Conrad is back! Just like he did 20 years ago, he has lost his memory and must save the world from alien takeover. Along the way, he collects memory modules that help put the lost pieces of his past back together, which help him flashback to his purpose and mission.
Developed by a french companied called Delphine in 1992 (also the creators of Out of this World/Another World) for the Commodore Amiga, the original featured rotoscoping techniques that made characters in the game look/feel fluid in movement. Back in those days it was a big deal that everything looked and felt 'real', since CD-ROMs were just cropping up and the ability to expand what could be done in video games was on the horizon. Delphine released Flashback at the right time and to the right audience, who was starving for innovation, so their game was a huge hit.
Fast forward 20 years later, developer VectorCell and Ubisoft have taken this world renowned classic and brought it back for the current generation platforms. And let me just say, there have been some major improvements.
First and foremost, the presentation of the game has been upgraded in a major way. First, the backgrounds and environments in this 2013 version are far superior than the original (as they should be). In the first level of the game, the jungle stage, you have really deep backgrounds that are teeming with life and sounds. Lots of details and a rich amount of 'jungle' surround Conrad in the foreground and background, and actually make it feel like a jungle. Another great level is when Conrad has to go through the Blade Runner-esque city scape of New Washington. Lots of flying cars, well lit buildings, and plenty of rain set the tone for what this dreary utopia looks like in the future. All in all, it's quite the significant improvement over what it was back on the Amiga/Sega/3DO.
Flashback HD also includes voice overs with almost all the characters, which can be an improvement depending on the script (it's goofy sometimes). The game also shifts to storyboard animation during flashbacks, which is actually pretty cool effect in the scheme of the game. It can be compared to comic book panels that tell an intense story of a slow alien takeover. It's all a neat addition to the original concept and adds some presentation value to the original game.
Also improved in the presentation category is how Conrad looks visually. He now sports a grizzled look instead of a blank face with hair (there was only so much you could fit into a 16-bit game). He looks like a modern day anti-hero that you would find in a cheap primetime network television show on CBS, and he's got clothing that is very animated depending on what he's doing. For example, his jacket flutters a bit when he has to jump and grab a ledge in the game. It also flutters out a bit when he's in mid-run and has to stop and turn. That was a big deal in the 90s and that has been visually improved in this release. Again, these might sound like 'blah' sort of things for this generation of gaming, but keep in mind that the comparison is against the early 90s version of the title.
Staying with Conrad, the animation has also improved in how he moves, which also means that controls have, and thank GOD for this, improved tremendously from the original. If you've had the pleasure of playing this title the first time around, you know how stiff and unforgiving the original game could be in terms of animation and control of Conrad. Getting Conrad to run, jump and pull himself up to the platform was more of a 'pray this works' sort of situation rather than skill. The controls were inconsistent at best in 1992-1993. In 2013, the controls and animation of Conrad have been improved to that point where it's no longer a problem to move the ol' boy around. You'll forget all that worry, as his jumping, rolling and movement have been smoothly mapped out on the Xbox controller. In other words, it will seem natural. That's a huge improvement (can they do the same thing for Out of this World/Another World? PLEASE?).
Flashback HD also adds the ability to level Conrad up as he progresses through the game. So, as he dispatches enemies, he actually gains points that help upgrade his skills and what not. That's a new item for this title and something that wasn't included in the original (probably enough megs in the carts). This adds another level of depth to the game, which is needed when you're translating something from the 16-bit era. Seamlessly adding a bit more value to the game without forcefully shoving something new into it, is what has been done with this aspect of Flashback HD. That's a tougher feat than most people could probably appreciate.
So, with all these new improvements to the original title, how did the game actually play? Well, if you're looking for a game that is going to rival platformers developed in this day and age, then you're going to be slightly disappointed. Flashback HD can be compared with the likes of the Doctor Who game that released a couple of years ago from BBC games. It's a lot of climbing, lots of puzzle solving and just a bit of action sprinkled into the mix. In other words, it's a bit underwhelming if you think of it as less of a remastering and more of a new creation. It doesn't contain enough fun to really hold up against anything brand new.
With that said, this game wasn't made to be a wholly new venture; it was made to improve and pay homage to the original hit from 20 years ago. Seeing the release in this point of view will make you love and appreciate it more (it also helps if you played the original game -- and you should anyway). The improvements in the controls make this game far better than its predecessor. The ability to fire your gun in 360 degrees, choose items in your inventory on the fly via the directional pad(without having to push 'start' and choose) and get through the adventure quickly makes this game far more fun and tolerable than it was when it first was released. Even when the frustration of puzzle solving forces you to take a break to think about what you need to do, it's nothing nearly as frustrating as the original game. The original was a huge pain in the ass compared to this one, though it was awesome/new/creative back in 1992/1993.
So are there any imperfections? Yes, this game has some bugs in it. For example, when you move Conrad to a health station to recharge his health bar, the 'x' button doesn't immediately respond to the health station. So, when Conrad walks up to it for the first time, pressing the 'x' button doesn't do a thing. When you walk away and come back, the 'x' button works like a charm. It's weird and it happened quite a bit during the game, but the original game's controls were this wonky. I'm hoping this was an intentional move by VectorCell, but somehow I doubt it.
Another bug, and this one was random and rare, was that sometimes Conrad would get stuck between two invisible walls after dispatching an enemy, while he was getting shocked by a electric floor area. This happened to me on the first stage of the game, and it was weird. Conrad couldn't move at all, no matter what I did. So, I had to start the game over again. This happened again when I was invading the alien hive, but this time Conrad's gun disappeared in the midst of a firefight. Again, these bugs were rare, but they were worth noting. Did it change the way I played the game? No. Was it so much of a hindrance that I was anticipating these things? No. They cropped up so rarely that it really didn't do anything to the overall gameplay, and you can thank most of that to the addition of lots of checkpoints through out the game.
The inclusion of multiple checkpoints was a huge improvement over the original, as you have to go back and do less when you die. In the first game, if you died, you pretty much had to do everything over until you found a 'save point' machine in the game (there was one per stage -- yeah, you probably can imagine the fun with that). VectorCell's implementation of tons of checkpoints made this game far less frustrating than the original, which meant I wanted to keep playing it, regardless of bugs.
Enough of my jibber-jabber, let's get to the summary…