Thursday, October 15, 2015

Crushing My Younger Self's Dreams

When I was a kid, I remember when it seemed as though every comic I bought had an ad for Flashback, and I thought it looked like such a cool game. Mutants! Cyborgs! Death Tower! A super-cool secret agent trying to recover his memories! Of course, it was a Sega Genesis game, and I skipped that generation of consoles, so I never got to play it (this was the stretch when I was phasing out my NES, but still a few years away from my N64, so the Game Gear was the only current thing I had).

They released an updated version of the game two years ago on Xbox Live, and even though I'd read reviews which suggested it was a disappointment, I still rolled the dice and spent 10 bucks on it. Not my best decision. All those people who warn about the dangers of nostalgia might be on to something.

The story is Conrad B. Hart is an agent for the GBI, except he doesn't remember that at the start. All he knows is some jetpack wearing androids were trying to murder him. Which sounds cool, but it was a cut scene. The times in the gameplay when it happens are significantly less cool. So he has to try and recover enough of his memories to figure out why people are trying to kill him, then stop the thing he was trying to stop before his memories got erased.

The game is all two-dimensional levels where you spend a lot of time running back and forth between hallways, climbing up or down levels in one manner or another. Usually you're trying to find someone or something that will enable you to advance the story. Sometimes you run into various enemies, or traps. There's a few puzzles, in the sense of needing to figure out how to deactivate a trap, or open a door you can't directly reach. The latter usually involves grenades. Sometimes so does the former. There's a lot of solving problems through shooting, but I don't love the controls. You use the right thumbstick to aim in whatever direction you need, but use the right trigger to fire. What I find happens is that when I depress the trigger, it makes my hand move and that throws off my aim. In the early levels, I was able to alleviate this by briefly using my left hand to control the right thumbstick, but later in the game, it's kind of important to be able to switch from shooting to running quickly, and so the left hand was occupied.

The game could also be glitchy. Sometimes it would just keep trying to load a checkpoint after I'd died. One time I made it back to a boss fight I'd failed at earlier, took the option to skip the cut scene, and the game froze Conrad in place. Couldn't move, couldn't shoot. Just stood there until the boss killed me. And since I'd been dying over and over again during that stretch of the game, that was almost the breaking point. As it turns out, the key to surviving fights, is to get the high ground, and crouch near the ledge and fire down. Sometimes the enemies won't climb up after you and you can just shoot them in the face from relative safety (except when they do).

I was going to say Flashback isn't a bad game, but I was going to follow that by saying the gameplay was nothing special, the dialogue can be pretty bad, and the whole thing is fairly cliche. Which sure sounds like a bad game. Some parts of it just don't make a lot of sense, like the speeder bike level, which is just Conrad trying to make it from Point A to B in a set amount of time. But no one is chasing him, so it's just a time trial, essentially. And it's the only level like that in the game, so it sticks out as an oddity. Why include it?

Looking back, I think there's a point that could have saved it, when I used a teleporter to reach the bottom of this pit, only to face two cyborgs. I was dying repeatedly (this was shortly before that boss fight I mentioned), and finally ran for a nearby elevator and rode it up. Then I kept charging my gun, riding the elevator down, shooting whichever cyborg was in my sights, and then going back up before they could shoot me. Several times I couldn't get a shot off because one of the cyborgs was standing under the elevator, so I bounced off its head. If the game had let that damage the enemy, so I could beat it by hitting it with an elevator, I might be more kindly disposed towards it. But no.


Kelvin Green said...

To be fair, your younger self's dreams are still intact because the original Flashback is much, much better than the remake.

CalvinPitt said...

Really? Well dang, it's actually included with the download of the remake, so I guess I better get on it then. I figured it was the same, just with worse graphics.