Evolution, refinement, perfection… three words that can easily be attributed to something already in the world that has simply become better. Pivotal moments! Two words that combine to try and sum up the impact or everlasting legacy of such things as ideas, historic occurrences, tragedies or periods of complete change. They happen more times than you may think, many more than are often reported or given credit for. Flashback! One word, several meanings, mostly describing a past tense event but also the name of a videogame that fit’s the criteria of the words above… and then some!
It’s a complete and total myth that the games industry has had only a small number of moments of real awakenings or moments of unified industry change. Often a console, controller or a special character based game rolls off the tongue of those so eager to pay homage to stuff that’s already been talked about to death but the reality is that when you take a step back, many of those truly special moments are less about change and more about excellence of execution. You don’t have to be the new kid on the block, be a console release franchise entry or offer a new way of interaction, sometimes all you really need do are the simple yet crucial things right. For the month of June 2016 RGG has decided to focus on a videogame so good that not only does it now sit in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the biggest selling game from a nation (France) but is also widely loved by a multitude of fans crossing numerous computers and games console. Flashback is quite simply the one size fit’s all videogame.
The brainchild of Paul Cuisset, the creator of another stunning game titled ‘Future Wars’ Flashback is a cinematic platforming sci-fi epic that manages to both tell a superb story, convey a sense of real excitement, pushes the era’s technology to the max and perfectly refine the platform game genre into a product that, if you allow it, will pass past that videogame medium into quite literally an experience all of it’s own. Originally developed with the Amiga 500 in mind it bypassed traditional sprite based characters in favour of using a fluid animation technique that would come to be known as ‘Rotoscoped’.
This system which was very much taken from the 1989 classic ’Prince Of Persia’ but was exceptionally advanced, produced the dynamic and lifelike responses seldom seen prior on games machines. Your character really feels alive with unprecedented levels of abilities, from walking, running, rolling on the ground to climbing and running leaps across gaps. The difference between Flashback and 99% of games released anywhere around it was like comparing night to day, only said ‘Prince Of Persia’ and Delphine’s ‘Another World‘ could get close. The sheer power of the Amiga computer and it’s out of this world colour palette ensured that it wouldn’t just move like a dream but it would also look like a million dollars!
Released in 1992 on Commodore’s mighty beast first the game tells the story of ‘Conrad B. Hart’ who after being chased on a speeding bike by some nasty creatures crashes into a dense jungle. He awakens with absolutely no memory of who he is or why he is lying on the floor in the middle of nowhere. Next to him is a holocube that when activated informs him of his name and that he is to head to New Washington to meet with his friend ‘Ian’. After this short yet quite breathtaking (for it’s time) intro you are then placed into the jungle and tasked with heading back to civilisation to find out exactly why you were chased, shot down and quite clearly marked for death. Shortly after reaching the population and your friend you discover the truth that you left the holo message in case your mind was erased. It turns out that Aliens have shape shifted into society for some nefarious reason and that you had discovered this secret by inventing some impressive molecular viewing glasses as part of your final year thesis.
Obviously the connections between this game and several famous films such as Blade Runner and more obviously Total Recall leap out by this point with several nods to plot ideas and graphical look of several of the games levels. Whilst this may seem like a copy and paste mash-up, things could not be further from the truth as whilst it does indeed borrow a ton of ideas, flashback simply manages to make it feel fresh with it’s execution. The story takes several more twists and turns that accelerate both the pace of the action and the tempo of the story culminating in a quite epic conclusion however I won’t reveal that here because it’s best appreciated yourself.
With an engrossing story, simply stunning graphics, atmospheric soundtrack and animation to make Disney look on in awe Flashback is a welcome assault on all of your senses. The Amiga version was an instant sales success that flew off the shelves gaining instant legendary status from both the games press of the era and gamers who jumped into it and had it just been released for that one format it still would have easily become the classic it remains today. Thankfully and importantly for it’s historic impact and legacy Delphine’s masterpiece was ported to all of the major selling systems across the globe with MS-DOS editions for PC featuring even more cut sequences and an Acorn Archimedes version that also proved very popular.
Not wanting to miss out on the millions of consumers flocking to the 16-Bit consoles Flashback also hit the Sega Megadrive / Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles with breathtaking conversions and where the Snes was concerned some entirely new looking tasty new cut sequences. With CD Gaming starting to take off versions for the Phillips CD-I, 3DO, FM Towns and Sega-CD were also produced. If you owned a gaming system in the 1990’s then chances were you could experience this. Even the Atari Jaguar got this game which was a welcome relief for those who had invested in one of the worst games consoles of all time, finally this doorstop had a genuinely world class game to play on it.
With a spectacular advertising campaign featuring a whole plethora of differing box art, one slogan that was used often was by calling Flashback the ‘CD-ROM game on a cartridge‘. It was a bold and not even remotely correct statement considering it’s first release was for a system that used 3.5 inch floppy discs. It did however resonate with Sega and Nintendo fans who used this game as a benchmark to tell the computer fans that anything they could do, consoles could either match or better. It worked! The Sega mega drive version especially selling exceptionally well. That’s the beauty and wonder of advertising in the games industry during the Golden Era, you didn’t have to always be factually correct, if what you sold matched the boast then gamers were happy.
Considering just how many incredible games Delphine produced, and trust me, it was a lot! Flashback sits very much on top of the pile from both a developer/publisher point of view and for it’s genre as a whole. It does absolutely everything superbly. It didn’t invent that wheel but what it did do was create a luxury super car around it, fine tuning every single aspect to the point of complete and total perfection. It’s practically impossible to fault it, to even try is almost pointless. A product of it’s time that ended up helping craft the era itself.
It may not get the medal for most famous moment in the gaming industry or the most popular kid in school award but what it did mattered then, matters now and for as long as people take the time to really appreciate excellence it will forever proudly sit among the very best for all time. Put simply the word classic was created to describe videogames like Flashback. To play it is to experience all the very best things about videogames. It embraces you like an old friend, always remaining as fresh and welcoming as the first time.
Eventually, reaching the end of the game, wanting more, it once again delivers with a promise that this epic story will continue on and for those who want to carry on the adventure the 1995 3D action adventure ‘Fade To Black’ continues directly on from the events of Flashback. A sequel that for many was a huge letdown thanks to iffy controls and annoying puzzles. A third game in the series slated for a 2003 released was eventually scrapped when Delphine went bankrupt therefore ending the story of Conrad entirely however who needs several games when the first one is solid gold?
Often copied in visual style, especially in the indie scene Flashback is every bit the stunner it was in 1992 in the here and now of 2016. Quality lasts, excellence endures and the really great games just keep on getting better with age like fine wine. Maybe in another 24 years another writer can look back and see if it’s still got ‘it’, in my heart I already know the answer… Yes, oh my god a million times...YES!