Flashback Review

Some Memories Are Best Left Alone
by Jeff Cork on Aug 26, 2013 at 10:00 AM
Reviewed on Xbox 360
Also on PlayStation 3
Publisher Ubisoft
Developer VectorCell
Rating Teen

I last played Flashback a decade ago, but I remember it well enough to know that the changes in this HD remake are not improvements. Conrad Hart is still being pursued by some scary-looking bad guys (now you can immediately tell they’re not human), and they shoot his jetbike down over an alien jungle. He opens up a holocube and learns that his memories have been stripped – and that he did it to himself. The story and setting are fun, but after 10 minutes of wrestling with wonky controls, the nostalgia wore off. A little later, after Conrad’s body somehow fused with a platform and forced me to restart, the contempt began.

As you pad around the jungle, you’re introduced to Conrad’s abilities. He can run and jump, he’s got a gun, and he has special molecular glasses that highlight points of interest in the environment. It sounds all right until you realize that his running and jumping is a touchy business. Sometimes, you need to inch your way to the exact position before he can grab onto an overhead platform. Other times, you can do it from a distance and Conrad does a strange sped-up diagonal leap. The only consistent thing I found was that he seemingly has a mind of his own, and is dead-set on getting shot by mutants, drones, and replicants as much as possible.

Unlike the first version of the game, you’re able to freely aim your puny pistol using the right analog stick. VectorCell has added a new skill system, which allows you to upgrade your accuracy, tech levels (to increase critical-hit chances), and endurance. You’re certainly a bigger threat when you’ve pumped some points into your accuracy and tech levels, but even then firefights are a boring call-and-response of enemies attacking, then you pulling up your shield and firing back. This continues until something dies. 

You’d think that Conrad would be a better shot, considering he’s a member of the elite Galaxia Bureau of Investigation (you learn this and other chunks of history by finding more memory doohickeys). His fellow GBI officers may say that he’s brash and unconventional in his approach. I’ll just jump right to it and say he’s just a tremendous jackass. The addition of voice acting only damages the experience here; Conrad is an unlikable guy who is incapable of just shutting up and figuring out how to protect Earth from annihilation. Save your lame quips for the awards ceremony. 

His adventure takes him from the alien jungle to a space station, where he spends time doing a few missions. They range from chores like delivering a parcel to participating in a reality show, Death Tower. An automap provides constant guidance, pointing players where to go at all times. Exploration was a big part of the original Flashback, and I’m disappointed to see that VectorCell has such little confidence in contemporary players. On the upside, it lets you quickly rip through the game. The only time I did get stuck was because a simple switch puzzle glitched out on me, and I was unable to open a door. I reloaded again, and the issue remained. On my third attempt, it worked as intended.

While the original game is definitely better, even it hasn’t aged well. If you’d like to see for yourself, you can check it out as an included bonus. This is where things get really weird, actually. The virtual screen size takes up a tiny section in the middle of the TV’s real estate. The remainder is filled with that phony arcade machine (this was never an arcade game) and a looping animation of raindrops. Also, the sound is missing from cutscenes. If you were hoping to wring $10 of entertainment from the old-school game at least, keep walking.

It would be an easy joke to say I wish I could erase my memories of playing this game and stow them in my own ocean-bound holocube. But I need to remember; someday, someone might ask if that Flashback remake was any good, and I’ll have to draw on those memories before responding with a 30-second-long “No.”

Revisit the early ‘90s game, telling the same general story and adding voice acting
A jungle looks like a jungle, a sterile futuristic city looks like a sterile futuristic city, etc.
The original Flashback’s soundtrack was groundbreaking for its time. It’s unforgivable that players who play that version (also included here) won’t get to hear sound during cutscenes thanks to a botched port
During my playthrough, Conrad got stuck in the world five times. If his locomotion is this poor, you can imagine how combat, flight, and nearly everything else he does works out
If you want to play Flashback, spend the $10 on the cart at your local pawn shop

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PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
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