Cult classic Flashback may have garnered some fans over the years but memory alone won’t see many flocking back for this XBLA reimagining? Games such as Bionic Commando fared well enough but that game had a passable core mechanic whereas the 1992 Flashback and the current Flashback are both very dated in its approach to Metroidvania gameplay.
The sci-fi platformer sees you play as amnesiac GBI agent Conrad B. Hart. Unfortunately Hart suffers from terrible voice acting-itis which manages to erode any atmosphere the game attempts to create. Any protagonist who utters the word “awesomesauce” should be shot on sight. The story isn’t much better. Bits and pieces of the game’s narrative are pieces together through stilted cutscenes and comic strips but the style of narration means you can never truly engage with it. The voice acting is uniformly bad throughout the game and it often becomes a slog to get to the next plot point, with serious padding becoming the norm throughout the game. Eight levels of a “Death Tower” defeating enemies is both not my idea of a good game and a shamefully artificial way of padding out the game’s four-to-five hour running time.
Speaking of the game, Flashback is only ever average and never aspires to be more than that. There are basic guns which you upgrade and there are basic moves (roll, jump, crouch). You learn all you need to know within the first 20 minutes and then battle your way through areas that are blatant copy and paste jobs at times and enemies that are definitely copy and paste jobs. It is no exaggeration to say you’ll see about only five types of enemies in the entire game and most are so braindead you can shoot them in the back despite your character being five yards away from them. A cool novelty? 20 years ago perhaps, but not now.
Apart from the lacklustre story, there is a fair bit to do for those who are completionists. There are “Morph Eyes” to find and destroy in every area and there are hidden upgrades all over the place. It will take hours upon hours to fully max out your player through the VR missions, even if they aren’t very fun and only a few are very challenging. In fact, the only challenging parts of the game are the bosses and some are challenging for the wrong reasons entirely; namely for being incredibly cheap and the complete lack of response in the clunky controls.
Whilst the game is passable, it is bogged down by the insipidly bad climbing controls which include a delay from your player standing on a ledge to jumping up towards it. Not a very fun experience when you’re trying to hotfoot it past some enemies to say the least. Even the shooting feels clunky and unsatisfying. The bullets seem like they have the impact of a sponge ball and the ability to throw a grenade accurately becomes an exercise in frustration more often than not. Frustration is the name of the game when it comes to Flashback’s controls. Everything just handles too heavily and it makes for an infuriating experience.
The graphics are probably the biggest plus point in the entire game. That may sound like a backhanded compliment but this is a fully-realised world with vibrant colours and lush overgrowth. It is probably one of the better games on XBLA in the graphics department but even that isn’t enough to save it from the downright boring gameplay and stupid AI that overwhelms this game until all that remains is an average shooter/platformer.
The Flashback legacy should’ve probably stayed dead but unfortunately it was revived and transformed into a game that simply isn’t good enough. The need for reboots of “classic” games has become too great and it seems Flashback will serve as the death knell for a niche that probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place. To serve up a game like this on the back of a nostalgic name is pretty low; to serve up a game this overwhelmingly average smacks of someone needing to milk the cash cow once more or, even more cynically, proof of Microsoft scrambling to ‘support’ indie gamers and to plug a gap in its flailing Summer of Arcade.
A copy of Flashback for Xbox 360 was provided to us for the review by Ubisoft.