I genuinely despise writing negative reviews. There are real human beings behind every project, and bad games are seldom the product of moral failings, but instead are typically caused by an unfortunate convergence of factors both predictable and otherwise.
With that said, the gaming industry isn’t a charity, and people deserve to know what they’re potentially spending their hard-earned money on. Here’s what you need to know: the problem with Flashback 2 isn’t merely that it is buggy, sometimes to a hilarious degree. Instead, the main issue is that even if the bugs weren’t present, it still wouldn’t be worth its current price tag.
Flashback 2 (PC, PS5 [reviewed], Xbox Series X/S)
Developer: Microids Studio Paris, Paul Cuisset
Released: November 16, 2023
The silver lining
Let’s start with the positives. Flashback 2 is the follow-up to the cult classic 1992 game by Paul Cuisset. Flashback found popularity through its simple but effective level design, as well as its adventurous story. Despite its age, the art style can still be appreciated, and the wide range of movements available ensures you can engage with several aspects of the environment. It’s a game I enjoy, which is why I was looking forward to this title.
Like its predecessor, Flashback 2 manages to capture that sense of adventure. It has varied environments that each present a unique aesthetic, with my favorite being the jungle which instantly reminds me of the 1992 game. The cities are cyberpunk communities with industrialist architectural styles, and when racing between locations on a motorbike, you’ll be treated to bright colorful lights and neon signs.
It’s also a game that looks good (sometimes). On PS5, the game runs at 60 FPS most of the time, though you can expect some pretty significant framerate dips, especially when new enemies are spawned. There aren’t many graphics options on consoles (exactly zero to be precise), but that’s not too much of a downside, as the game isn’t graphically intense.
The cutscenes, which are ocassionally presented in comic book-style panels, are also aesthetically pleasing. It would have been nice to have more of them, as they help give you a better sense of the kind of world the developers were attempting to create. The soundtrack and ambiance complement the visuals nicely, and the voice acting is also satisfying.
Lastly, I like the mini-games that are present. To get through some doors, you’ll have to engage in some hacking. This involves completing a mini-game that has you moving blocks around until the blocks with the same symbols collide with each other. These puzzles aren’t particularly hard, but they are satisfying to solve. You’ll also have a mecha battle to get through, which is short but kind of entertaining, at least compared to the rest of the game.
These are all the positive things that can be truthfully stated.
For most of the game, you’ll be exploring different environments and completing tasks on your quest to stop the shapeshifting Morphs that threaten humanity. Of course, you’ll have a trusty weapon on hand called A.I.S.H.A. that also doubles as an AI companion.
I hated the shootouts. Every last one of them. Flashback 2 takes on a 2.5D style and then is brave enough to throw in some gunplay. It is painfully awkward to aim from this perspective, and oftentimes I found myself just rapidly tapping R2 and relying on the spray-and-pray method. As time progressed, I got a little more comfortable with aiming, but at no point did it ever feel like I wasn’t in a constant battle against the camera perspective.
The enemies don’t make things any more enjoyable. They’re stupid, uncoordinated, and sometimes just plain broken. Instead of having enemies that strategize against you, Flashback 2 instead attempts to inject some difficulty by flooding you with foes. The problem is that whether there are two aliens or twenty, the spray-and-pray method still applies. There is no strategizing when most of the gunfights take place in empty corridors – you just shoot and shoot until there are no more baddies.
There is at least one saving grace when it comes to gunplay, and that’s the fact that when you die, you’re not forced to restart the encounter. You can pick up where you left off, with a full health bar this time. Normally, this would be a bad thing, as it would make the game too easy. However, in the case of Flashback 2, it helped shorten what was an agonizingly frustrating experience.
Things reach a peak in awfulness with the last battle where the game suddenly decides to entirely change the perspective into… I don’t know what this would be called. It’s kind of fully 3D, but way too confusing to call it that. Attempting to aim goes from being hard to being wholly impossible. Trying to explain it won’t do it justice. Just know it’s painful to deal with.
