In 1992, Flashback came out to an audience which had already been excited with the direction of new cinematic 2D action adventure platformers by Another World. In a way, Flashback felt like a spiritual continuation of Eric Chahi’s masterpiece, even though clearly more plot-oriented and with more of a strict cyberpunk sci-fi vibe. More than thirty years later, designer Paul Cuisset is back and with Flashback 2 wants to bring back that same excitement. But, unfortunately, this sequel misses the mark completely.
If you remember that there already was a Flashback sequel, Fade to Black, released by Delphine in 1995, then forget about it. Flashback 2 ignores that game completely and instead just picks up the story from the end of the original title. We meet Conrad B. Hart floating into space and crash landing on a planet, there he learns that his scientist friend has disappeared and, with the help of the AI-augmented pistol AISHA, has to meet back with him and find out what has been going on. Basically, he’ll have to stop the invasion of those aliens, the Morph, which can turn into humans and are led by [checks notes] General Lazarus.
While the plot does try to engage the player, the writing itself doesn’t seem particularly interested. After a couple of hours, there is a shocking reveal about Conrad’s true identity. To this incredible news, he reacts “I need a minute”, then never brings it up again and immediately goes back to making jokes. You will meet some of the characters from the original, which seem more like obligatory nods than anything. There is even a cameo from Delphine’s Future Wars, which will leave anyone who hasn’t played it utterly confused. Sure, Flashback 2 might be sci-fi, but randomly meeting a “time traveller looking for a bomb” is not really the best way to plant a nostalgic reference.
But the problem is not really with the writing, did you want to play Flashback 2 for the story? Of course not, if the gameplay was good, then all is forgiven. But these seem like a bunch of 1992 ideas mashed together and presented to a 2023 audience. Not because the controls can’t be remapped or the lack of graphical options beyond low/medium/high. It’s because most of its mechanics don’t really make much sense or are entertaining to begin with.
The gameplay takes place on a 2.5D plane, which might make sense in explorable locations, but for action sequences it makes everything confusing and just badly designed. Now, Conrad can use stealth in certain sequences. This does not allow you to perform stealth kills, you can just avoid being detected. Fine, but since most enemies go down with 4-5 shots maximum, you have unlimited ammo and there are plenty of medkits, why would you waste time crouching around?
It seems Flashback 2 is aware of this, since at the end of these sections – even if you performed perfectly – it will send waves of 10–15 enemies to kill to progress. So much for remaining undetected. But then again, enemies don’t really seem to know where you are most of the time. They will be alerted if you shoot around, but not if you’re shooting them directly. If they see you while you’re crouched, they will look in your general direction, then continue with their patrol. Apparently they haven’t seen you “enough” to be alerted.
The first part of the game is spent travelling between three locations, with nothing much to do, except what the plot requires. To move, you hop on a bike and travel on a bland loop circuit, while the game reminds you of “RT to accelerate and LT to break” each single time you use it, in case you forgot. You will have to complete missions to gain credits to buy a mech to fight, because a local mafia boss asked you to. Apparently, someone who just met Conrad for a whole five seconds randomly agreed to lend him money and complete faith to fight against… [check notes] Shark-Fu. Is that really a reference to Shaq-fu? I really don’t want to know.
We travel around these locations, completing exciting missions such as delivering packages and killing the usual robots. Then, we have to save a little girl from a laboratory invaded by monsters. Sounds good, especially the part where you have to get her teddy bear to make her trust you. Too bad the bear is surrounded by monsters and picking it up won’t pause the battle. While you are reading the description, Conrad is left getting killed. Giving the girl her toy doesn’t show the bear on screen, so you are effectively giving her nothing. The final mecha fight left me speechless, it controls so terribly that I was wondering if my controller had broken in the meantime. It would have been better left as a simple cutscene.
You get the drift. Flashback 2 feels like it was barely tested and everyone working on it either did not have time to finish it or did not really care. The character portraits, which look clearly AI-retouched (in the best case scenario), already tell a story of a rushed development, especially when they don’t look at all like their in-game counterparts. Helen in-game is a pink-haired girl with a ponytail, her portrait has short blonde hair. The writing is all over the place, with Conrad keeping on talking to himself or with NPC voices talking over him, along with being the subject of a recurrent joke of “you don’t look old enough to drink” which apparently someone found hilarious. Especially telling are the loading screens, where Conrad wonders about “the things we’d do to find Ian” who has already been rescued minutes before, or wonders about places he’s already been to twice.
Aiming at enemies and using objects in 2.5D feels way more difficult than it should. It seems interactions are very finicky, so if you are not standing still in the EXACT place the game wants, it won’t work. Also, for some reason jump is not a part of this 2.5 action adventure platformers, instead you press A to grab hold of ledges. Of course this leads to problems since, as mentioned, interactions are finicky, if you end up spamming the A button, you will start grabbing hold of everything in sight and will probably jump somewhere that forces you to restart.
Now, this is not to say Flashback 2 is unplayable, generally it is possible to progress through it. But in its current state it is – in case it wasn’t abundantly clear – quite bugged. I had to restart whole sections several times, because the character who was supposed to open a door had disappeared, or the game just wasn’t triggering the next scene. This also often leaves you wondering about doors that won’t open; are you missing a key or Flashback 2 crapped itself again? Performance is also quite problematic, with constant frame rate drops on a PC that runs Assassin’s Creed Miracle with no issues. On Deck, the game often dropped to 30 FPS and cutscenes would not play.
While I imagine a patch can fix at least SOME of these technical problems [at least allowing for remapping of controls!] and bugs, even if Microids put in a lot of work, this would barely make for a decent indie game. But since this is priced at 40 EUR, it is really hard to recommend in its current state, even if you are a huge fan of Cuisset. Honestly, if you have nostalgia for the original Flashback, go back and play it, there is a quite decent “updated” version on GOG. Instead, if you are looking for a 2.5D game in the same style, I would recommend going for Shadow Complex Remastered instead. Leave Flashback 2 alone, it has suffered enough.
Flashback 2: This attempt at bringing back a 90s franchise falls short because of many gameplay and technical issues, along with shoddy writing. Leave it back in the past. – Damiano Gerli