“A throwback to the survival horror and mystery games of the original PlayStation, Back in 1995 faithfully re-creates everything from this all-but-forgotten era of games.
Be transported to a world both concrete and indistinct, where you must uncover the mystery surrounding the disappearance of your daughter, the catastrophe that shook the city, and why you’ve decided to finally return.”
– The Back In 1995 Steam page (http://store.steampowered.com/app/433380/)
It’s difficult to judge a game like Back In 1995. If you were to base it on gameplay alone, then there isn’t a whole lot to love. However, Back In 1995 isn’t trying to provide a great gaming experience – heck, the fact it’s been intentionally designed to mimic a game from 1995 probably emphasises that point (not that there’s anything wrong with games from 1995, but they’ve certainly aged). Instead, Back In 1995 tries to evoke your memories of the classic survival horror titles we got to play in the mid-nineties, games like Resident Evil and Alone In The Dark. You may even notice a vague similarity to Silent Hill, even though that did hit a little later than 1995…
You take on the role of Kent, a troubled man who has awoken in a strange state on the roof of a building. His ultimate goal is to reach a radio tower that’s on top of another building, though it isn’t an easy task seeing as the city is populated by hordes of hideous monsters. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to move from building to building, though Kent will have to work through some dangerous office blocks and rooftops along the way.
There isn’t a whole lot to take from the story with character interaction kept to a minimal and plot details vague at best. The game seemingly intentionally keeps story progression to a minimum, and you won’t actually discover the ‘true’ ending to the game until you play through for a second time.
To the game’s credit, it’s done a pretty great job of replicating a gameplay experience from 1995 – Back In 1995 looks and plays like a 90s survival horror title. The game is played from a series of fixed camera angles à la Resident Evil, whilst it also boasts the same ‘tank controls’ that plagued the early analogue stick-less 3D adventures. For those who didn’t get to play games with ‘tank controls’, you move your character’s direction with the left and right buttons, whilst you move forward and backwards with the up and down buttons. Perhaps my love of the original Resident Evil on the Playstation allowed me to look past the fixed camera angles and tank controls, though players who didn’t experience them back in the day may not be so forgiving.
You’ll be tasked with exploring the upper floors of a series of buildings, all whilst defeating some grotesque monsters and solving a series of fairly easy puzzles. There’s no real challenge to any aspect of Back In 1995 – monsters are slow, dumb and easily defeated with a few hits from your melee weapon, whilst the game’s puzzles are restricted to either finding an item or finding the key code to a locked door. Don’t expect some of the intricate enigmas from the likes of Resident Evil and Alone In The Dark, nor should you expect the same level of challenge from your foes either.
I was a little disappointed with the lack of challenge from the game’s enemies, especially since you’re armed with both a handgun and a shotgun. Enemies slog towards you with no real sense of danger, so mashing away with the slow but effective pipe can take down most enemies with minimal fuss. The game does send a few tougher foes your way later in the game, though again they’re easily taken down – with or without the use of your guns. You’re inundated with ammo too, so if you’d prefer to take the even easier route of shooting your foes, you can do so without the worry of running out of ammo. It’s a shame that there just wasn’t a little more challenge to be found battling the game’s monsters, especially when you consider how vicious some of the games that inspired Back In 1995 could be.
Back In 1995 is ugly. It might sound harsh, but it’s the truth – fortunately I don’t think the developer would have had it any other way. This is meant to look like a game from 1995, after all.
The game looks like a mixture of Silent Hill and Alone In The Dark, with every aspect of the environment built in-game – there are no pre-rendered backgrounds here. In fairness to Back In 1995, it did a better job of re-creating the aesthetic style of classic 90s survival horror titles than it did replicating the tense gameplay. Sure, there are some distorted textures on gross polygonal character models, but it’s pretty charming when you consider how games actually looked back in those days.
What I didn’t like was the CRT filter effect that the game features, making what’s already an unattractive game a nightmare to look at. I know that it’s trying to replicate the look of old TVs, but even I remember that games were never that visually unappealing before the days of HD. I’m often guilty of wearing my rose-tinted nostalgia spectacles when thinking of classic old-school video games, but seriously, Back In 1995 goes a little over the top with its inaccurate representation of our olden TV sets. Don’t worry about the feature too much though – you can easily turn it off in the options menu.
When you finish Back In 1995 (it’s relatively short, clocking in at around one hour) the game introduces a neat ‘New Game+’ mechanic that has you play through a somewhat alternate version of the game. It’s the only way to achieve the game’s true ending and events unfold differently than in the original rendition of the game, offering a different look into Kent’s mindset. It’s intriguing and I enjoyed the new interpretation of the game’s world and story, even if it is even shorter than your initial playthrough of the game.
When you finally complete the whole of the game, you’re treated to a narrative from the game’s creator that tells you the tale of Back In 1995’s development and what motivated him to create it. I actually found it pretty relatable, especially given my love of old-school survival horror titles, though it may be wasted on someone who wasn’t around to appreciate the games when they originally released. There’s some charm hidden within Back In 1995, though you’ve got to have been around back in the day to discover it.
I’d never recommend Back In 1995 to someone who wanted to play a game like the original Resident Evil or Alone In The Dark titles, simply because it doesn’t provide the same gameplay experience. Sure, the game is heavily inspired by those titles, but it doesn’t actually provide a classic survival horror experience with substance.
Instead, I feel Back In 1995 simply shows us how games were back in those days. It tries to pull at your heart-strings and remind you how simple and effective games could be, all whilst offering a genre that was very close to some gamers’ hearts. Admittedly, it doesn’t do a great job of it, but it did enough to entertain me for the hour and a half I spent with it. I will warn you though – if you weren’t there to experience the survival horror games of the 90s, Back In 1995 may certainly not be for you…
Developer: Throw The Warped Code Out
Publisher: Degica (www.degica.com)
Release Date: 28/04/2016