Review: Flashback

It would seem that remakes of classic games are all the rage these days. They may all range differently in the category of faithfulness to each of their respective originals, but there’s no denying the recent plethora of modern adaptions. Quite possibly the most surprising one announced this year was the remake of Flashback: The Quest for Identity. The surprise mostly comes from the fact that, well, Flashback doesn’t really need a remake. Unlike some games from its era, the original Flashback still looks really good, a boon the classic largely owes to its deliberate art-style, and smooth animation. That said, just because a remake doesn’t seem warranted, it might not necessarily be a bad thing, granted it’s done right. The problem is, in the case of Flashback, it isn’t done right in a number of ways.

Flashback was, and is, a 2D platformer with action/adventure elements and light puzzle solving set in a sci-fi world. The original sold pretty well, and is recognized for attempting a lot of new and interesting things. It was trophied for what was at the time a pretty deep story, and its smooth rotoscoped animation. It was also loved for requiring its players to approach situations tactically. Sorry for the history lesson, but since the original game could be considered somewhat obscure to many modern players, it’s sort of necessary.

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The game opens up with a scenario similar to the original, with your protagonist Conrad dropping into a jungle-like environment without his memory. He then finds a recording device and is surprised to see that it holds a recording he made himself. The recording tells him that his memory has been taken from him. Thankfully, his past-self was forward-thinking enough to save a copy of his memory in small segments, and hid the bits of memory in places only he would be able to find. As you find Conrad’s memories, the plot, of course, thickens. The only problem is that the aforementioned plot is pretty uninteresting, featuring numerous tropes and “ah ha!” moments that ultimately fall flat. The plot of the original was pretty good, at least for its time, but in the remake a whole lot has changed. One of the most pointless changes being the addition of a completely throw-away love interest who’s character isn’t really explored at all. In addition to that, numerous other changes were made that do nothing but weaken what was a fairly strong story circa 1992.

Another thing that weakens the plot is the game’s full voice-over. Where the original presented its narrative with on-screen text, this remake resorts to using mediocre voice acting only worsened by a similarly poor script. Particularly poor is the main character’s dialog, that almost entirely consists of bad one-liners.

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But in the world of video games, a poor narrative can be forgiven if a game plays adequately, but the Flashback remake plays just okay. The original had a sort of clunky control interface, but worked well and inspired tactical play. The remake attempts to have smoother controls, and at that is sort of succeeds, but its new interface adds a host of other issues. None of the player-input looks natural on-screen, jumping never quite acts, or looks quite how you’d expect it, and the game’s aiming system will often do little more than trip the player up. Unlike in the original where you had to switch to a “gun mode” to use a firearm, you can use your weapon at any time by using the right thumb-stick to aim, sort of like a twin-stick shooter, but set on a strictly 2d-plane. Most of the time, moving around the right thumb-stick will only cause your character to aim. But on several occasions, it influenced which direction the character was moving, which is definitely not what it was supposed to be doing. This tripped me up numerous times while trying to execute precise jumps, or while attempting to dodge an enemy’s projectiles. (Un?)Fortunately, I eventually grew to anticipate the game’s issues, and over time was able to play it with few problems. It may play smoother than the original, but I’d honestly take “clunky and reliable” over “smooth and glitchy” any day of the week.

In addition to its lackluster controls, the game is just less interesting to play than the original. Rather than requiring a bit of tactical thinking on the player’s part, the remake simply asks players to run-and-gun. The original game also had a pretty good variety of enemies. In the remake, a fair amount of the original’s enemies are replaced with a somewhat boring drone that can fly around and will zap players if they aren’t shot down quick enough.

The original had a really neat art-style, but you know what? This is a modern remake, so you know what it should look like? Real life, of course! Running on the Unreal Engine 3, nothing looks particularly bad, but the game sports an awfully generic look. On top of just looking sort of uninspired, in some environments it’s difficult to discern what is and isn’t a platform to jump on. Included with the remake is the original game, but unfortunately, it isn’t in full-form. The port’s cutscenes feature no sound, and the screen on which you can play the original on is incredibly small. Other than that, it’s a perfectly functioning version of the the classic Flashback.

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Closing Comments:

I typically frown on comparing games in reviews, but considering this was supposed to be a faithful remake of what’s largely considered a classic, its crucial to note its shortcomings. Flashback isn’t entirely bad — I even caught myself having fun on several occasions — but those looking for something as striking as the original Flashback likely wont find it here. If you’re dying for something similar to Flashback, and don’t mind wrestling with some control issues, an inferior story and a generic art-style, then this may be what you’re looking for. Otherwise, you’d best just sit tight and hope that someone decides to make a version of the original game with a slightly higher resolution.
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 Version Reviewed: Xbox 360 (XBLA)