Flashback Hands-On Preview – A Blast From the Past
Written Tuesday, April 16, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Synonymous with that lush opening jungle stage and its smart rotoscoping technology that was cutting edge at the time, Flashback is immediately noticeable as we enter the venue for Ubisoft's digital event. It's completely unmistakeable, recalling the days when we used to play the original on the SEGA Mega Drive back in 1992 (it also released for the Amiga, SNES and other formats). This was a time before checkpoints and save games, when games were properly rock hard, but in 2013, Flashback has health stations, checkpoints and additional content. It's been tailored for a modern audience.
Getting to grips with VectorCell's Flashback 're-imagining', we're immediately transported back to those heady, halcyon Mega Drive/Genesis days, with the animations still somewhat reminiscent of Delphine's original game. Of course, the entire game has been completely rebuilt from scratch with brand spanking new HD visuals and a shiny new leather jacket for the game's hero, Conrad B. Hart. There's new story elements too, including fresh dialogue and cut scenes. It is for all intents and purposes, a new game. Sort of.
Playing through the entire verdant jungle stage set on Titan, Flashback's gameplay remains enjoyable, retaining the essence of the original game, while adding enough HD sheen to make it feel sufficiently different. There's still a lot of platform jumping, hanging and climbing ledges, shooting with Conrad's blaster, and that classic action roll button is still in there too. Our hands-on demo tasks us with first of all locating a teleportation device for an injured reported named Bolton, before collecting Conrad's holocube with a message to himself recorded within.
Yes, Flashback is still very much about Conrad's quest to discover his forgotten identity, which means battling and exploring your way across Titan, from the jungles to New Washington, Titan City and beyond. While the core narrative strand is apparently the same in Flashback, the gameplay has undergone more than a few changes to ensure that it's more in line with modern expectations. So rather than the static screens of old, the new Flashback has proper scrolling scenery and its visual presentation is the perfect blend of 3D and 2D.
It feels instantly familiar yet fresh, although it's currently not quite as refined as we remember, with some fairly imprecise jumping and frustrating navigation. You might level the same criticism at Flashback circa 1992, but there's clearly room for improvement here. Special mention should also go to the somewhat shoddy script and lacklustre voice work, which doesn't really measure up to the rest of what we saw. We don't remember Conrad saying “awesome-sauce” in the original, because he didn't talk at all. If he had talked, we can't imagine he'd deliver the kind of lines he utters in the cocky voice that he's been given. Hopefully, this aspect of Flashback is placeholder and will be rectified for the final product.
For the remainder of our hands-on, we collect explosive fruit for an old man named Joe, who's willing to exchange the berries for an anti-grav belt that'll allow us to descend safely into New Washington. This is an example of the kind of new objective you can expect for the re-imagining, while there are various objects to collect or shoot with Conrad's blaster in each level to help add to the game's longevity. We acquire all seven fruits, obtain the belt and progress, and it's upon gaining entry to this next section that we remember why we loved Flashback more than twenty years ago. It's locations are memorable, its alien enemies etched onto our brain. We can't wait to get to grips with the full game when it launches and relive those bygone 16-bit days once more.
The new 3D visuals are wholly reminiscent of Delphine's original game, making it instantly recognisable, while the new additions are entirely welcome. Yes, AMY developer VectorCell is pulling the strings on this Flashback remake (Delphine went bust long ago), but with such fine source material and the original creative lead Paul Cuisset on board, the studio will be hard-pushed to crash and burn in the same spectacular fashion that it did with AMY. With no release date yet set in stone, there's hopefully time to tighten up the game's controls, polish the dialogue and beef up the voice acting, and if not, we're still looking at what will hopefully be an exciting update of an old classic.
Flashback is 'coming soon' for the Xbox Live Arcade.