A flash rehash: Flashback pits a Seventies cop look-alike against 22nd-century forces of evil. Rupert Goodwins toys with interplanetary destruction

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
According to the publishers, Flashback is set two centuries hence with our hero - Conrad Hart - chasing around after aliens and saving the human race. Nah. It's true that there are aliens, science-fiction cityscapes and plenty of flashing gizmos, but Conrad Hart is so closely modelled on Doyle of The Professionals that one constantly expects a souped-up Ford Granada Mk 1 to come screaming out from behind the computer banks. Brown bomber jacket, red T-shirt and jeans help the resemblance, but the real clincher is the animation. Whether running, leaping or surreptitiously sidling up to villains with gun held high, the movements of our pixillated performer are irresistibly reminiscent of Seventies cop shows.

This high-velocity verisimilitude - which adds considerably to the fun of the game - is due to rotoscoping, where an actor is filmed going through the motions. The resulting frames are then copied by hand into the computer. It's not such a new idea; in the Eighties, Sinclair Spectrum programmers were videoing themselves and tracing the results onto graph paper stuck over the TV screen. US Gold's version is nowhere near as low-rent.

There's no time limit in the game but it's discouragingly easy to get killed, at least initially. Robots, Neanderthal guards, bad- tempered policemen and a cornucopia of automated devices are all dedicated to your discomfort and early demise; you don't need a GCSE in involuntary euthanasia to work out what the Disintegrator Zones, Laser Cannons and Falling Mines will do to your weekend. Against this, you have four shields that absorb a certain level of punishment, but a few seconds in the crossfire wipes those out. To find out what the aliens are up to and get the information back to Earth, you'll have to juggle teleports, holocubes and smartcards. Occasionally, you'll even have to chuck rocks about.

The game runs through six main levels, each linked by 'cinematic action sequences' that are mildly entertaining but suffer from being a tad too ambitious for the modest capabilities of the Super NES. Elsewhere, those abilities are better used - from the steamy Titanian jungles to the cavernous city interiors, the backdrop graphics are gratifyingly gloomy, subtly shaded and genuinely evocative. The objects are too small and not always easily identifiable; this is a game that can be played from the armchair but repays closer attention. The audio track and spot sound effects are underplayed yet effective with small dashes of morose, futuristic music setting the scene and, unlike many action games, Flashback benefits from being played with a hook-up to a good sound system.

It's a darned serious affair, though, with little humour or light relief; the only offbeat moments come when you work out how to use the Exploding Mechanical Mouse and when, during the Death Tower TV gameshow, you have to win to get a ticket back to Earth. Yes, there's a plot - one that borrows heavily from just about every action sci-fi movie of the past decade - but there's only so much you can do with one man pitted against the hi-tech forces of evil, even if he can lob a mean pebble.

Whether your tastes lie with Bodie and Doyle or Blade Runner, Flashback has a certain charm. If a game of interplanetary destruction can ever be said to be tastefully produced, this is it.

Flashback is available from 16 Dec on Super Nintendo (SNES) pounds 49.99

(Photographs omitted)