Flashback PC Retro Review

From Out of this World, Delphine’s extra-dimensional action hit for Interplay Productions, the Wrench developer now takes gamers on a far-future shoot-out with superbly rotoscoped graphics and diabolical aliens which are definitely “out of this world.” In Strategic Simulations, Inc.’s Flashback: The Quest for Identity, the protagonist is a young scientist extraordinaire, top athlete, and all-around good guy. This character, Conrad IV Hart, has discovered that Earth is being invaded by shape-shifting aliens with genocidal intentions. Naturally, it is up to the gamer to guide Conrad safely through 200 screens of action, intrigue and suspense in order to penetrate the mystery of the alien invaders and prevent the destruction of mankind.

Conrad, suffering from a massive memory loss, begins his adventures in the midst of a dense, steamy jungle on the Saturn moon of Titan. Before he can save the world, he must recover his identity and rediscover the alien plot that landed him in this strange environment. Though his memory fails him, Conrad is blessed with the combined athletic skills of a Tarzan and a Terminator, and his inventory includes a remarkably lethal and inexhaustible pistol. Mis graceful coordination and quick trigger finger will be needed to light killer robots, deadly cyborgs, corrupt police and sinister aliens.

In the course of his quest for identity, Conrad will travel back to Earth and then, to the aliens’ home planet. There, the fate of the world will be decided by Conrad’s quick thinking and sharp reflexes. With skill, determination, a bit of luck and many “saved” games, Conrad just might succeed. The alter native, of course, is abrupt termination, followed by another start from the previous saved game.

On The Levels

The dense leaves, twisted branches and dripping water of the first level evoke the organic atmosphere of the jungle. Each screen of the level is seen from a two-dimensional cross-section, and the lush background graphics form a consistent continuum throughout the level. Completion of the jungle level accomplishes two things. First, the player will gain skill at running and jumping, and also at avoiding or eliminating the omnipresent antagonists found at every turn. Second, the plot will unfold, revealing a story to match some of the most ambitious “B” sci-fi movies.

Levels I and II take place within the Titan city, New Washington. This city is built underground, complete with its own subway, bar and shifty denizen. Whirring ventilation fans, metal panels and a mix of concrete and steel walkways evoke a somewhat sterilized cyberpunk feel. Just arrived from the jungle, Conrad is penniless and must earn his keep by running errands, killing a deviant cyborg, and miraculously saving the city from an errant power turbine. Unfortunately, players will soon learn that a ticket for the necessary passage to Earth is exorbitantly expensive and must be procured in some other way. Fortunately, a TV studio is awarding starship tickets for Earth to those players who can complete a deadly game show, not unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man. After battling cyborgs and killer robots before a galactic TV audience, Conrad just might earn the First Place Prize of a free voyage to Earth.

The Earth of 2142 (levels IV and V) is not much different from some inner-cityscapes of today. Grimy concrete walls, near-dead trees, and bits of trash litter the walkways. Corrupt police patrol the polluted streets of Washington, itching to snoot Conrad on sight. The plot thickens considerably when our hero discovers the secret plans of the aliens and their scheme to invade Earth! These aliens arc not easy kills, absorbing repeated blows and changing shape to confuse their attackers. A truly hideous adversary, they!

The final levels find Conrad being tele-ported to the home world of the aliens, a grotesquely different environment than any Found on Earth. Strangely colored globes glow in the dim light, giving eerie shadows to the terrain. Oozing plants and weird rock formations surround the passageways that lead into the depths of this world. The player will soon discover that the aliens are not the only deadly entities to be found here. It will take Conrad many attempts before he can decipher the mystery of the planet, and so change the course of history forever. Long live Conrad! Long live Earth! Save often!

Flashy Sights And Sounds

Flashback really excels in the graphics department. Each screen is rendered in sharply detailed VGA graphics. As in Out of this World cinematic sequences bridge together the plot and give the player a much needed rest from the action.

What really stands out, though, is the fluid movement ol the characters. The game boasts impressive animation derived from 24 frames-pcr-second rotoscoping—a truly uncanny thing to watch! Conrad jumps, rolls, twists and runs with ease and grace. With a little imagination, the player might even see the muscles rippling under Conrad’s drab clothing. And the superb graphics don’t stop with just our hero. All the baddies are endowed with the same smooth movements. The aliens slurp along like hideous purple blobs, but with the quickness of a cat. Cyborgs stride with robotic precision then suddenly transform themselves into a speeding blur, impossible to track with weapons.

The game designers earn extra “attaboys” for the interesting interactive environment in Flashback. Stones, passkeys, ID cards and other nifty devices are scattered throughout all levels and must be used to interact (in a limited way) with other characters, switches, electronic doors and elevators. In many places the screen flashes a modest “alert” icon, just to make sure that Conrad doesn’t overlook one of these devices.

From the opening scene of the game, players with sound cards will be well rewarded. Flashbacks supports Sound Blaster, Ad Lib and Roland sound cards. The haunting cries ol jungle birds, explosive blasts from Conrad’s pistol, and the gurgling screams ol dying aliens reverberate dynamically over the loudspeakers.

Glaring Errors

All that Hashes is not gold, however, and Flashback has a few glaring Haws within its jeweled framework. A real problem is the awkwardness of the interface, whether with keyboard or joystick, which results in unnecessary frustration for the beginning gamer. The “A” and “B” buttons are used for certain actions, bur at times their functions were reversed. This needless confusion brought poor Conrad to his death more often than not.

Another significant problem was the lack of a game saving feature that can be accessed at any time, rather than only at pre-determined points in each level’s scenario. Temporary save-game opportunities were scattered throughout the game, but each level is quite lengthy and difficult. If a gamer is near completion of one level and becomes interrupted, he or she can only begin that same level from the start. In Europe this may be common practice, but many American gamers will find this unacceptable.

Final Flashes

Flashback is an excellent game that truly creates a sense of reality. The plot, farfetched at times, is better than most other action/arcade games. And, while Flashback does have its blemishes and save-game frustrations, the actual game play is superior to many, and the graphics and rotoscoped movement arc tops! Flashback should brings flashing smiles to everyone who enjoys a good shoot’em-up.

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