Published on November 30th, 2023 | by Gareth Newnham
Flashback 2 Review
Summary: Flashback 2 is a slapdash sequel that trades heavily on nostalgia, while misunderstanding everything that made its predecessor a classic.
Fairly early on in Flashback 2, it’s revealed that you’re not playing as the original Conrad from the genre-defining Genesis game, but a kind of photocopy copy of him.
That pretty much sums up Flashback 2 in its entirety. It’s a cheap imitation. The pieces all look right from a distance but spend more than five minutes with it, and you’ll realize that it’s more a hasty Christmas party arse print than a painstaking recreation and continuation of a beloved classic.
Flashback 2 puts you straight back into the bright white sneakers of the first game’s hero Conrad, who wakes up up to find himself back on Titan with no clue how he got there. The only thing he knows is that he needs to save his friend Ian from the clutches of a sinister corporation that rather conveniently has a base of operations, including its own prison on the terraformed planet. This kicks off another galaxy-spanning adventure for our terminally amnesiac hero.
One thing Conrad has found this time, though is a voice, and seems to be making up for being a silent protagonist in his previous adventure by explaining everything that is happening in excruciating detail at every single moment. If he’s not making some lame quip or talking to his gun, which is now home to an AI, he’ll helpfully inform you there are no guards around, he’s sneaking into a facility, or he’ll meet a new character and recap the plot, over and over and over again.
I usually don’t care about silent protags getting voice acting; it’s just the nature of modern gaming, characters that couldn’t talk before now can because the tech allows it. But, the problem here is that the original Flashback is a masterpiece, and remains so because it manages to tell a complex story with almost no dialogue. It is the very definition of show, don’t tell. Flashback 2 is the opposite and is all the poorer for it.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the rest of the game hanging on it was worth your while, but the platforming is rudimentary at best and ranges from blatantly telling you when and where to press X to jump when the game starts to then dropping the prompts and making platforms increasingly harder to spot, later in the game, This isn’t helped by the game’s switch from pure 2D to a semi 3D isometric view that allows you to freely traverse the environment, but often obfuscates the way forward and tosses in plenty of invisible walls for good measure.
This is coupled with a combat system that is absolutely pish. The tense stand-offs from the original are replaced with a scrappy, inaccurate attempt at twin stick controls that have you gunning down waves of foes with a gun that feels less like a hand cannon and more like a pea shooter. You will die, and you will die a lot. Thankfully, death is completely pointless because as soon as you hit resume, Conrad pops straight back up, mid-fight, ready to get gunned down again, until you can pop just enough shots off to take down whatever is in your way.
This is probably for the best because if it sent you back to a checkpoint each time, I think i would have tossed my controller away in disgust after the first couple of encounters.
On the flip side, though, it does look the part, with Conrad and co traversing neon streets and artificial forests, and there are some nice callbacks and Easter eggs for fans, like a section doing missions for a mob boss named Corleone, in a nice nod to Flashback’s origins as a proposed sequel to The Godfather, while an early game Twist does a great job of placing Flashback 2 withing the same continuity as Fade to Black (which is the one Delphine Game that really needs a remake). The music is also pretty decent, though nothing to write home about.
There are also some interesting puzzles that revolve around a pair of high-tech glasses used to find secret junction boxes to open doors, which are then later used to help fight the game’s returning villains.
Flashback remains one of the most important games ever made. If I were running a class on game history it would be essential reading on building a narrative through gameplay. However, This latest attempt to continue Conrad’s story, though admirable, seems to fundamentally misunderstand every last thing that made the original game such a classic. Packed with quippy, irritating dialogue, a clawing need to explain every last action and detail of the world constantly when it’s right there in front of you, poor platforming, and even worse combat. This isn’t the sequel fans have been waiting for deades for.
If you’re looking for a game to scratch the Flashback itch, once again, the indie space provides the superb Lunark, but Flashback 2 is better forgotten.