It should be mentioned that stealth is technically an option, but practically it’s not, and in the end, it’s inconsequential because you’ll be barraged with enemies at some point either way. You don’t have to worry about ammo either so there’s rarely a reason to not just blast your way through any problem.
The gameplay is below average, but it would have been far more acceptable if it weren’t for the bugs…
The bugs… there’s a lot of them. They’re not just annoying, they’re game-breaking. They will bring your progress to a screeching halt and sometimes even make you lose hours of progress. Trust me, I learned the hard way. Flashback 2 shouldn’t be on sale in its current state.
Let’s start with the subtle bugs first. Arrow buttons don’t work on the main menu, forcing you to use analog sticks. Don’t press any buttons while the game is loading. You could accidentally pause while on a loading screen. Why is this possible? On that note, be aware that you’ll be running into far too many loading screens, and they last far too long. Why is this 2.5D title loading slower than Spider-Man 2?
For significant parts of the game, you’ll have an NPC with you as you get around. They’re not quite escort missions, as your companion can’t die, but they do come with most of the same problems. If you’re getting anywhere, you’ll have to wait for your cruelly slow companion to catch up with you. NPCs frequently get stuck, or sometimes just decide they’re not following you anymore. With AI this rudimentary, this should never have been attempted.
Now onto the bigger bugs. More than once, I got stuck in a wall, forcing me to load up an old save, costing me hours of begrudgingly earned progress. You see, there are a limited number of save points, and they’re spread out quite thinly. It is an archaic style of game design likely meant to hearken back to the 1992 classic, but it only succeeds in triggering frustration. Some things are better left in the past.
I also just fell through the floor a few times, landing me in a black void. At some point, I hoped the game would just stay that way, and I’d have an excuse to not finish it. Unfortunately, reloading an old save fixed the problem.
Toward the later hours of Flashback 2, it felt like I was intentionally being punished. The frequency of bugs increased, and eventually, the game didn’t bother even giving me my next mission objective. This forced me to search for a playthrough online so I could figure out what I needed to do next to finally end this ordeal. I’m so glad I had an obscure French YouTube channel to help me because the game sure wasn’t.
That wasn’t even the most ridiculous moment. The peak of my frustration hit when the game was actively giving me incorrect instructions. That image above is a spoiler but it doesn’t matter at this point. What’s important is that it’s telling me to press the Right button. That’s false, I’m supposed to press the Down button. Eventually, it glitched so badly that the text in the message box stopped appearing at all.
On the French YouTube channel, you can watch a desperate soul struggle with this portion for over 15 minutes. They go to the controls menu to see if they missed anything, and they even reload a save file from far earlier multiple times before they realize just how badly they’ve been bamboozled.
Some of the glitches and errors just feel like a lack of quality assurance. The sequel blindly reuses game over messages, even when you’ve lost for reasons other than Conrad dying. The game is lying to you in the image above. Conrad didn’t die. You can see him standing right there.
Mission objectives annoyingly remain on the screen even when cutscenes play, but that’s not the end of the long list of bugs. During battles, if you pick up an item containing text or get stuck in some dialog, Conrad will stay frozen until you’ve worked through all the text, leaving you vulnerable to enemy attacks and with no means to defend yourself. Also, remember that cool hacking mini-game I mentioned? Flashback 2 eventually manages to ruin that by overlapping images and turning the screen into a visual mess, as you can see above.
Just play the first game
It’s decades later, and Flashback hasn’t magically become a bad game. You can still pick it up on Steam for about $10, maybe less when it’s on sale. I guarantee you’ll have a better time with it than the sequel.
It took me 10 hours to get to the end of Flashback 2, but I suspect I could have cut that down to 5-6 hours if it wasn’t for bugs frequently forcing me to lose progress. I didn’t enjoy much of it, and I barely paid attention to the plot because it didn’t matter. You can’t focus on the plot when the game is so broken.
I cannot in good conscience recommend this. Your time and money is better spent elsewhere.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]