Flashback was the right game at the right time. Just when the gaming world had started obsessing over full motion cinematics and attaching gigantic CD drives to their Sega Genesis systems, Flashback came along touting itself as “the CD-ROM game in a cartridge.” It was an unexpected pleasure at the time, with an elaborate storyline, advanced graphics and challenging game mechanics. Twenty years later, Ubisoft has decided to present the gaming community with an update to Delphine Software’s classic, mixing modern-day visuals with the classic style of gameplay that made Flashback famous. What ended up on the consoles, however, is more like a “flashback” to what was wrong with game design at the time, coupled with a large dose of what is wrong with today’s development standards.
The title screen writes a check that the rest of the game simply cannot cover. Impressive “Blade Runner” visuals and the ability to play the old version of Flashback are thrown your way, and the promise of a fine gaming experience to come is in full force. Shortly thereafter, once the game proper begins, it all falls apart. The title seems to revel in its adherence to the original, complete with every “flashback” aspect of game design from an era gone by. Players are treated to awkward control schemes, outdated platforming mechanics and level designs that result in broken controllers. The main aspect that was “turned down” for this update is the difficulty level, which is a testament to how the skill level of today’s average gamer just isn’t what it once was.
At the time of the game’s original release, it told a complicated tale of aliens, memories and space exploration. Much, if not all, of the main storyline is still present in this version, with the notable exception of full voice acting instead of text-driven cutscenes. Today’s game characters aren’t the two-dimensional stereotypes they once were, so why the developers chose to turn our main character into an obnoxious, Bruce Campbell-ish antihero that spews one-liners and hubris in such a way that it seems to ruin the entire legacy that the original’s silent protagonist created is a complete mystery. You gradually learn to dislike and ignore the character you are controlling and, from that point on, interest in the game as a whole wanes.
Graphically, the title’s updates sure do look pretty. The visuals do a fine job of bringing players into this world, but the character animations are so janky that it calls attention away from the rest of the game’s beauty. Players should know that they WILL die several times due to the animation throwing off their timing. The one major improvement over the original title’s control is the gunplay, which utilizes the right thumbstick. This allows players to fire in a 360-degree rotation around the character, facilitating the quick destruction of approaching enemies. The developers must have realized that this made the game easier, because the number of enemies thrown at you is far greater than the original title and the platforming aspects have been scaled back quite a bit.
During the few moments where Flashback’s content skews away from the original game is where the presentation is the weakest. There is one added sequence with a jetbike that actually feels like some sort of mini-game sequence that would have been presented during a long loading screen in the era of Flashback’s first release. That pretty much sums up Flashback HD’s overall presentation… for every step forward there are two steps back.
Flashback on the Sega Genesis is a beloved title from the past that could have been a groundbreaking experience when updated for today’s consoles. Unfortunately, what we received is a bargain priced Xbox Live Arcade title that never quite delivers on any of the expectations fans have had over the years. Perhaps fans should lose all memory of this iteration and go back to longing for the day when a fully realized “A-List” title will arrive.
Reviewed By: Russell Garbutt
This review is based on a digital copy of Flash for Xbox Live Arcade provided by Ubisoft.