Saturday, December 8, 2012

Game Review: Flashback (The Quest for Identity)


Before I start I would like to say that when I originally started the blip.tv channel and this blog I wanted to play games I haven’t played before, and write up synopsis/reviews for each of the games.


So why haven’t I written anything for previously Let's Play'd games? Well I feel that I would be biased. I have too much love for the “Tomb Raider” series to actually say anything bad or point out things that are broken, assuming of course, that I can even look for said issues without my judgments being clouded, and the same could be said with reviews for the "Myst" series.

I decided that for my reviews I will wait a week or two to let the overall experience sink in before actually writing up my view on it...


Now we can begin.





Background


“Flashback” was created by Delphine Software International (DSI), which was based in Paris. They ran for a good 16 years with about 15 released games and 2 never finished due to Bankruptcy. (However, a prototype ROM of one of the games, which was meant to be the 3rd game in the Flashback series, was leaked with all levels and some glitches) Which finally made them close their doors in 2004.

This game in particular was the 7th released game with Paul Cuisset as the Lead Writer/Designer, who oddly did not take part in the 6th released game with the same sort of engine entitled “Another World”. Paul Cuisset was the in-house programmer and designer, but with the engine being almost exactly the same as the previous game not much needed to be done.

I know this guy isn’t Paul Cuisset. This is √Čric Chahi the head behind “Another World”

Flashback was originally released for the Amiga and ported to multiple other consoles and formats.   I first came across this game as a rental a year after its release in 1993. In fact, it was the first game I ever rented. (Short version: Family was poor, and I didn’t get a Sega Genesis until Christmas of ’93 during the bundle that came with Sonic 2) By the time I did rent it, the previous renters ended up losing the manual for the game, and coupled with young minded naivety… I had no idea what the fuck was going on, and was far too confused to get to the first save point.   I ended up purchasing the game for SNES while in high school with hopes to play through it and make it feel like I have accomplished something that I haven't in my childhood. However, I haven’t touched it until more recently which is when I ran into one of my pet peeves.

Editing, *insert Nintendo of America and their editing rituals with every released game here in America* the edits in this game were rather minor, but if you know me then you know how I can’t even stand the slightest changes sometimes. As I mentioned in the LP videos, I decided to use a Sega Genesis emulator and a ROM.



Plot:

The game starts off with a cutscene showing a man jump onto a futuristic hover-bike while being chased by two men in brown.  Although, he doesn’t get away for long as one of the men seem to have commandeered a larger ship and started pursuit only to shoot down the escapee?



This is when you realize that the men in brown don’t seem too bright as they don’t check on whether or not this guy is dead for very long…
Kind of a stupid decision on their part, but you know I’m kind of used to bad guys being like hitmen who always double tap, or put two bullets center mass and one in the head. The game literally gives you no back-story, so playing this again recently; I understand why I found this game so difficult as a child.

This games entire plot, to me, seems borrowed heavily from a John Carpenter movie from 1988, but nothing is known whether or not this is true. However, if you know the movie called “They Live” then you should be able to compare and contrast quite easily.



At the start of the game you see the main character wake up in a jungle that he crashed in, and no memory as to anything that happened. Due to either the crash, or something else… Who knows?

Because THERE IS NO BACKSTORY!
(Unless you count the comic that came with the game, and was missing in my purchase)


Some exploring occurs and minor gameplay mechanics are introduced until you find the plot device, which comes in a nice little holographic cube.
The cube itself opens to show a holographic message left by yourself which explains that your name is Conrad, and to look for a friend of yours named “Ian” in a place called New Washington who will explain ZA WARUDO, or in this case the rest of the missing backstory (Hopefully).



After some more exploring, and accounting you find yourself in a rather dank and dirty area of what seems to be a sewer? I guess?
Regardless it’s a short trip to find your friend Ian who is talking with guys who try to kill you.

The dude works in sewer science. Must be a depressing job.


Ian hooks you up into a chair from “The Matrix” and tells you that you left your memories recorded onto a computer… You know… Just in case your ESP was correct about you getting amnesia in the near future.


