Flashback HD was built from the ground up, opting to use Unreal graphics and Havok physics instead of the original rotoscoped cell animation. Taking control of Conrad B. Hart – an agent of the Galaxia Bureau of Investigation – you move through a satisfying variety of levels, shooting mutants, drones and cyborgs in efforts to uncover an alien conspiracy and regain your memories.
Flashback was renowned for the fluidity of its animations, and Conrad’s movements once demonstrated the height of technical achievement in side-scrolling games. In Flashback HD, however, Conrad handles awkwardly and sluggishly – his movements are imprecise and having to become to a completely still to jump up prevents the game from ever feeling slick. It can also make navigating the levels incredibly frustrating, since Conrad occasionally magnetizes himself to the ground beneath a grapple point, even if you don’t intend to climb.
The shooting mechanics have been mapped to the right stick, and – unlike the original – you can fire in a 360-degree arc. You are also given the use of a shield, activated with the left trigger, which absorbs bullets up to three times before needing to recharge. Enemies have access to both the shield and the 360-degree firing range, so it makes encounters with humanoid foes feel like stilted rock-paper-scissors combat. If you want to avoid rushing in all guns blazing, you are given the option to sneak up on your opponents and assassinate them. Unfortunately, our attempts to assassinate often ended with us glitching past the enemy and giving away our position, or spending so long waiting for the assassination prompt to appear that the enemy turned around and spotted us.
The level design in Flashback is its saving grace – some of the environments you explore are beautifully rendered, and the Unreal engine really does the world justice. The Death Tower – a reality TV show that has you fighting for your life before a live audience – is inspired. The limited puzzle elements in the game are challenging and offer a welcome break from the combat, and sniffing out collectibles hidden around the world is a rewarding distraction from the game’s more frustrating flaws.
Flashback HD tries to recapture what made the original great, but the move to modern engines has done more harm than good – the narrative of the game has a lot to offer, so it’s a shame the buggy controls make fighting through it such a chore.