only takes up about half of the available space, and the controls are still clunky and unintuitive. The ability to save at any point is a nice addition, significantly reducing the difficulty, but the gameplay in general is still lacking.
Gaming nostalgia is a market that has been preyed upon a bit too much recently, and this remake of Flashback doesn’t do enough with its source material to be worth playing by those who aren’t diehard fans of the original. Updated graphics, additional dialogue and overhauled gameplay might all sound like blessings from the original developers, but everything is handled so clumsily that it’s not an experience that will draw in new fans.
I came into Flashback having never played it, so I played through the original before playing the remake. Had I played that version when it first came out over twenty years ago, I would have been blown away by everything: the art style, the challenging gameplay, the depth of the plot. Everything about the original made it a classic, and it’s a shame that this remake can’t bring back those feelings. Some things are better left alone.
Fun fact: the man who headed development of this remake and the original, Paul Cuisset, is also the guy behind the notoriously awful Amy that was released last year. If there’s anything positive that can be said about this reimagined classic, it’s that at least Flashback is nowhere near as bad as that train-wreck.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we were provided with.