OH SHIT PLOT!… Only took like an hour of gameplay!



We learn through the sequence that you found some sort of science project that measures the density of molecules, and other sciencey things… But with this wearable science you were able to determine that the planet was being taken over by aliens.


Oh yeah, and he’s a fucking FBI guy. (I didn’t know this until after looking on Wikipedia, but it was confirmed in the comic)



Conrad wasn’t very good at Metal Gear (Like me) and continued to fail his hide and gather information checks when the aliens realized that someone was looking a bit too awkward. However, he has a slightly higher than average intelligence and was able to figure out that he should record his memories, and send them to his friend.   This is where the exposition should’ve ended since he recorded his memories and shipped them off.

But lasers, and guns.





WTF! He’s…




...Not strapped down?
What the fuck is with these dudes?
How do they… Do they know how to breathe air?
Are they really this fucking stupid to just wipe a dude’s memory to make sure he doesn’t blab about shit, and leave him…?
...ALIVE AND UNGUARDED?!
LET ALONE NOT STRAPPED TO A FUCKING CHAIR?!?!

O-Oh god… Why??? I... Fuck it… I dwelled on this long enough.

I do have a far bigger issue with this sequence that I will get into later…



Back on track now, Conrad ...escapes... which leads to the scene in the beginning of the game of him crashing in the Jungle.
Now with a newfound sense of purpose, he now wants to end these shapeshifters. This is when I learn that he’s not on Earth…


 Oh yeah, we’re on Titan. Saturn’s moon. At least I know that now thanks to Wikipedia.



Anyways, the only way back to Earth is to do accounting. It’s a shame that you need a TON of money to get to Earth, or as Ian puts it, an astronomical amount of money…  
Get it?








IT'S A PUN!








HAHAHA!







HHAAHAHFDSALKJFDALKFDSG!


but there is one way of getting to Earth quick!




MORE ACCOUNTING!

Actually, pretty close to it, but first you’re pointed in the direction of some shady ass motherfucker who can get you papers that say you’re taking part in a TV show competition based on killing dudes… Like actually killing dudes. Not fake weapon bullshit. The real hard-edge shit…

Like crack, which this guy is trying to score with the money you give him for the papers.

How do you get the money to buy the papers? That’s fucking easy. GET A JOB! What job do you find?


FUCKING QUESTING, WUT?!

Insert about a 2 hour length of gameplay here, and one fucking annoying ass quest there, and eventually you get to Death Tower… Or Cyber Tower on SNES (Fucking Nintendo of America)



So this is the game show...

The object here is to get through all the traps and kill everything as you try to find your way to the top. Nothing much else happens on this planet, but you make it to Earth, and find out that the “cops” are entirely corrupt, but you escape into a taxi.



Somehow the taxi driver knows exactly where to find the aliens hideout.

I personally figured they’d have it at a Piggly Wiggly, but… I guess a tittybar would make more sense.
Maybe Conrad wanted to enjoy a little bit of pleasure before getting back to work? Idk, but what I do know is that this place is full of Death Tower guys. Regardless, what kind of evil tittybar would it be if it didn’t have a secret passage?


Or without conveniently laid plot exposition?

So upon falling down a duct, and getting some useful info about the plans of the aliens, our hero Conrad…



Gets caught, and is held for interrogation, but then the guards get the idea that they should probably kill you instead. Assuming, of course, you don’t run out of the room to look for a weapon… OH WAIT-!

That's exactly what happens!


After some well placed keys and exploration we make it to the first Morph enemy.




These guys are a pain in the ass at first, but get extremely easy when you understand the pattern, but if they are in groups of 2 or more then tuck your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye because you’re fucked.

Well after some exploration and trap evading you make it to a dead end with a machine. The machine teleports you...



...to the purple/pink bubble planet!
Because?

FUCKING CONVENIENCE!
Any clues as to plot at this point?

I personally don’t fucking know. All I know is that the aliens are stupid enough to lead him to their planet purely on accident… Assuming this is their planet. There’s no inclination as to what the fuck is even happening. I feel like I’m just walking down a long, difficult hallway.

