Flashback: The Quest for Identity – Review
1992 – Delphine Software / U.S. Gold
The CD ROM game in a cartridge! Exotic Jungles, Death Towers, and Aliens planning on taking over the world? Back in the day, I HAD to have it. Make sure you back-up your identity to a memory cube…it’s FLASHBACK.
You play as Conrad Hart and according to the instruction booklet he’s an “overall cool dude”. (um ok?) As the intro cut-scene shows, our good friend Conrad is being chased by shadowy figures. Nearly escaping on a hover-bike, he’s shot down over a jungle and the game begins. If you read the advertised 14 page “Marvel Comic” included, it kind of spoils the plot of Conrad needing to regain his lost memory. I found it more enjoyable to find out why it was wiped along with Conrad as the game progresses, but that’s just me.
Without ruining the whole game (spoilers it’s almost 30 years old) Conrad is about to uncover a bizarre alien plot to take over the world “They Live” style. Personally I feel most games around this time didn’t seem to have much more than getting to point A to point B, or blowing up anything that moves. Flashback takes it’s time.
Like the box says, it all plays out very cinematically with animated cut-scenes that really feel like they should be on a CD!
Flashback isn’t your typical game. There are no health bars, no glowing items for you to pick up or any traditional power-ups. There also isn’t really a HUD. Because of this the game really opens up the screen to the environment around you. This way you can see what to keep an eye on and plot your moves, this really helps with traps and enemies.
Speaking of enemies, you’ll run into mutants, killer droids, floating cops and even super fast androids before you get to the main event – Morph Aliens. Keep an eye on your shield, you can recharge it at special stations, but once you take 4 hits – your dead.
To fight back, Conrad can draw out a pistol (with unlimited ammo, nice!) and even gets a force field later on. You’ll really need to practice your duck-roll-shoot moves as the enemies get trickier. That force field works great, but you have to get into the rhythm of blocking shots. Did I mention you can’t see the bullets either? Well, you can’t see the bullets.
Enemies aside, you’ll also encounter light puzzles, electrocuted floors and when you finally get to earth, you’ll even have to get a job!
Lastly, and this is going to sound strange…but one of my favorite elements is picking up items and using terminals. You get a cool cut-scene and a fun music cue and it really emphasizes the importance of the moment.
Full disclosure? This is one of my favorite games, but I’ll be the first to admit the controls take a little time to get used to and could be a turn off if your not willing to deal with some trial and error. If you have ever played Prince of Persia it’s a similar style and feel. A is action, B is use and C draws the gun.
Conrad can jump up and grab ledges by pressing up on the D-pad. Press A and up to do a hop over a small distance. Hold A to run and then hit up to do a running leap across larger gaps. Speaking of leaps, look before you do them here or you can easily fall to your death or descend right on top of an enemy. Hold A and down to descend a floor and hang. Take baby steps when you first try playing this one.
To access terminals, talk to people and pick up objects use A. To use objects in your inventory press B
The controls take time to learn, but once you get a feel for them, the game rewards you with that patience and you’ll get further along in no time.
Flashback truly is something something special. The sprites are rotoscoped and look just like a real person is running around. Conrads animation in particular gives a sense of weight when he starts his sprint. When he reaches a ledge his feet lift up. On an edge, his arms flail like hes trying to keep his balance. His knees bend when he’s shooting off rounds..and it all looks super smooth.
The backgrounds are lush and detailed and really have a lived in look. Check out the fan in the second level, It looks like its been there for years. The subway stations feel grimy on earth and the neon in the Death Tower level looks amazing. Wait to you get to the morphing aliens.
The cut-scenes are the real selling point for this game as well. I still can’t get over how a Sega Genesis can put them out. They feel like miniature movies. The polygon graphics may seem outdated, but they still have that retro charm for me. It’s a shame the other versions eliminated them for CGI cut-scenes. You really feel like you earn them when you complete a level.
Flashback doesn’t really have any stand out tunes, but what it does have is some really nice ambient sounds and intense music cues. In the jungle expect to hear birds chirping, the industrial areas have whirring fans and subway trains hum with futuristic goodness. When Conrad is enters an area, you get a tense cue to be on your toes, or an ah-ha jingle when something cool happens. Personally, I like the lack of a soundtrack and it makes it seem more realistic. I lot of modern games tend to use this trick as well, and it shows how ahead of its time the developers were.
There’s no easy way to say this, Flashback has a learning curve. The controls need patience to get used to, and I found myself messing up the order of having to do something and I had no choice but to die and restart. You can “save” but those terminals are few and far between and you still may have to pick up the items and do the task all over again. Try, try again I guess.
Also – You will die. A lot. Like I said earlier there’s no tutorial on how to do the moves and no maps. That may turn off newer players who are picking up the cartridge to add to the collection. The re-release on the switch may have save points and that could help. For me? It’s an easy challenge to overcome, and you really feel that you earn those cut-scenes when you finally figure out the level.
Flashback was ahead of its time back in 1992 and was mind blowing for me. I begged my parents for it back in the day and was hooked. Granted it took awhile to figure out, but wanting to know more about the plot and the mature nature of the story had me coming back for more.
Maybe I have my nostalgia goggles on but….4 out of 5 TROGS!
GameTrog Review By
Peter Graphic is a retro game player and collector. He enjoys writing about and photographing his collection as much as he likes to play! Follow him on Instagram!