Flashback is one of my favourite games of the 16-bit era, so when Ubisoft announced a remake, I was stupidly keen. Somewhere along the way, however, Flashback: The Quest For Identity lost its core identity.
Flashback XBLA: On the plus side
When you first fire up Flashback, you’re presented with the choice of playing the original Flashback in most of its early ’90s glory — and it refers to it as the 1993 version (though I’m pretty sure it came out in 1992), to make those of us old enough to have played it feel even more decrepit — as well as the newly imagined remake. Hurrah, then, for added value in your XBLA games, as the original game is still a cracking, albeit difficult proposition.
The trailer gives you a good idea of how everything has been given a 2013 level of spit and polish.
At first, everything looks good; what used to be flat art now has dimensions and depth, and the further you go the more in-depth it gets, with lots of futuristic neon making cityscapes glisten as you assume the role of Conrad B Hart, humanity’s last hope against an alien invasion that’s already taking place. It’s one part Total Recall, one part invasion of the body snatchers built around a puzzle and action platformer with a script that hasn’t been radically changed. If you’ve played the original, you’ll hit lots of familiar beats, but this time with voice acting and highly detailed cut scenes.
Flashback XBLA: On the minus side
The original Flashback was a game about precision, following in the footsteps of games such as Prince Of Persia, where following the delicately hand-drawn animation was your guide to how and when to jump, roll and shoot.
New Flashback takes a simpler route, making many actions more automatic, and allowing much larger zones of error, but this is in itself a huge problem. Conrad is animated well, but when it’s possible to stand at any of a couple of points and have him shuffle into position before leaping for a ledge, it looks terribly stilted. When jumping he’ll often “float” the last few pixels to make a jump, further destroying the illusion of reality. It’s weirdly a problem that the original still doesn’t have, because its limited animation forces your brain to fill in the gaps that should be there. A more realistic detailed animation style demands more precision, and that’s just not present here.
It’s also buggy. I’ve died because I’ve gotten onto lifts that passed straight through me. I’ve died because enemies have popped into view and killed me while I was shooting at them. Oddly, though, it’s actually easier than the original game was, because it’s been built that way on purpose. That’s not necessarily a good thing, though, because the uneven nature of getting through challenges that are too easy and then falling victim to bugs makes for an unsatisfying game experience.
Annoyingly, even the original game is somewhat compromised; while you can play it, it’s done so via an in-game arcade machine, which means it’s on a smaller screen and with no sound during cut scenes. I’ve no idea why they’ve made that choice; why not let retro players run it full screen? Surely the Xbox 360 can handle a game that ran on the Megadrive.
Flashback XBLA: Pricing
Flashback costs $9.95 via XBLA, what with Microsoft recently having abandoned its points structure.
Flashback XBLA: Fat Duck Verdict
I’ve got a lot of affection for Flashback — the original game, that is. So much so that one of the first Playstation games I bought was its terrible sequel, Fade To Black. When the remake was announced, I was cautious, having been burnt then.
My very first reaction to the first minute of Flashback XBLA was a happy grin, because it seemed as though Ubisoft had done the right thing by the franchise. It looked right. It seemed right.
Then I got hold of the controller, and it all went wrong from there. If you don’t have a copy of the original game and Flashback becomes a sale special down the track, buy it for its early 90s glory — but avoid the remake. I wish I had.