Saturday, 3 December 2011

Flashback (Amiga)

Flashback Amiga title screen
Today's game is classic multiplatform platformer Flashback. This is one I've definitely played a few times before, but it's been a long while since I last loaded up. Plus I never could get anywhere in the game, so maybe this time I'll see something new.

I'll mostly be looking at the Amiga version as I believe it was the first one released and I'm an obsessed Amiga fan. Plus it's got the best title screen! I don't exactly know what I'm looking at here (an ice sculpture of a concerned owl observing the devastation from an orbital laser strike perhaps), but it certainly looks exciting.

Flashback amiga intro animated gif
The game starts with a mysterious man being chased through a mysterious building by equally mysterious men with laser guns. It's crude looking animation for sure, but it's pretty damn good for something loaded off a single floppy disk in 1992 I reckon. Games typically didn't have cinematics like this back then.

Unbeknownst to his pursuers, our hero survived his crash in the jungle and was merely having a bit of a nap. Unfortunately when he wakes up he knocks over his (mysterious) cube sending it falling off the ledge.

The cutscenes in this remind me a little of Another World (aka Out of this World/Outer World), published by the same company the year before. But apparently the games are unrelated and are actually made by different people entirely. This definitely isn't any kind of sequel (though it did get a sequel... and then a remake).

Sorry, but I can't help doing this whenever I play this. The animation's just so... fluid. They've even added little bits of dirt falling down underneath the ledge as he runs. You can tell that the screen doesn't scroll when I move though.

The Prince of Persia style rotoscoped animation used here was enough of a selling point for the publisher to decorate the back of the game box with half a dozen frames of his sprite and I don't blame them.

The beeping from this sensor was driving me mad so I had to climb down the ledges and take my holocube out of it.

The game is actually a lot like the first two Prince of Persia games so far. This guy moves just like the Prince, except that I have to press a button to make him run instead of vice-versa. Holding the action button also modifies my other movement controls, so that pressing up makes me leap forward instead of jumping upwards, and pressing down lets me climb down a ledge instead of crouching. I'm sure I'll get the hang of it.

I get the feeling that I'm missing something here.

Well I've looked it up and it turns out that Amiga users playing the game from floppy disks have to turn non-essential ingame cutscenes on manually by pressing ctrl+c. I have no clue why they didn't just put that option in the menu with a little warning about the extra loading times.

Hard drive owners get all the cutscenes by default, if they can spare enough space to install all four disks. That's over 3 megabytes of data and my poor A1200 only has 40mb total on its game partition!

That's better. Now instead of a line of text I get to see a pointless little animation of our hero picking up his holocube.

Sega CD
The Sega CD version of the game has speech and rendered cutscenes. I've seen worse but to be honest I prefer the original cutscenes. They have charm to them and they match the style of the game art much better.

Plus they've changed the design of everything for no reason. When the holocube isn't even a cube any more, it makes me think that somehow they've missed the point.

The holocube contained a holographic message from myself, telling me that my name's Conrad and I need to get my ass to New Washington and contact my old friend Ian. It appears that our hero was victim to a mind wipe and has lost his memory.

But he does still have a gun and infinite ammo for it. Handy for dealing with this evil little robots blocking my path. Switching to the gun changes my run button to a shoot button and removes my ability to jump, so I have to be careful about when I use it.

It was self defence! He was about to shoot me, I just pulled the trigger first. Fortunately these assholes go down in one hit, so I didn't have to spend forever unloading bullets into him over and over.

Flashback (SNES)
Most of the other versions of the game have more colours on screen and often have Conrad wearing a red shirt for no reason except to show that they can, but unlike the million different versions of Prince of Persia, they all look pretty similar. Personally I prefer the celshaded look of the original sprites, but the new art looks great too.

It's funny how the original Amiga version of game was basically SNES resolution to begin with; maybe they were thinking ahead and wanted to make it easier to port.

Well throwing a stone at the sensor opened the door alright, but that basically achieved nothing except giving the mutant a chance to shoot me as I jumped down. Unless I'm missing some clever strategy here I probably would have been better off leaving the door closed seeing as I can just sneak around underneath him, climb up to his ledge, and pistol whip the bastard from behind.

Hey he was standing next to a thing! A battery cell, barely visible unless I'm standing close enough for the name to pop up on screen. This'll be worth having, I'm sure of it.


BUT THEN, ON THE NEXT SCREEN DOWN.


The son of a bitch shot me as I was dropping down! I've got a personal shield on me but I can't take many more hits like this. Man, those people that captured and wiped Conrad's memory really did a shitty job of searching him.

Fortunately I had a second of invulnerability afterwards to whip out my piece and pay him back the bullet he lent me, with interest.

Bubbly green stuff is an instant kill and like Prince of Persia there's no checkpoints between screens in this, so I'd have been put right back at the start of the game if I'd wandered too close.

Flashback (SNES)
On the plus side you do get a nice little cutscene of Conrad being disintegrated alive.

