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Flashback HD Review: A Blast From the Past

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Flashback is an old school platformer from the 80’s, and now we have a remake on our hands for the Xbox 360 titled, Flashback (for the sake of avoiding confusion the new game is now Flashback HD for this review.). A member of my own term “Classic Revival” group, Flashback HD is a game I was looking forward to. The cyberpunk themes and the Total Recall esque atmosphere makes this game seem like it was made for me. Personally I have never played the original Flashback or the sequel Fade to Black. So I am unable to compare the two. I will be judging this game as a standalone game, rather than a remake.

Conrad is clueless. Not because he is oblivious, but because he remembers nothing about himself or why he I in a random jungle on a planet that is not Earth. Upon escaping a facility Conrad stumbles across a holocube with a recording of himself. Odd yes, but the recording sets Conrad in the right direction to getting his memories back. After doing some favors for some citizens, Conrad learns his memory was erased when he was captured by an institution. Conrad must get his memories back to figure out what he knew that needed to be kept hidden.

 

Say what you will but I like this story. The whole, “Amnesia Warrior” thing is very played out but when you mix it with the cyberpunk atmosphere you have one hell of a story. The game feels very Total Recall with some Long Kiss Goodnight thrown in the mix. You learn about Conrad when he does and it’s nice. Kudos to the developers on taking a bold move like this.

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Some of the previous developers of Flashback worked on Flashback HD. Naturally, there are some nuggets of classic platforming in the gameplay. This is a good thing because it plays off the nostalgia card. However, nostalgia only goes so far. The game reminds me of “Out of this World” where the jumping seems to be too big of a motion and you either overshoot the gap, or fall short. It takes a bit to get used to the mechanics. This is balanced by the first level being so heavy on platforming and the next area being focused on combat. The game is able to introduce you to the two core mechanics of the game in focused environments without holding your hands with an obvious tutorial. Some of the movements and jump animations glitch out and you will not grab ledges or just warp into them. Those are few and far away though.

While the game slowly but cleverly introduces you to all the combat in the game in the first hour or two, you may still find it tough to get used to how much there is to keep track of in the game. The combat feels too complicated for its own good. This game could get away with simplicity. I am sure the original game did. Out of this World did. Hell, Mario got away with this. I know the controller has evolved over since the original game, but you don’t have to create something new to make sure you use every button. The game is tough to get into because of this.

There is also a hint of RPG in this game. You will periodically level up when completing missions and killing enemies (obviously). You will use the skill points earned to upgrade your accuracy, stamina, and technology. Stamina is your health, Technology is your gadget usage, and Accuracy is how hard your pistol hits. Careful with what you decide to invest in. It may make the game unnecessarily difficult. Nothing close to System Shock status, but some bosses may be more difficult if you aren’t hitting hard enough.

The art direction is brilliant. The cyberpunk atmosphere is great and the soundtrack matches perfectly. The contrast of the harsh nature and sleek industry takeover makes for some great atmosphere. Corporations and privatized police forces rule everything, and that makes it cyberpunk. It works so well and being a fan of movies like Total Recall and Blade Runner I may be a bit biased.

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I want to make a special mention of the great level design. The mix of exploration and linearity is perfect. The more industrial/city areas of Flashback are more straightforward whereas the areas in the wild are more freeform. There is a minimap, but it is very simple and it is still possible to get turned around. With a bunch of hidden goodies to collect, you will find yourself searching every nook and cranny to 100% every level.

Like I said before, I cannot comment on how well this game stays true to the original. I can say as a standalone game, it is a solid title despite many of the small problems I was able to glance over. The game gets the job done with a hint of nostalgia and great visuals. I give Flashback HD a 7.5/10

1 Comment

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  1. Anonymous says
    October 27, 2013, 6:53 PM

    As a big fan of the original, I must say I’m having a terrible time with the controls (and damn, do I miss the original music). Thanks for making me want to give it another chance.

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