Initial Release: October 2013
Flashback is a 2D futuristic sci-fi adventure remake (reboot, retelling, reimagining, remaster and on and on) of the 1992 PC classic. It revolves around the excruciatingly sophomoric protagonist Conrad Hart who was once an agent with the Galaxy Bureau of Investigations but has, for some reason, had certain parts of his memory erased. Your quest is to find them and piece it together. Yeah, or something.
Everything in this game is true to the principles of its 2D construction: each aspect is flat. Mark it: story, gameplay, graphics, atmosphere, characters, clarity and motivation to continue. At first, I actually enjoyed jumping up onto and off ledges, shooting stuff to remove obstacles, finding switches to unlock doors, and blasting flying droids. Soon, alas, any fun quickly waned under the sheer weight of VectorCell’s apparent lack of effort.
The gun you begin with is the one you end up with. There are no other choices, no opportunities to modify or upgrade. In fact your only other weapon is an occasional exploding fruit. Yeah. I know. That’s for the ENTIRE game, people, though the game is mercifully short. And pretty easy too.
You are given a force field ability for protection early on and this too is never upgradeable. There’s a melee button which is a lame swinging punch that’s hard to land and the less I talk about the so-called stealth the better. It all just feels so lazy and unimaginative. Why do I earn XP when expending it on my three specialised options – accuracy, technology and stamina makes no discernible difference in any way?
And what happened to South African Joe? I bought one thing from him and then he vanished not long into the game. Why?
And another thing, there’s no moody music in Flashback until it suddenly swells at the commencement of a fight and just as abruptly departs when the scuffle ends.
The story, such as it is, is told most effectively by actors doing their bit over comic-style stills but this eye-catching technique is abandoned, like everything else showing promise in the game, after about the first third. I’m saved by someone who helps and then betrays me or something and aliens are invading (says some professor guy) and I think that Conrad loves a girl (yawn) but broke her heart over the phone for some reason. But I’ll go onto a TV reality show anyway (why?) and kill some dude at the end of it because the Objective prompt told me to. (Maybe I am thick and maybe I was too bored to really pay attention, though I believe that the story and the missions are definitely poorly executed.)
Look, there’s a few simple puzzles along the way and platforming can be enjoyable to a point despite its inevitable repetition.
But so much has nothing. Where is the intrigue? Where are the enemies (there’s essentially only 3 types of foe) to make me think or the weaponry to bring me some choice and fun? Enemy. Shoot. Rool. Shoot. Roll. Etc. They give me a teleporter which is fun for two or three trips past pesky mines or whatever and I get funky molecular/infra-red glasses to show me where all the cool stuff is. (Btw, there’s never any cool stuff. You thought I was going to mention something about collectibles or hidden gems or clues or a reason to play again. I’m not.)
In the end, Flashback cannot cut the mustard. The damn thing snaps its blade on the mustard. What was perhaps acceptable 20 some years ago is unacceptable today. And the real shame is that there’s a strong seed here for something interesting. If someone took the premise and the 2D Bladerunner-type art and added practically everything you need for a video game to be worth your time, then this shambles would be worth a look. As it is, it should be coldly ignored.
But that’s only IMO.