…FLASHBACK

When I had my Sega Mega Drive, as a kid, I remember playing a game about a man who crash lands on an alien planet, and I remember that the character had amnesia or something like it.

I couldn’t remember the title, and looking at a list of Sega Mega Drive titles on wikipedia wasn’t all that much help either. Then I stumbled across an article of 40 forgotten Sega Mega Drive games, and there was a game listed as Flashback: The Quest for Identity, and looking at the pictures I knew that that was the game.

I spent hours playing it as a kid, and for the time it was really quite good both in story and in the actual gameplay. When they made the game they actually rotoscoped real actors, so the movement of the character you play really does have a fluidity and realism. It was quite a hard game to play, as the puzzle did genuinely frustrate as you tried to figure them out and advance the story.

This is how the game starts up:

Here is an excellent review of the game from Review Centre which you can read in full by visiting http://www.reviewcentre.com/reviews98595.html:

You wake up with a thumping headache lying on the warm, damp floor. Coming to your senses, you slowly open your eyes to discover what is causing the pleasant warm sensation surging all over your body. It’s the Sun – not a familiar one though – an alien Sun whose beams are only occasionally broken by the thick canopy of leaves and branches towering high above you. Who are you? And how did you get to this dense rain forest? Scrambling to your feet, you notice a small metal object on the floor. Brushing aside the insects crawling over it, you inadvertently activate the object – it’s a holo-cube and it plays out a pre-recorded message that tells you to get to an underground city to meet a contact who will fill the gaps in your mind, and help you unearth a conspiracy that has put the future of all mankind at risk.

That’s where Flashback: The Quest for Identity starts. After the impressive animated intro sequence which you wouldn’t really expect on a 16 bit console, the game begins. You don’t know what to do or where to go, and after a few minutes getting to grips with the controls, this side scrolling action adventure will suck you in too. You are Conrad Hart, and only after battling your way through the opening jungle level (and making your way cautiously past various traps and puzzles), do you finally get the chance to discover just what the hell is going on. Top level conspiracies, brain washing, memory erasing, kidnappings, assassination attempts… it’s all here.

At heart, Flashback is a very clever platform game viewed from the side. The game doesn’t scroll in a traditional sense – it loads up static screens that change when you walk off either side, and each screen features a number of platforms. The clever thing is that these platforms must be reached by solving puzzles such as collecting keys from other areas of the level (to open doors) or by throwing stones to distract enemies.

Even though you are equipped with a Berretta hand gun from the very start of the adventure (that seemingly has infinite ammo!), your real weapon in Flashback is cunning and stealth. Some of the traps you will encounter are impervious to your weapon (such as automatic lasers and ‘fire’ traps); although the intelligent enemies will go down under fire, but have the ability to fire back and take cover.

The charm of Flashback though, is its ingenuity. In a time of basic platform games like Sonic, something like Flashback was truly groundbreaking. It is the pseudo sequel to Another World – the Amiga based action adventure from several years prior to Flashback, and this is evident in the style of the game and also the obstacles you encounter. The thing is, Flashback’s story driven gameplay and reliance on player skill is unparalleled in any game of the 16 bit era. The adventure will take you to an underground city, complete with a subway system, bars, administration districts, and even a job centre (where you have to get a job to raise cash!); you will be a contestant on a Running Man style game show in order to win a ticket on a space cruiser back to Earth; you’ll battle corrupt cops on Earth, and ultimately (if you’re good enough) put paid to alien plans to enslave the Human race. Along the way you’ll be dodging bullets, hurling yourself across chasms, rolling under doors, harassing people for information, and meeting up with old comrades.

Even though the visuals are leagues ahead of anything else from the time, what with the grimy industrial look pulled off to spectacular effect, you’ll hardly notice because the adventure flies along at such a pace. It’s like a novel or a film, where just as things start to get a bit mundane, something pops up to grab your interest again – be it a new object or a character you meet offering up some new information. All of the levels are markedly different in appearance, and all seem to have had lots of love and attention lavished on them. The Earth based cityscape’s in particular are very good, and the underground city is suitably Blade-runner in appearance. The real show stealer though, has got to be the animation. The animation of the enemies and in the cut scenes is very good, but the standard of movement implemented for the main playable character is unrivalled in any side scrolling platformer of the same era, or even the 32 bit era. Conrad has a mind boggling amount of moves at his disposal – rolling, running, various types of jump, hanging off ledges, pulling himself up etc., all with superb fluidity. You can even chain commands to make Conrad combine moves, so you can pull yourself up onto a ledge and have Conrad immediately pull out his gun ready to fire. Likewise, you can roll then shoot, or drop off a ledge and immediately fire. Of course, with so much attention paid to real-world moves and physics, you also feel that Conrad has a real sense of mortality. Ergo, hang and drop off a ledge that is just a tad too high, and Conrad will hit the ground like a lead balloon – Goodnight Vienna.

And here is another from gamefaqs which you can read in full by visiting http://www.gamefaqs.com/segacd/922267-flashback-the-quest-for-identity/reviews/review-105940:

“Am I the only one who bought this?”

I used to play this game like everyday when it came out in 1994. It used to be my favorite game for a long time. Every level was cool, so there was no level where I was like, “aw damn” when I got to it. I played through all of them. If anybody played this game it was probably in 1993 when it was out on the Genesis or Super Nintendo. The keyword here is “if,” because I really don’t think anybody played this.
I had it later on the Sega CD. Early in the Sega CD’s life most of the titles were either slightly updated ports of existing Genesis games (i.e. Ecco, Spider-Man vs. Kingpin, Flashback, etc.) or FMV games, which Sega apparently insisted would have a big place in gaming’s future (by the way, they sucked).

