Anyone who has ever owned an Amiga or early Sega games console will undoubtedly have played or at least heard of Flashback. Renowned in its day for its superior graphics and gameplay, this 2D platformer will for always remain in the hearts of the true gamers of a bygone console generation.
Flashback was developed by Delphine Software International, creators of such classic games as Cruise for a Corpse and Future Wars, as well as Flashback's predecessor, Another World (known as Out of This World on other platforms). For many people, Flashback represented a quantum leap in terms of gameplay and animation, and revolutionised the gaming world.
This entry is aimed at anyone who has either never heard of Flashback, wants to know more about this excellent game, or simply wants to remember back to the classic gaming days of the Commodore Amiga.
The story revolves round one Conrad B Hart, an agent for the Galaxia Bureau of Investigation. During trials of his latest invention, the Molecular Density Analyser, Conrad discovers a sinister plot to take over the Earth involving aliens called Morphs, disguised as government officials. The Morphs kidnap Conrad, wipe his memory, and leave him stranded on the strange alien world of Titan. It's your job to help Conrad regain his identity and stop the Morphs' plot to invade Earth.
Starting out in a jungle, you must fight your way to the city of New Washington where you perform various tasks to earn enough money to enter a TV show so you can win a first-class ticket to Earth. From there, you discover more of the Morphs' plot and are taken captive. Using your initiative, you escape and journey to their planet, which you destroy with the help of a dying professor, who had been working for the Morphs for a long time. That's the basic gist of it all, anyway. As Delphine themselves say, a scenario worthy of a real action movie!
People who've played games such as Another World or Prince of Persia would be instantly familiar with the situations they'd be facing here. The general idea is to move from one screen to the other, disposing of enemies, climbing platforms, picking up items and interacting with various objects. In actuality, Flashback is the only game out of the three to really use the idea of items and interactive objects, whereas the other two are slightly simpler variations of running and jumping activity, with a few fights thrown in.
Relatively few commands are needed in the game, which was why it was easily adapted to all console controllers and keyboards. Basically, you can move in all directions; run, jump, climb up and down, crouch, roll, take running jumps and leaps... OK, so maybe it's not that basic. Flashback boasts dozens of moves, far more than any other game at the time of its release. All are controlled via the direction buttons and one other key. A sixth button is used to draw and holster the gun, and yet another to fire it or use the object currently in the character's hand. You use the inventory screen to select which one this would be, which freezes the main game and pops up at the bottom of the screen.
Items are acquired by stooping to pick them up. Often, in the case of stones for instance, they can be found lying on the floor, but others are dropped when enemies go through their death moves. To use them, you need to select them from the inventory, when they appear in a small box in the top-right corner of the screen, and press the appropriate button in front of the right object. An example would be inserting an ID card into a scanner to open a door.
Flashback did away with the traditional idea of power-ups, instead supplying the player with only one sidearm and infinite ammunition. The gun's power is upgraded slightly further on in the game, though the effects of this are hardly noticed. In terms of defence, the player is given a temporary force-barrier which flares up for a brief moment when you press the 'use' button, which is very useful when you find yourself being fired upon from both sides.
The concept of multiple lives was also done away with in this game, instead using a shield system. Unlike the force-barrier mentioned above, this shield is active the whole time and can take four hits before giving way and opening the player to certain death. It can, however, be recharged at a number of places in the game, again reducing the need for power-ups all over the levels. If you die, you are taken back to either the start of the level you are on, or the last save point, there being a very limited number of these points in each level.
Battles, which frequently occur in the game, are extremely tense, despite the modern preference of 3D combat. The first levels in the game have you dealing with slow mutants and squat droids, which are all easy to take out, but later levels offer you flying policemen and often invulnerable Morphs, which require more skill to vanquish. Although you receive the protective force-barrier quite early on, you find it doesn't help you quite as much as it could, so battle sequences are best won with skilful use of the gun and your arsenal of acrobatic moves. The key to defeating enemies isn't a simple point-and-shoot affair - you really have to think and use the scenery around you, a factor many other platform games lack.
This is where Flashback really comes into its own. Again, a lot of comparisons can be made here between itself, Another World and Prince of Persia. Flashback takes the look of the former and combines it with the fluid character motion of the latter to create a visually-stunning piece.
