VectorCell; PC; 360; PS3
Anyone who remembers the original 1992 release of Flashback will know that it raised the bar for 2D cinematic platformers and changed the gaming landscape for the better. Heavily influenced by games such as Prince of Persia and drawing directly on the success of its spiritual predecessor, Another World, it cemented Delphine Software’s place in videogame lore. Although the developer went into administration ten years later, the title still holds the Guinness World Record for Best Selling French Game of All Time.
Incorporating static hand drawn backgrounds and rotoscoped characters, it featured fluid gameplay interspersed with beautifully animated cut scenes. The story was compelling and tense, with our silent protagonist Conrad B. Hart fighting valiantly to save the human race and regain his lost memories.
Two decades on, Conrad is still fondly remembered by generations of gamers, which explains the heady mix of excitement and trepidation earlier this year when it was speculated that the French Government had given a studio €300,000 to begin development of Flashback Origins.
VectorCell, owned and spearheaded by Paul Cuisset – designer, writer and director of the original Flashback – seemed the obvious choice to reboot the franchise. However, following their disastrous 2012 outing, Amy, there was apprehension around the studio’s ability to revive such an important title from the 16-bit canon.
The result, Flashback 2013, is somewhat of a mixed bag. Staying true to the original story and mixing action platforming and puzzle solving, there is no doubt that VectorCell have created a beautiful game. They have faithfully reproduced the original environments in glorious 2.5D whilst utilising all the benefits of modern technology, with new game mechanics and an RPG-like skill levelling system.
They’ve also fleshed out the story with extended cut scenes. Those first HD sequences of Conrad escaping on a jet bike bring a strong sense of nostalgia; it’s satisfying to see how far the industry has come in 20 years.
But these new additions are not without their drawbacks. Conrad B. Hart, the once silent and enigmatic hero, can no longer keep his mouth shut. Now, his every utterance is contrived and garish, to the point of being annoying. He seems to have lost the mystique of his former self. Bad voice acting has become prevalent (and tolerable) in smaller budget titles, but when the bumbling idiot spouting such cheesy lines was once a character of substance, it seems to matter a lot more.
Elsewhere, the Unreal Engine does a good job of holding everything together. The platforming and combat elements are certainly much less of a struggle. Gone are the days of pixel perfect manoeuvring and horizontal firing planes – although some purists would say that was where the original game’s draw lay. Now, you can fearlessly jump from ledges, safe in the knowledge that the physics engine will ensure your safety, or shoot in full 360 degree arcs while hanging one-handed.
There are also some welcome additions to Conrad’s load-out. His pistol now has a secondary firing function; he still has his trusty throwing stones, shield unit and teleporter; he also has access to frag grenades, although there’s rarely any requirement to use them in combat, which at times can become a repetitive mix of fire, roll, rinse and repeat.
A particular highlight is the introduction of a jet-bike level which replaces the original taxi cut scene, with Conrad racing through checkpoints and dodging obstacles along the way. This was probably the most innovative and fun addition to the game and was over far too quickly.
Virtual Reality consoles dotted throughout the game afford Conrad the opportunity to hone his skills in a simulated environment, partaking in horde-like minigames against a variety of opponents. Progressing through these trials allow Conrad to earn XP points which can be spent on various skill tree upgrades such as stamina or firing accuracy, although in all honesty the whole RPG element seems tacked on as an afterthought; you can quite easily complete the entire campaign without the visiting the skill menu at all.
There are also some potentially game breaking bugs noticeable in later levels, such as the restart screen popping up inexplicably when Conrad ventures to a part of the map that is off-limits. Other examples include background clipping and AI characters that suddenly freeze in the middle of boss battles. These issues have supposedly been addressed in a recent software patch by VectorCell but haven’t been totally eradicated.
Play through time was only a few hours, which is a shame because, once completed, this game offers practically no replay value. Nevertheless, this is still a title worthy of your collection. It affords older gamers a chance to revisit their youth without sullying their rose tinted memories of a bygone era. It introduces younger gamers to a title that is still discussed and deconstructed today. And it gives everyone the opportunity to play the unblemished 1992 original, in all its 16-bit glory – albeit with some sound omissions – via a virtual arcade machine in the game’s title screen.
It’s clear that VectorCell set themselves a near impossible task. Revisiting such a revered original was never going to please everyone. It’s akin to a modern day Director remaking a classic film-noir, but in 4K resolution, replete with Dolby Surround and CGI. Yes, it would be the same film with the same story, but would any of the original substance and spirit remain? I don’t think it would.
If you enjoyed recent indie offerings such as Shadow Complex and Deadlight, you will be in familiar territory with Flashback. Just make sure you approach this title with the right mind-set and fix your expectations accordingly.
Game Reviewed on PS3.