I really hate writing negative reviews. There are real human beings behind every project, and bad games are rarely the product of moral failings, but are usually caused by an unfortunate convergence of factors both predictable and otherwise.
That said, the gaming industry is not a charity and people deserve to know what they are potentially spending their hard-earned money on. Here’s what you need to know: the problem with Flashback 2 it’s not just that it’s buggy, sometimes to a hilarious degree. Instead, the main problem is that even if the bugs weren’t present, it still wouldn’t be worth its current price.
Flashback 2 (PC, PS5 (tested), Xbox Series X/S)
Developer: Microids Studio Paris, Paul Cuisset
Release: November 16, 2023
The glimmer of hope
Let’s start with the positives. Flashback 2 is the sequel to the cult classic 1992 game by Paul Cuisset. Backtracking found its popularity thanks to 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 allows you to engage with several aspects of the environment. It’s a game that I enjoy, which is why I was looking forward to this title.
Like its predecessor, Flashback 2 manages to capture that feeling of adventure. It features varied environments that each feature a unique aesthetic, my favorite being the jungle which instantly reminds me of the 1992 game. The towns are cyberpunk communities with industrial architectural styles, and when you race between locations on motorcycles, you’ll have right to colored 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, although you can expect some pretty significant framerate drops, especially when new enemies appear. There aren’t many graphics options on the consoles (exactly zero to be precise), but that’s not too much of a drawback, as the game isn’t graphically intense.
The cutscenes, which are sometimes presented in comic book-style panels, also look good. It would have been nice to have more of these, as they give you a better idea of the type of world the developers were trying to create. The soundtrack and ambiance complement the visuals well, and the voice acting is also satisfying.
Finally, I like the mini-games present. To get through certain doors, you will have to engage in hacking. This involves completing a mini-game in which you move blocks until blocks with the same symbols collide with each other. These puzzles aren’t particularly difficult, but they are satisfying to solve. You’ll also have a mecha battle to complete, which is short but quite entertaining, at least compared to the rest of the game.
These are all positive things that can be honestly stated.
For the majority of the game, you’ll explore different environments and complete tasks in your quest to stop the shapeshifting Morphs that threaten humanity. Of course, you will have on hand a reliable weapon called AISHA which also serves as an AI companion.
I hated shootings. Each of them. Flashback 2 adopts a 2.5D style and then is brave enough to launch shooting games. It’s painfully difficult to aim from this perspective, and often I found myself quickly pressing R2 and relying on the spray and pray method. Over time I became a little more comfortable with aiming, but at no point did I feel like I wasn’t in a constant battle against the camera’s perspective.
Haters don’t make things any better. They’re stupid, uncoordinated, and sometimes just plain broken. Instead of having enemies strategizing against you, Flashback 2 instead attempts to inject difficulty by flooding you with enemies. The problem is, whether there are two aliens or twenty, the spray and pray method still applies. There’s no strategy when most shootouts take place in empty hallways – just shoot and shoot until there are no more bad guys.
There is at least one saving grace when it comes to shooting, and that is the fact that when you die, you don’t have 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 2this helped shorten what was an extremely frustrating experience.
Things reach a peak of horror with the final battle where the game suddenly decides to completely change perspective to…I don’t know what that would be called. It’s sort of fully 3D, but far too confusing to call it that. Attempting to aim goes from difficult to completely impossible. Trying to explain it won’t do it justice. Just know that it’s painful to deal with.
It’s worth mentioning that stealth is technically an option, but in practice it isn’t, and ultimately it’s of no consequence as you’ll be bombarded with enemies at some point anyway. You don’t have to worry about ammo either, so there’s rarely a reason not to fight your way through any problem.
The gameplay is below average, but it would have been much more acceptable without the bugs…
Bugs… there are a lot of them. They are not only annoying, they are game-breaking. They will bring your progress to a screeching halt and sometimes even cause you to lose hours of progress. Believe me, I learned the hard way. Flashback 2 should not be for sale in its current state.
Let’s start with the subtle bugs. The arrow buttons don’t work on the main menu, forcing you to use analog sticks. Do not press any buttons while the game is loading. You may accidentally pause when you are on a loading screen. Why is this possible? On that note, be aware that you will encounter far too many loading screens and they last far too long. Why does this 2.5D title load slower than Spider-Man 2?
For important parts of the game, you will have an NPC with you while you travel. These aren’t really escort missions, since your companion can’t die, but they mostly have the same problems. If you get somewhere, you’ll have to wait for your cruelly slow companion to catch up. NPCs often get stuck or sometimes simply decide to unfollow you. With such rudimentary AI, this should never have been attempted.
Now let’s move on to the biggest bugs. More than once I found myself stuck in a wall, forcing me to load an old save, costing me hours of reluctantly earned progress. You see, there are a limited number of save points, and they are quite spread out. It’s an archaic style of game design meant to be reminiscent of the 1992 classic, but it only succeeds in triggering frustration. Some things are better left in the past.
I also fell through the ground several times, dropping into a black void. At one point I was hoping the game would stay that way and I would have an excuse not to finish it. Unfortunately, reloading an old save fixed the issue.
Towards the last hours of Flashback 2, I felt like I was being intentionally punished. The frequency of bugs increased and eventually, the game didn’t even bother to give me my next mission objective. This forced me to look up a game 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 definitely wasn’t.
That wasn’t even the most ridiculous moment. The peak of my frustration reached when the game was actively giving me incorrect instructions. The image above is a spoiler, but that doesn’t matter at this point. What’s important is that it tells me to press the right button. That’s wrong, I’m supposed to press the Down button. Eventually the problem got so bad that the text in the message box stopped appearing.
On the French YouTube channel you can watch a desperate soul struggle with this portion for more than 15 minutes. They go to the command menu to see if they’ve missed anything, and they even reload a much older save file several times before realizing how badly they’ve been bamboozled.
Some issues and errors simply look like a lack of quality assurance. The sequel blindly reuses game messages, even when you lost for reasons other than Conrad’s death. The game is lying to you in the image above. Conrad is not dead. You can see him standing right there.
Mission objectives remain annoyingly on-screen even during cutscenes, 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 a dialog box, Conrad will remain frozen until you have gone through all the text, leaving you vulnerable to enemy attacks and with no way to escape. defend. Also, remember that cool hacking mini-game I mentioned? Flashback 2 ultimately manages to ruin this by overlaying the images and turning the screen into a visual mess, as you can see above.
Just play the first game
It’s decades later, and Backtracking hasn’t magically become a bad game. You can still pick it up on Steam for around $10, maybe less when it’s on sale. I guarantee you’ll have a better time with this one than the sequel.
It took me 10 hours to get to the end Flashback 2, but I think I could have cut that time down to 5-6 hours without bugs that frequently forced me to lose progress. I didn’t enjoy the movie much and 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 it. Your time and money are better spent elsewhere.
(This review is based on a retail version of the game provided by the publisher.)