Flashback HD Review

Written by Erika Szabo


Nostalgia is a powerful thing.  In the eyes of publishers it serves as a way to reboot loved games and, potentially, make a profit off of its popularity. Some developers have done an amazing job reviving old gems, while others have missed the point of the experience entirely.

Finding the best way to go about rebooting a classic can be a big challenge considering how devoted the fanbase can be.  One misstep in gameplay or visual direction can turn an otherwise promising game into something bland or hollow. Finding and revitalizing that magic is very much the pinnacle to all of this.

One of the latest games to receive a reboot is Flashback: The Quest for Identity, a game well ahead of its time when first released back in 1992.  In Flashback, you play as Conrad B. Hart, a man on the run with no memory as to why. Led by a hologram message from his past self, Conrad follows a trail of clues that help piece together his identity and uncover an alien invasion in the process. Whether we’re talking about the game’s rotoscoped animations or compelling story, Flashback had a way of immersing you in its rich, sci-fi world, even despite the game’s oftentimes clunky controls.

VectorCell, the studio behind the reboot, hoped to better that experience with an equally immersive story but with tighter movement. Led by Director and Designer of the original Flashback, Paul Cuisset, many had high hopes that the game would stay true to its original vision, but in a bigger, better way. Was the experience a success? Yes and no.

Flashback HD gameplay

Flashback HD is very much a mixed bag. While VectorCell has, in fact, improved the controls, making them tighter than ever, something important was lost during the process.  What was once a game much more devoted to exploration platforming has now become more action-oriented in scope.  While that change doesn’t necessarily have to alter the rest of the experience, it does so in some unappealing ways.

For one, the act of modernizing a game unique from most others in its genre really takes away that special something that made it stand out in the first place.  Flashback HD’s 3D realms and crisp animations are inviting but merely mimic everything that made the original so great. No matter how hard VectorCell tries to redeem itself, this reboot cannot mask how streamlined it’s become.

The levels themselves have also received a complete overhaul despite looking exactly as they did in the original, now restructured to accommodate a more acrobatic Conrad.  What made Conrad so enjoyable in the original was how vulnerable he was, death came very quickly if you weren’t careful.  You had to be fully aware of your surroundings if you ever planned on making it out alive. In this incarnation, Conrad is over-powered and mindless to play as because of it, it lacks those precise technicalities.

Flashback HD also features an optional mini-map, making it much easier to traverse levels. While I can see how this might be worth having if you’re new to the game, it definitely takes away from the original experience.  Luckily, this mini-map is optional (several hand-holding features can be taken out in the initial set-up); however, that doesn’t stop a map from existing.  That in mind, while these features can be removed, they are never removed fully as, for whatever reason, this game is intent on telling you where to go and what to do.  Some people like it, some don’t, but when it comes to a classic that challenged you to explore, that sentiment should have been held more highly.

Further more, Flashback HD’s stealth mechanics and puzzles have been stripped down into something unrecognizable. I’ll admit that the the original’s puzzles were damned annoying, but everything is instead replaced by predominantly combat-based tactics. What a surprise!

The original Flashback may have been cumbersome, but it instilled a sense of purpose very few games could at the time. While this reboot very much strives to build off of the original, it simply doesn’t offer the immersion or tension despite being almost a direct translation. It’s a shame considering what a success the reboot could have potentially been. The art of creating something unforgettable is the hardest part, after all.