Action-Adventure, both with capital "A"
Thirteen years ago, my brother gave me a few floppy discs "with some really cool games", as he said. One of them was Another World
, which hooked me immediately. Flashback
was also there, and according to my brother, was "in some ways even groovier than Another World". But for some reason, I could never get into this game. I tried several times and soon forgot about it...
...until now, thirteen years later, and eighteen years after the game's release, I finally played it. Something told me I had to give this game another chance. And I'm really glad I did. Because Flashback
is in the same league with Another World
, an essential platform classic with awe-inspiring visuals and captivating gameplay. Both are a testament to Delphine Software's
outstanding creative and technological achievements at the peak of their power.
While most of the game is still dedicated to hardcore climbing, jumping, and shooting enemies, there is also a great sense of exploration in Flashback
. It looks more like a "real" platformer than Another World
- simply meaning it has more platforms
, more vertical navigation, while Another World
was mostly flat. For the most part you can freely move through the gigantic levels, sometimes back-tracking to complete a new objective; but this back-tracking never feels boring. Inaccessible areas might open if you have performed the necessary task (usually finding a key, but it's not always that simple), and the game gives you a great feeling of gradually working through it, accomplishing tasks while getting used to the intricate structure of its levels.
The gameplay of Flashback
is complex for a platform game, and I don't mean just that it has levels with an adventure-like structure, which include "friendly areas" and dialogues with NPCs. Conrad, the protagonist of the game, can perform a variety of moves, which include combinations of ducking, rolling, hitting opponents with the gun at close range, etc. There are items you can use during combat, such as shields that absorb damage (and need to be recharged at energy stations), force fields that protect you from attacks for a short while, etc. Defeating an opponent is much more than just repeatedly hitting him, which is the case in most platform games. It requires skill, good sense of timing, quick reaction. Many enemies can dispose of you with a few hits or knock you down a platform with their shots, killing you. The overwhelming sense of danger is always present, and every move counts - the right recipe for a great action game.
The meat and potatoes of the gameplay, the action parts, are immaculately executed and very satisfying. Jumping requires more than just pressing a button - there are different kinds of jumps, including running jump, hanging on ledges, and carefully dropping down from platforms. Jumping parts are a joy to play and watch, thanks to the fantastic animation. Conrad's movements are fluid and realistic, so whenever he jumps, falls down, gets hit, you really feel like you are doing it, and the sense of tight control, identification with the character on screen is great.
I really liked how the game balanced exploration, jumping, and fighting challenges, without overdoing any of them. Some games send waves after waves of enemies at the player, all of which have to be disposed the same way. This is a common occurrence especially in old-school platform games, but Flashback
follows the "quality over quantity" design philosophy. There aren't many enemies in the game, but each enemy encounter really feels like you are fighting for your life.
Like other contemporary games made by Delphine Software
looks amazing. The graphics are full of detail and convey a unique, unforgettable atmosphere. Each level has its unique characteristics and is a world in itself. The jungle, the urban areas, the strange alien world - every place in this game is remarkable.
The whole thing is decorated by an interesting, if rather simple, story line, which involves classic elements such as amnesia, the lonely hero against a threat to the entire humanity, etc. It might not be the most original story out there, but it proved to be an excellent driving force for an action game. Much like Lester in Another World
, Conrad is just a guy - he doesn't have any super-powers or special abilities, and it's clear he feels more comfortable with intellectual activities than with physical confrontation. His vulnerability is emphasized by the gameplay style: Conrad is in danger not because there are many enemies around, not even because they are powerful, but rather because he is weak. Conrad is more of a reluctant hero than a "professional" world-savior. I really like controlling this kind of protagonist, and I think the player's connection to such a hero makes the gameplay experience deeper and more memorable.
It takes a while to appreciate Flashback
. I needed no time at all to get into Another World
, but this game required several attempts until I could finally play and enjoy it. While Another World
might be generally more difficult, its gameplay is less complicated, and its levels are smaller and more linear. The vast game world of Flashback
might scare those who like their platformers fast and simple. I'd certainly recommend playing this game on Easy difficulty level. Trust me, you won't find it too easy. The higher levels add more enemies, making the already challenging game more frustrating.
The big problem here is the inability to save properly. A game with such depth and complexity should have implemented a different save system other than the stone-age password recognition. There were passwords in Another World
too, but the size of the levels in these two games cannot even be compared. Another World
was hardly longer than Flashback
, yet it had fifteen passwords for different levels, while Flashback
only has eight. True, there are save points, but they only serve to bring you back to life should you die during the current playing session. If you quit the game, or even accidentally hit "Abort" when asked if you want to continue (it happened to me once, and boy, was I angry), that's it - you will have to replay the huge
level again. This can be infuriating. Actually, I don't understand why they had to insert the continue screen in the first place. You will die a thousand times in this game, and every time you'll have to press "Continue" before you run out of time and all your progress will be lost. This made me nervous like hell...
The Bottom LineFlashback
is a definite classic of action adventure games, and certainly one of the best platform games of all times. Perhaps the "wow factor" here is not as big as in Another World
, but in some aspects it surpasses its great predecessor. It is an intelligent and atmospheric game that will challenge your mind as much as your reflexes. Those who dislike platform games might be surprised how much can be achieved within the frames of a genre that was associated with mushroom-gathering and merry jumping over turtles' heads.