A recharge machine, awesome! I can stick that cell in here and get it charged up, and refill my shield while I'm at it. It's like having an infinite stash of those health potions in Prince of Persia... which I'm going to stop mentioning now, because I'm starting to get on my own nerves.


Another cutscene. It seems that everything Conrad interacts with brings up a new animation. Well, besides picking up stones. Stones are too boring to get cutscenes.

I tried sticking my credit card into the machine too to see if I could put fill that up too, but no luck.

Going up led to a dead end and a wounded man. He wants my help and hasn't tried to shoot me yet, so I'll try to give him a hand. He needs me to find a lost teleporter device so he can get himself to safety. So if I see one around (and I can't find a way to teleport myself out of this shithole) then I will certainly return it to him.

Otherwise this is a total dead end, so I guess I'll backtrack to that room where I got shot while dropping down and see what's on the left side of that.

Man, I do not like running across flickery battery powered forcefields, but it's not like I have any other way to get over.

It's pretty fortunate I found that cell actually or else I would've have been able to active this bridge and I'd be trapped here forever. Then again it's pretty unlucky to have your mind wiped and to crash in a jungle so I guess it equals out.

Wow, I was not expecting to find an actual save point. Okay it's not a permanent game save, more like a temporary checkpoint, but at least it means I don't have to worry about having to replay the game from the start next time I fuck up.

Going up from here led me to a basic puzzle (take the stone from the sensor to lower the lift) and the teleporter device I've been looking for, so I suppose I'll have to head all the way back to the wounded man now. It's only like 8 screens away, that's not so bad.


LATER.


Gonna see if I can distract this guy with my stone.

The poor mutant turned around to see what just landed behind him and never saw me coming. It might not be very honourable to shoot a man in the back, but it sure beats getting shot in the face.

That's interesting, this door requires an ID card to open. The very same ID card I receieved as a reward for returning the teleporter to the wounded man! Conrad is basically the luckiest man alive.

Well okay he didn't exactly give me the ID card, more like accidentally leave it behind when he teleported away. But I'm sure he'd want me to make good use of it.

And then Conrad drops down a hole and falls to his death. Lucky I found that save point really.

I probably should have climbed down the hole carefully and dropped down to one of those ledges. From there I'll be able to find out what happens when a thrown stone triggers a laser turret sensor while two enemies are standing right in front of it.

It's always nice to find a game where enemies can shoot other enemies.

This guy is offering me an anti-gravity belt so I can throw myself down this chasm safely. I don't really want to throw myself down a chasm but it's not like I have anything better to do.

Trouble is he's expecting money in exchange, but luckily I found just enough cash scattered around the jungle to pay for it. Conrad's too lazy to make a rope from vines so I might as well buy the thing.

You know, it occurs to me that I should probably have tested this thing out before I jumped.


SOON, ON LEVEL 2.


This jump at the start of level two had me totally stuck years ago when I first played the game, because the way you pull it off is totally counter intuitive (and I didn't read the manual).

You have to hold down the run button, pull left to start him jogging, and then let go of everything but the run button. As long as that button's held down Conrad will automatically keep running by himself and then throw himself at the first ledge he sees.

Oh shit, jet pack troops with guns, and they're trying to kill me! Unlike the enemies on the surface, these guys take several hits to kill, and my poor shield is taking a beating from the incoming fire.

They eventually knocked me off screen and hovered across to finish me off. So I stepped back over onto this screen and pistol whipped them to death as they followed me back. The combat in this isn't so great to be honest.

It turns out that these guys were here because (by pure chance) I've stumbled upon my friend Ian's house in New Washington! And he has a machine to give me my memory back! So lucky.

The US version of the game is called 'Flashback - The Quest For Identity', so I have to wonder if anyone was disappointed when they found out that the quest for his lost identity is resolved right at the start of level 2.

It turns out that Conrad was investigating a secret invasion by alien shapeshifters, who have been walking amongst humans undetected... until now!

Conrad knew he was onto something big here, but he didn't feel like writing any of it down or sorting through his video footage, so he just dumped the contents of his brain and emailed it to his friend, leaving a holocube message in his pocket to remind him.

This soon turned out to be bloody smart idea, as five minutes later the aliens finally caught him and wiped his memory. Fortunately it didn't occur to them to search or restrain him, so he was able to just stand up and walk off to steal that hoverbike in the intro, with his shield, pistol and holocube message still in his pocket.

And that's the end of the eponymous flashback.

Flashback (SNES)
Now Conrad has his mind back and we can carry on where he left off. First we need to get to Earth, but it won't be cheap.

Ian suggests that I could enter a game show and win tickets, which seems like a foolproof plan, but first I need to get some forged papers. I guess that ID card I acquired earlier isn't going to cut it.

     
There's another weird difference between versions of the game. Console versions tend to have tiny trains. More colours on screen, but diminutive locomotives.

Okay first I need to find Jack the forger and all I know about him is that is he isn't at this stop.