The animation of the humanoid characters in the game is all taken from a process known as 'rotoscoping', where real-life actors would perform the moves required of them, and have their movements plotted on computer and converted into sprites. Using this method, the Flashback development team were able to claim a previously unheard of 25 frames per second of animation, which sold the game really well. In every review the game had, everyone mentioned the amazing life-like fluidity of the characters.
The rest of the art is worth a mention as well. Each screen has its own hand-drawn background, which conveys the feel of the planet or locale to a surprising degree. For example, on Earth you have to navigate through a dirty cityscape, and the background gives you a feel for the era. You're told nothing of the political or social state of the planet in that century, yet just the general look of the place shows you all the details you need, thanks to the skill of the artist.
Detail isn't reserved for only the background, though. The foreground has not only the sprites of the enemies and other characters, but also all the interactive objects, such as doors, lifts, scanners, rechargers, consoles of various descriptions and even enormous generators. Little lights blink merrily away on most items, and many purely scenic items are given a lot of detail, such as leaky pipes and unusable computers. Fans whirr, lights flash, slime drips... a real atmosphere for a 2D game!
It was the cinematic cut scenes that really impressed most gamers, though. Flashback improves upon the vector system used in Another World and creates the best animations ever seen on the old consoles. Using vectors allows for some very fluid animation, while using up little processing power, which in turn means good speeds and frame rates. Although longer cut scenes are few and far between, they are a real treat for the eyes, and the shorter and more frequent ones (used in such instances as when you recharge your shield) are excellent as well.
This is perhaps not Flashback's strongest factor. Music is largely reserved for the cinematics, and what does feature during the course of the main game is very short. Sound effects are sadly limited to mostly gunshots and the groans of people being killed, but it still has to be said that the few ambient effects there are do add a lot of atmosphere. Needless to say, being released in 1992, Flashback doesn't have any speech samples within the cinematics or otherwise, but it's doubtful they would have helped, coming as they would from a French development studio.
The longer tracks are brilliant, however. The title theme is unsurpassed in dramatic feeling, and is a great introduction to the game. Though these tracks were, of course, not produced or recorded with real instruments, the synthesis systems of the consoles and computers work well to convey the application of futuristic sounds and beats. The use of sound on the Amiga is by far the superior of the lot, one has to admit.
While searching the Internet for more material about this game, you may be slightly confused by all the conflicting reports you read about it. Different release dates, different platforms, sequels, prequels and so on. So, to set the record straight...
Flashback was originally released for the Commodore Amiga at the end of 1992 by distributors US Gold (now a part of Eidos Interactive) under the simple title of Flashback. After its profound success, it was ported over to many consoles in the course of the following year, including the Sega Genesis (AKA the MegaDrive), Super Nintendo (SNES), PC and Atari, but retitled Flashback: the Quest For Identity. It was, slightly later, converted for the Sega 3DO machine, with new 3D cut scenes replacing the vector cinematics.
It is also widely disputed that Flashback is, as has been suggested, a direct sequel to Another World. Despite some distinct similarities, the games are entirely different. The characters are different, the plots, the aliens, everything unrelated to the technical side of the game is different. Another World is a stand-alone game. Flashback does, however, have a sequel, though this met with less rapturous applause than the former. Fade to Black, as the title goes, is found only on the PC and PlayStation, and uses 3D vector graphics to create the gaming world. However, this game didn't really work out quite as well because the new look disappointed a number of Flashback's fans.
Apart from the names, Flashback has a few other differences across platforms. There is the variety of sound systems employed, of course, but also some graphics are quite dissimilar. For example, in the Amiga version, Conrad wears a white shirt and brown jacket, but in the Sega Genesis version his shirt is pink! Along the same lines, the Morphs were originally green in skin colour, but often they are to be found in both purple and blue varieties on different consoles. The title screens are different too, the original one showing a surreal picture of (presumably) Conrad's eyes and forehead being zapped by the memory-restoring ray, while the later images show Conrad sidestepping round a corner, with a quite unimpressive Flashback logo next to him. Finally, the packaging comes in various forms.
So, despite some inconsistencies in marketing, Flashback redefined the 2D platform adventure game, and opened up a new world of animation never seen before. It will be fondly remembered by true gamers for years to come, and is a must for all retro gaming enthusiasts, whisking players into a world of conspiracy and intrigue, to a time of classic 2D gaming.