If I make a list of games that blew me away as a kid, Flashback is definitely going to be up there. Back then, the only way I could play it was by going to my friend’s house, since he had a fancy colour Mac with the game loaded. So, first of all, many thanks to him and his family for putting up with my constant visits.
The first thing that caught my eye was how slick everything looked. Cutscenes were minimalist yet dynamic, the backgrounds and colours were rich, and the animation was slick as anything. By that time, I’d already seen some impressive rotoscopic animation in Prince of Persia, but Flashback was easily a level above. Jumping, rolling, even changing directions, everything felt action-packed. All that was only elevated once we discovered cool tricks like unholstering your pistol in the middle of a roll or a jump, so you could let off a shot the instant you were on your feet. All that led to great moments in the game, like when you dropped down in the middle of two jungle mutants and let them shoot each other in the crossfire without having to break a sweat.
Now I could ramble on about how great that game is, but really, the reason I brought up this gem is that a remake has just come out. Naturally, when a sacred cow like Flashback is concerned, this warrants some cynicism, but the news that key members of the development team at Delphine were involved in the new version made by VectorCell helped to hold back the pitchforks.
So, after having given the new game a fair shake, it’s time to pass verdict. First, it’s evident that this game was made for fans of the original, because without the nostalgic value to hit sweet spots in your experience, players are likely to find this an unsatisfying endeavour. That might seem harsh, but the platformer genre has moved on, and while Flashback was never really a platformer in the vein of Mario or Metroid, you can’t help but make comparisons.
Not only that, all the updates made in the name of ‘modernisation’ detract from the experience, since they tend to combine unsavoury elements of modern gaming with the rigid inflexibility of the old school.
For example, combat has been made a lot more spammy in the new game. While the old game was arguably more hazardous, if you got into position correctly, it only took a few shots at most to take out even some of the later-level enemies. Here, it’s bullet spam coupled with a 360-degree aiming system that makes proceedings frantic, rather than elegant. Speaking of which, if you’re playing this, make sure to use a keyboard and mouse, since the gamepad support is dodgy at best, at the moment. With the analog stick, aiming seems to snap, rather than slide, from eye level to any point above or below, so there’s a considerable blind arc in front of you and if any enemies happen to be in that area, your gun’s about as lethal as a bubble blower.
The pistol seems to jam pretty often while using the trigger, so once I got to the Death Tower, it was pretty much a death sentence at the first floor itself. There are a few new gameplay segments, some of which are handled pretty adequately, and a new upgrade system, which comes across as totally pointless.
The production values are a mixed bag — the new 2.5D environments look great and faithful to the original for the most part, the animations fall a bit short. You can tell they’ve tried to mimic the actions of the original character, but it’s nowhere near as smooth or responsive. The voice acting is another big negative, especially since they’ve tried to crowbar new dialogue wherever possible, with some uninspired writing adding the final nail. The original cutscenes had a sense of style and mystery, which the new game ruins and relegates the experience to B-movie territory.
I can understand being reluctant to upgrade only the graphics for a remake, since that leaves you vulnerable to criticism about playing it safe, but tacking on some half-baked systems and ruining even the original experience is even worse. Take a look at the Sands of Time remake of Prince of Persia.
True, they took a few tries to get there but it was well worth it in the end. Here’s hoping Flashback can follow that path and eventually come out with a title that reminds us fans why we loved the original in the first place.