When it came out, Flashback: The Quest for Identity was
known as "the CD-ROM game on a cartridge". It was
quite a bit different from other games at the time...though
many had plots, they were usually seldom more than "rescue something",
and occasionally there were little scenes in between
levels that explained what was going on. But face it,
none of it was very cinematic...Flashback changed all of that.
Not only was the plot Hollywood-quality, the cutscenes
actually became ANIMATED and proved that you didn't need
horribly shot video sequences on CD-ROM to tell a great story.
On the surface, Flashback doesn't seem much more than
a Prince of Persia clone. Sure, you climb platforms.
perform running jumps, hit switches, solve little puzzles
to proceed, and stuff like that. But there's a lot more
to it than that. First and foremost, since this is a sci-fi
game, there's no swordfights. Instead, you have to wield
your gun, which luckily has unlimited bullets. While some enemies
can be killed by simply blasting away (or being quick on the draw) you'll
need to define strategies to kill certain baddies, like rolling back and
forth between enemies and shooting them. Early in the game, you
get a bullet shield which will protect you from all projectiles for
about a second. The key to winning many gunfights is using this shield
at the right time to protect yourself, then shoot the enemy when they're
offguard. You carry a portable shield which can take four hits before
leaving you vulnerable, but it can be recharged at certain stations
through the levels. Of course, you WILL die, may it be through being
shot too many times or accidentally falling too far. Keep an eye out for
checkpoints (misnomered Save Stations, because you can't actually
save there...you only come back there when you die).
The other most distinguishing feature is the aforementioned plot.
The game starts off with an incredible animated sequence
of the main character, Conrad, escaping from some sort
of base. He steals a vehicle and flys out, only
to get shot down and marooned in the jungle on the planet.
From the holocube that you have in your pocket, you
learn that your memory has been entirely released by
some evil aliens. By inventing some strange glasses,
Conrad could detect the aliens that camaflauged themselves
among the human race. Naturally, the aliens (known
as Morphs) come upon Conrad's invention, and capture
him in order to take him out of the equation. Conrad
will eventually get his memory back at one point early
in the game, but the priority is to get off the jungle
planet and somehow stop the Morphs from taking over Earth.
Things can never be simple, of course...the first step
is to get to get off the jungle planet, and the only
other place to go is New Washington, a city beneath
the surface of the planet. Once you get there, you need
to get to Earth...but a ticket cost is astronomical.
The game show Death Tower offers free tickets to winners,
so the second stage is spent running odd jobs in order
to earn enough money for a crack at Death Tower. Once you
get back on Earth, you realize that you're a wanted man
and even the police are hunting you down. Once you
find the nightclub that is really the secret headquarters
of the Morphs, you'll beam off to their home planet, with
the ultimate goal of destroying it.
Because of this, the locations you'll visit are varied...
and all well-detailed, I may add. It's hard to imagine
that this is a Genesis...the graphics compare very favorably
with the PC version, even though the Genny has a quarter
of the color palette. The work put into each level, especially
the overall creepiness of the Planet Morph, really adds
to the atmosphere of the game.
All of the graphics in Flashback were rotoscoped, meaning that live
actors were filmed executing actions, then an artist traces the image
to make a character on the screen. Conrad moves very realistically and
all of the sprites are very well animated. And the cutscenes...
for someone who'd been living on still-frame story telling since the
days of Ninja Gaiden, seeing the story unfold in motion on the screen
is incredible for a cartridge game. Granted, the characters are kinda
boxy and some places move rather slow, but it's very stylized and
sets this game above others on the system.
There's very little to the audio experience in Flashback. Music punctuates
certain key areas of the game to heighten gameplay, but most of the time,
you'll here nothing but ambiant noises and other sound effects.
If you're used to action games, then it can take a little while to get
used to the control in Flashback. Once you get a hang of it though,
you'll have little trouble. The only sore spot comes in combat...I swear
that Conrad draws and puts his gun away too slowly, plus oftentimes, you
roll too far, putting you in an awkward position (especially in enclosed
areas.) Combine that with the questionable hit detection, and it can
get on your nerves on a few occasions. But with some practice and some
ol' fashioned thinking, you should be able to overcome these problems.
To this day, Flashback remains one of my favorite Genesis titles. While
the puzzle solving and gunfights are very fun, the storyline and mood
of the game is probably what pulls me in the most. Some parts
get downright intense. Unfortunately, it is a bit on the short side...there's
only seven levels, and if you know what you're doing, probably takes no
more than four hours or so to beat all the way through (there are passwords
to continue at the beginning of each level.) But overall, Flashback
is definitely a classic worth looking into.