flashback screenshot 01

After waking up next to a crashed hoverbike somewhere in the jungles of Titan, Galaxia Bureau of Investigation agent Conrad B. Hart realises two things – he doesn’t actually know he’s Galaxia Bureau of Investigation agent Conrad B. Hart because his memory has been artificially erased, and he didn’t bring any mosquito repellent. Today is already off to a pretty bad start, and it’s about to get a lot worse because as he starts to put his memory back together, he remembers that aliens disguised as government officials are conspiring to take over Earth and that he’d also recently broken up with his girlfriend over the telephone. The consequences will be cataclysmic if he doesn’t act quickly, and then there’s also this business with the aliens to sort out.

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Flashback is a remake of the cult-popular 1992 game of the same name, only with some updates including a proper checkpoint system that lets you reload or even restart the level whenever you want. This is probably also the most important innovation because the launch version of the remake is so buggy, you’ll be reloading checkpoints and restarting entire levels a lot. Maybe it’s just part of the memory restoration process? Maybe not.

flashback screenshot 02

“Remember that time you, like, tripped right through the floor and fell into eternity? And that time you stepped right through a solid wall and couldn’t get back out? And that time you got stuck on a bit of a rock or something and couldn’t even turn around and were bending over backwards, arms flailing like some sort of hybrid experimental ops man-octopus instead? You did that a lot. Don’t worry, you’ll remember that stuff too.”

Much like the original as well as contemporary titles like Prince of Persia and the Oddworld games, however, the remake still uses the same (and arguably outmoded) fussy fixed-width step mechanics that make moving around pointlessly ponderous. For example, if you’ve moved past the exact x and y coordinate point where the game wants you to be before jumping to a ledge, attempting the jump will automatically – and super awkwardly – reposition Conrad, sometimes even turning him around and moving him first. I’m not sure if it’s an animation trigger issue, or if it’s even relevant. I mean, it’s how it was so perhaps it’s how it should be or people will complain, but I’m not convinced that degree of movement precision is an indispensable aspect of this game, which seems much more about exploration, combat, and narrative progression than hardcore platforming.

That’s the theory, anyway, because the levels are strictly linear, the combat is monotonous, and the narrative is a haphazard mashup of Total Recall and high school relationship drama that concludes with a mad rush into the completely incomprehensible. The graphics are nice, though, or at least until the final stage when everything is purple.

Gamers like to moan that “they don’t make games like they used to”, but is that such a terrible thing? Flashback is by no means whatsoever a rubbish game, but it’s definitely dated on some fundamental level. Design decisions that made sense in the ’80s and ’90s due to hardware limits versus a player’s cash investment – using repetition and difficulty to inflate game time is the most obvious example – are now exceedingly questionable. I get it, it’s an attempt to maintain maximum authenticity or whatever, but the result is a been-there, done-that, sometimes tedious slog that only barely trembles on the threshold of “totally average”.

For the most part, I actually quite liked Flashback despite its old-school disposition, but that’s also some part nostalgia and it’s hard to recommend this to a new generation of players who require a relentless battery of flashing colours and exploding heads to stay engaged for more than five minutes.