Flashback (SNES)
The city of New Washington has four stations, each confusingly named after an Earth continent. I'm at Asia right now so I know he's not here. My first thought is that I should check a bar, and there's one over by America station.

But wait, on this SNES map they've changed it to a cafe? C'mon Nintendo it's not like Conrad's going out to get drunk.

My visit to the bar lead to another thing which lead to another thing, sending me riding a few laps around the city. Long story short, it seems that I'm not getting these papers until I earn some cash, and this time I won't be finding any just lying around on a tree branch. Conrad's luck is wearing out.

This job center will be my new HQ until I've earned enough money to enter this game show. It's nice to finally see another save machine around. Shame it's not an actual save machine, so I can't actually turn the game off yet.

C'mon Flashback, you could at least give me one of those ridiculously long passwords where the 1s look like ls and the 0s look like Os. It did give me a code for the level after I finished the anti-grav jump, but that was a long while ago now.

Okay time for my first job... wow, it's literally a package delivery quest. Each of the four areas is pretty tiny though so finding these places shouldn't be too hard when I get there.

Flashback Amiga Mission Validated screen
I had to use the machine a second time and insert my work permit to confirm my job, but it was worth it to hear the bleep bleep bloop sound it makes.


ONE TRIP AROUND THE SUBWAY SYSTEM LATER.


     
Another change for the SNES version; the 'Death Tower' game show has become the more kid-friendly 'Cyber Tower' show. It's still probably just as lethal though. But it's my only hope of getting to Earth without doing package delivery runs for a year.

Anyway I just got that parcel delivered so I'm headed back down to the job center for the next task.


A FEW JOBS LATER.


Slowly but surely I'd been working my way up to more important jobs. I went from escorting a V.I.P through a restricted zone, to hunting down a cyborg by showing a photograph around, and now they've entrusted the entire city to my skills.

I was given just 90 seconds to replace a defective computer card before the reactor powering the city exploded, but... well I've never been that great with time limits. They make me rush, cause me to make dumb mistakes.

I'd managed to run halfway across this room before I realised that the lift wasn't at this floor right now, and apparently that anti-G unit's only good for one jump. My personal shield can save me from a lot of things, but falling three floors is a little too much for it.

And now everyone's dead. Well it's their own dumb fault for hiring a complete stranger who's too young to drink and has absolutely no experience with fixing fusion reactors, then sending him in alone.

But it was definitely my own dumb fault for being distracted with my typing that caused me to miss the fact that the 'PRESS F1 TO CONTINUE' screen had a timer ticking down. Fail to press F1 in time and it's Game Over, your temporary save permanently erased. Each level has a password so it's not like you lose all your progress, but you definitely lose all your progress in the level you're on.

Man, we've come a long way since 1992.


LATER.


This next job seems pretty straightforward; a part of the city has been taken over by mutants and I have to kill them all. Seems a bit harsh perhaps, but these guys have been shooting me on sight all game so I'm not going to lose much sleep over it.


EVENTUALLY.


Okay turns out I was wrong, I'm going to get no sleep because I'll be up all night trying to finish this damn level.

Conrad's friend Ian gave him a forcefield earlier which I can use to deflect gunfire, but I have to activate it at just the right time to protect him, and I suck at it. Plus these mutants have their own forcefields too! It takes me a second to draw my weapon before I can fight back as well, so I'm incredibly vulnerable right now. It's like getting the timing right on the sword fights in Prince of Persia all over again, except worse.

And once I've killed this guy, there's the guy down there to take out... and so on.


300,000 RETRIES LATER.


Okay, that must be around 8 enemies I've killed now. I just have to leap this bomb, shoot that guy, climb up to active that sensor and...

I forgot to hold the action button grab the ledge as I fell. Instant death. Back to the save point.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK!

FUCK.


SEVERAL MORE RETRIES LATER.


Okay, I went all the way down and reached a locked door. This side room has a white box at the end which has to be the key. So this guy is the one thing stopping me from getting inside. All I have to do is kill him without losing my last hit point and I'm through, I can finally save.

It's not likely but it's possible, and I am playing as the luckiest person on Titan... let's see if I can manage this one small miracle.

Nope. That's all folks.


I really want to like this game, even when it's making me ride trains and deliver parcels, but the challenging awkward combat combined with the rarity of save points and recharge devices makes it a real bastard to play sometimes. If it saved after every room I'd probably be hooked on this game right to the end, but I just don't have the patience to keep replaying 6 or 7 rooms in a row.

It's too good not to get a gold star though. Even if I never get past that damn mission, it's cool just to run around the jungle at the start, jumping between ledges and shooting enemies. Plus I could always try it on easy mode.

3 comments:

  1. This game is one of the greatest in the action-adventure genre, IMHO. I remember beating it at my 15, I guess, and it was beyond epic. Even now I play it from time to time, and it's still as great.

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  2. Wow, it still looks good after twenty years!

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