Flashback Review

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VectorCell, has revived the early 90’s classic Flashback which is the third title to be released as part of the 2013 Summer of Arcade promotion on Xbox LIVE. Published by Ubisoft, the all-new revived hit has been created by some of the games original developers who have crafted a vivid retake on the sci-fi platformer to deliver a “different” experience of Flashback than you might remember from the original. Gone are the days of the rotoscoped 2D visuals in favour for a clear, crisp 2.5D view with actual voice acting now, new plot lines, a Mini-Map to aid guidance, and also Virtual Reality mini games amongst some impressive backdrop scenery and environments to wonder through as the old 16-bit visuals have been modernised into this new and wonderful animated world at your peril.

Do you remember how insanely difficult Flashback was if you had ever owned and played the original, as well as the way in which the game was divided up into just sections of screens? The new version for 2013 is by far no way near as difficult now with the introduction of Easy, Normal and Hard difficulty settings, but the frustration from constant deaths and fallen mishaps has been averted into a more platforming familiarity based on strolling through the chapters, collecting items, performing tasks and finishing a vast selection of objectives. The screen now scrolls very smoothly and fluid like any other modern platformer as you progress through chapters or climb ledges. Your character now has a 360 degree aiming system with weaponry that can shoot down aliens on jetpacks, blow up mines, shoot down doors and drop a few surprise hand grenades. This new modern take on an old classic hasn’t just re-invented Flashback, but it has delivered a great “arcade” experience that might leave you musing over the original since this is not going to be how you remembered the game to be. I’m not convinced that fans of the original will appreciate the changes that has converted an old challenging title into a more simplistic walk-through approach. It’s a great game in its own right, but because it’s tied to gamer’s memories of the original – this is not going to please everybody!

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This 2013 version still feels very much cinematic and like the original Flashback, has the same protagonist (Conrad), enemy characters now in a fresher skin, with all but the same story behind it; although now the introduction of Skills and Character Customisation options coupled with earning XP and levelling up ensures that the game plays very differently from its origins. Where you once just had to think about safety, survival and enemies, you now have to consider the option of your skill set with Accuracy, Technology and Stamina and additionally the Upgrades available to you and your equipment. You can use a Force-Field to protect yourself from enemy attacks, StimPacks for self-healing and Grenades for long distance killing or destruction. Early on in the game you will get to grips with one of the best tools available that will later become a stable part of your survival instincts – the Molecular Glasses to enable a different perception of vision to be able to spot things you may not identify normally. A simple press of Y activates the Glasses for a short period of time and you can spot colour coded objects and elements that can be activated, collected or destroyed, think along the lines of X-Ray vision!

When it comes down to the main controls, for the most of the game you will just use simple commands such as Jump, Attack, Interact, or use your Molecular Glasses – as well as the ability to use the Force-Field, Melee, Fire or execute in your defence.  Execution is an ability to stealthily take down an enemy when you creeping up from behind. There are quite a few stealthy moments to be had and as part of a training package in some of the Virtual Reality mini-games (as mentioned earlier) you can partake in a few stealth missions on the side for practise and additional XP points. All of the mini-games can be found in VR Consoles scattered around the environments; just interact and you’ll be transported into a world (much like The Matrix) filled with different challenges and optional extras where points depend upon number of kills, not being spotted and collecting items. Not all of the challenges will be unlocked from the onset, as the deeper you delve into the main story the more that will gradually unlock over the course of the journey – whilst you’ll still unravelling the plot and finding out your purpose and who Conrad really is, some of the games are a learning experience which can help with parts of the main story later on. The controls are easy to get to grips with the left stick taking care of your main character movements and the right stick controlling your aim, everything else you need to do is a swift button press such as weapon swapping, interacting and you’ll find that you just naturally pick everything up intuitively.

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The perfect start to this newer, fresher Flashback is taking the gamer straight back to the jungle level on Titan because it hits home how far technology and gaming has become since older gamers who remember the original will greatly appreciate this more than those who might have never played it. Revisiting the Titan Jungle will have you right back there in 1992, when you was possibly a teenager desperate not to be beat by its challenging gameplay. Although other levels have been largely re-imagined such as New Washington with the new look areas broken down into America, Europa and Africa sections of a space ship tube transportation network, but the Earth chapter has been given a fresh coat of paint with neon lights and a night life futuristic Asian environment with a heavy clubbing scene. So, although most of the chapters have similar styles the environments themselves have been totally transformed with both similar and additional challenges throughout. Even if you have never played the original, the revamp as part of the Summer of Arcade is decent enough, but nothing that will blow you away. Visually it’s impressive and the gameplay is just average. For an Xbox LIVE Arcade game in 2.5D the visual quality “is” outstanding with little (if any) camera issues too and a really fluid smooth scroll from one part to the other. However, there are a few let downs and noticeable bugs with the ability to get stuck in a few walls here and there and unable to shoot after being knocked down, which tends to happen a lot!

Some of the memorable moments of Flashback 2013 include bounty hunter challenges as well parts of the game that feature transportation on levels where getting a fake ID for undertaking work duties which involved travelling around different parts of space, to then later using a Jetbike in the main game that eventually unlocks some Jetbike racing challenges in the VR Console. It’s also very nice to see how the story unravels with some 3D rendered cut scenes inebetween gameplay and a comic-book style theme to the memory regain moments keeping in line with a cinematic presentation that is likely to be expected by older gamers. Whilst touching on the subject of visuals (again), gamers who do remember the original will just be blown away by the new graphical overhaul to see how some of the much loved levels have been given a full makeover and more interaction in the environments. Moving space ships in 3D and the background worlds having characters who go about their daily duties, to the futuristic backdrops of Earth and even the Virtual Reality segments with the challenges – it is a real shame about the difficulty though as this is likely to be the only real gripe.

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Although the main story is known to me through owning the original on Philips CDi many years ago, and as you or many others might have had it too for that system or Amiga, MegaDrive, NES, and more – Flashback has really done the rounds in its heyday, but the story is not over evident in the revamp due to a focus of objective based gameplay and not enough cut-scenes. It is also a lot easier, but can be ramped up a few notches by changing the difficulty settings and turning off some of the Assistance settings like the Mini-Map, Auto-Lock, Aiming Laser, Damage Display and Itinerary Help which are automatically enabled by default. Overall even on the easier settings Flashback is still very much a challenging experience based on survival and uncovering the truth whilst slaying a few hordes of Aliens and their futuristic equipment, but when the original is famed for its difficulty and frustrating moments it was a surprise to see the difficulty lessened for 2013, but ultimately it does come with much larger environments and more gameplay for 2013.

Flashback is an average game that still fits in right at home on the Xbox LIVE Arcade with a decent campaign in length and a set of unlockable VR Console mini-games to keep you pounding away for hours on end (if not days). It is also one of the most exciting Summer of Arcade titles to be released due to the fame of the original; absolute die-hard fans of the classic might feel a little robbed with the change in difficulty settings because there is a lot of hand-holding as a better way of terminology on the easier settings. As a platformer it’s a great remake in the visual sense with varied gameplay difficulties and a bargain at only 800 MS Points – but as a testament to the original, it has been dumbed down considerably and it is going to be far easier than what gamers are going to be anticipating!

Nothing more I can say other than it is good, but just not great, or perhaps what you would have expected from a Flashback remake.

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