Hey guy! I'll save you... Just... Tell me how please?


OH HEY LOOK! IT’S A HUMAN!? Well so much with helping him out though.

After opening the door to let the guy loose a Morph shows up to immediately kill the man.

Well that was pretty useless right? Not really, since with his dying breath the man hands us a very odd shaped box with the word “Danger” on it.


“Why thank you kind sir. I would be glad to handle your dangerous, yet convenient, plot device as I’m being shot at and thoroughly raped by shapeshifting abominations.”



Oh… More plot? It seems as though the eye device that pointed out the aliens was left behind by the dead man to get someone to investigate and contact authorities. Well… Conrad found it, and he works for the Future FBI… Does that count?

Anyways, the Aliens seem to work via hive mind with a brain that tells them what to do, so clearly we have to destroy it before they kill all the humans. At least the man’s plan is in action after…



1200 days?! What the hell has this guy been doing? So he found out the aliens were going to kill humans on day 519, and about 681 days later the aliens STILL haven’t done anything bad?

I’m going out on a limb here, and say what if…
What if the man was here for those 519 days and went batshit from lack of food, and contact with the outside world that he mistranslated what the aliens said?
Then when the Morphs realized that this man just sent out a distress signal of sorts about this false issue, and the Morphs had a feeling that someone would want to take them out?
So in defense they start going after Conrad when they realize that he was the poor schmuck who found the false report?

This game is clearly about murder and mass destruction of a race of aliens that only wanted to be like everyone else and live a normal life.
So Conrad just kind of nonchalantly makes it to their planet and starts systematically killing them all off




one



by


one...


Conrad is officially pure douche liquid...

No… Not pure douche liquid…

He’s used… Used douche liquid.

What kind of man does this sort...

Of...



O-oh wait 1940’s…
Right…
Bad times.



Well… I guess all that’s really left is blowing up the planets core because a voice in your head says so,


Quite literally.


...and doing away with the rest of the Jewish allegory Morphs.

We’re left with a timer for the planets destruction and a race to the very convenient spaceship that was left here.



The final scenes of the game show the last we see of Conrad as he explains that he doesn’t know where in space he is, or how to get back to Earth. So in order to pass time he decides…




To take a really long nap.






So what do I think of the plot after playing the game?

Fucking atrocious!

Just as bad as the movie it was influenced from. The lack of backstory, and drive to even get through the first stage was completely missing, and had some rather terrible pacing.

However, that said, at the time the game was released?



The plot pacing would’ve been completely fine… What with the limitations of the medium…
I mean most games at that time that had a decent pacing were games that told you to look at specific pages in the manual.

You know, I’m willing to completely overlook that, but what I mainly have trouble with (which I mentioned before) is a key part to the plot.



The entire plot is based on your memory loss in the beginning, so not realizing this plot hole annoyed me a lot. I may be nitpicking, but this! This is something that should NOT have been overlooked.
Let me give you an example as to what I mean. Let’s say this picture…


...is the flow of time.

In part A you're having a good time at a party or something and go home to rest and watch TV ending the day with writing a diary.

In part B you get ready for bed when some psycho busts into your home, knocks you out, and takes you to his special place.

Part C you wake up with no recollection of A or B, but you find your home thanks to the police who killed the psycho and saved you. You get home after some much needed therapy, and find your diary talking about what you did in Part A…



This is how it should go, but in the game you clearly remember being shot (be it tranquilizers, or bullets?) and picked up by aliens which in the example explained above… Would be part B.

Granted during the LP recording I noticed it almost immediately, and had to think about it more while I’m typing this out just to see whether or not I was trippin’ balls and imagined it. Obviously I wasn’t.



Plot Score: 4 out of 10
I may have been nitpicky a bit with that last part, but most of it was based on how much dumb luck Conrad seemed to have, no real motivations or drives, and what backstory I found in the comic that originally came with the game still had plot issues as to logic.