Since this game is basically the same as it was on the Genesis and Super Nintendo, there are only a few changes to note. But since I have to get this to 400 words I’ll just assume that you never played the earlier versions and know nothing about the game. So I’ll start from the beginning,

Flashback: The Quest for Identity, or just Flashback in some countries, is a action-adventure/platform game that was released on the PC, Mac, Acorn, Archimedes, 3DO, Amiga, Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega CD, Super Nintendo, and Atari Jaguar. Pretty big list huh? It was made by a French company called Delphine Software who, as of 2004, are no longer in business.

When you first play it you’ll probably compare it to earlier Prince of Persia titles. Both games feature detailed backdrops and fluid rotoscoped animation. I think the similarities were only coincidental though, since Flashback’s animation was created through a much harder method. Besides, in Prince of Persia you only got a sword. You get a gun in this one…

There’s about six or seven levels in total. They all get longer and harder as you go on, so don’t think you’ll just blow through them. Along the way you’ll get a number of sci-fi themed items to help you on your adventure. The adventure itself is about a guy named Conrad Hart, who works for the Galaxia Bureau of Investigation. During the course of his investigations he finds out that there is a group of aliens called Morphs that plan on taking over Earth by disguising themselves as government officials. He has a special pair of glasses that allow him to see which people are in fact aliens (kind of like in that movie with Roddy Piper, They Live).

With this knowledge he goes and records a backup of his memory onto a holocube, just in case he should be discovered. That’s basically exactly what happens, as he is captured and his memory erased. He eventually escapes from his Morph captors but gets stranded in the jungles of Titan. This is where you take control of him and the game starts. From there you must regain your memory and stop the invasion. I won’t tell you how it ends, so you can play through it and join the ranks of the ten other people who may have completed this game.
Like I said before, the Sega CD version is a port of the Genesis version. It’s upgrades include FMV cut scenes for storyline progression and when you pick up items, actual voice acting, and a CD quality soundtrack. That’s basically it. The graphics are about the same. Except I think in the Super Nintendo version Conrad had on a red shirt, in this one he has a white shirt. Don’t know what that was about.

The game was received pretty well, and I think it’s in the Guiness Book of World Records as the best selling French game. A sequel was made but that one wasn’t very good. There was also going to be a Game Boy Advance game called Flashback Legends, I think it was supposed to come out sometime in 2002 but it never surfaced. Something else that is interesting about this game, is that it started out as a licensed adaption of the Godfather. Now how the hell it went from that to the futuristic cyberpunk game it was released as I have no idea, but I read that on Wikipedia so take that for what you will.

If you have a working Sega CD (that’s a stretch there) I would recommend you try to find this game.

If you want to play the game, it is available for free to play on your PC at THIS website. I assume that it is legal, but use your own judgement and common sense in deciding to download it. It does appear to be legal however.

I played two excellent games as a kid, this one and Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation.

I hope that one day this game is upgraded to the Playstation Network, or remade. It was (and is) a fantastic game, and I urge you all to play it. For an old game, it provides thrills and spills, intrigue and mystery, and all delivered in glorious non-HD 16-bit!

The wikipedia for Flashback, for your information:

Flashback, released as Flashback: The Quest for Identity in the US, is a cinematic platformer developed by Delphine Software of France, a now defunct company, and published by U.S. Gold in United States and Europe, and Sunsoft in Japan.

The game was directed, written/designed and partially programmed by Paul Cuisset, who had previously created the adventure game Future Wars. It is listed in the Guinness World Records as the best-selling French game of all time.

Flashback was initially released for the Amiga in 1992, then ported to MS-DOS, Acorn Archimedes, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and Super Nintendo in 1993. CD-ROM versions of Flashback for the Mega-CD, 3DO, CD-i, MS-DOS, Apple Macintosh and the FM Towns were released during 1994 and 1995, together with a cartridge version for the Atari Jaguar in 1995.

Originally advertised as a “CD-ROM game on a cartridge”, the game features fully hand-drawn backdrops and all animation is rotoscoped, giving movements a fluidity unusual for the time, similar to that of the earlier Prince of Persia. The rotoscoping technique of Flashback was invented independently of Prince of Persia, and used a more complicated method of first tracing video images onto transparencies.

N.B. When playing the game on your PC, use your arrow keys to move left and right, the up arrow to jump across gaps and up onto ledges, and hold down CTRL to run.

Do you have a game from your childhood that your nostalgic about, that you’d like to write an article about? Or something else from your childhood you want to share that seems so outdated now but was so awesome at the time?

email at contactfringescientist@gmail.com or contact me on twitter as @fringescientist

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One thought on “…FLASHBACK

  1. Love this game! Went through a similar process to you in trying to find it via a Wiki search for Megadrive games. Then I stumbled across your post – thanks!

    I remember it being seriously hard for my young brain. Even some of the basic platform moves — such as jumping over holes — had to be timed exactly or you’re done.

    I loved the way it gave you no real help either. Unlike lots of games where the solution is pretty much spelled out in front of you, this made you actually think.

    I remember swinging a cage to break out and get released. Not even sure that I ever completed this game!

    Happy days 😉

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