Gameplay Synopsis:  In this section I’m going to talk briefly about the controls, and logic behind learning how to use the controls through gameplay.


At the start of the game it gives you unlimited time to figure out that you can jump straight up, duck, roll, and draw/holster your weapon. However, without a manual to explain button combinations you’re basically screwed. Sure you learn the button to pick up items, check inventory, use selected inventory items, but the combos are where it’s at, and how the animations work in different situations.

Now, before I recorded the first stage for the Let’s Play I was talked into playing it, and looking back now I was kinda glad that I did. Mainly for the fact that I learned how to use all of the buttons, like running, or a running jump. Of course, the latter I learned more about it out of sheer luck when I made it to the next stage in the LP video where I learned that you could tap the direction you want to run in, instead of holding it, and if there is a gap/ledge you will automatically jump and grab.

I always thought you needed to hold UP along with the direction you were holding, but didn’t understand the ledge grab bit. There is also a part where doing safety drops to grab a lower ledge is needed or would be easier to get past a few parts if you knew how to do it. Sadly, I didn’t learn the ledge grab until the middle of the last stage, and tried it out of dumb luck and sheer aggravation.

Speaking of aggravation… There were quite a few parts that took me HOURS to get the hang of. One part was a section on planet Morph where you need to fight 3 aliens at a time. It took me a short time to realize that they don’t like to travel 2 screens away, so I was able to systematically lure and kill each one. However, with a very limited shield and no way to recharge between each one made the fight unbearably difficult, although that feeling when I finally did it made my fucking night so much better. (even if I did die from stupidity a few seconds later)



Then, immediately after, there was the locked door with no switch, button, or anything to open it. The door was the lower door that held the button that kept the man inside trapped.

Through the entire game this has never been a thing. You never have to shoot a door to open it, but for this one single door you just need to get pissed enough to want to shoot the fuck out of everything. At least that was what I did.

Gameplay Score: 9 out of 10
Yes it is pretty hard to get used to, but once you get the hang of it…




Sound:

The sounds in this game are so fucking catchy. To this day I still have the audio clip for finding objects replaying in my head when I successfully find my misplaced wallet or random things I need at any given moment.

But the music! Really really great! Even though the synths used to create the one recurring track is very minimalistic in the composition. It really conveys the feeling of the unknown. Granted in my LPs I do play music over top of it like I normally do, but I’m rather good at differentiating mixed noises. I was mostly paying attention the music in game.

Creature noises, and ambient noises are extremely well made, and help flesh out the feel of everything.

Sound Score: 9 out of 10
Seriously amazing… Mad props to the sound designer.




Graphics:

Now this is really key to the game. The entire game was done using rotoscoped animation. Characters, Backdrops… Everything! The entire set pieces were done by hand, and it shown with how smooth everything went together.

Granted Delphine is pretty good at doing pixel hunting type of stuff

That elevator blended right in before I tried the "action" button


But regardless of the pixel hunting aspect and sometimes trying to find credits on the ground, it didn’t do anything to cause harm to the game over all.

In fact, when this game is talked about, people still think this game is a sequel to “Another World” purely based on the rotoscoping style, even though they have nothing to do with one another.

Graphics Score: 10 out of 10
This is some beautiful shit for a cartridge game.



Lasting Appeal:

Lastly, this game is what, in my opinion, paved the way for games like the original Oddworld series. Even the creator of Ico (PS2) has said that this game was what helped influence him in creating that title.

Sure it has its moments of hair pulling frustration, or controller throwing anger, but in the end (for me at least) it’s a game that I can easily see myself in playing over and over again.

It has everything… even a slight Doctor Who type of plot going on for it (and yes I mean the bad era of Who)

Controls are tough to find out, but not too hard. The controls during combat are pretty bad, but overall this game is completely enjoyable.



Final Tally:




Today I will post up the last 3 videos of TR2, and probably a week or two from now I will be getting my new mixer, and immediately making the Season 2 finale.

So thanks to all my viewers, and you readers for spending your time with me doing my crazy shenanigans, and I’ll see you on the next Let’s Play.

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