The Top 7… games with fantastic flashbacks that give amnesia the middle finger

If shitty daytime soap operas have taught us anything (other than comas are never permanent and don’t trust evil identical twins with moustaches), it’s that flashbacks rule. The same logic also rings true in games. Some of the best levels we’ve ever played occurred as memories from our playable character’s past. And whether it’s having blocky PS1 nightmares or having a budding bromance in Chernobyl, the following flashbacks totally bested anything from that show with the polar bears and smoke monsters.

Warning: There’s a steaming pile of Heavy Rain spoilers ahead. So if you don’t want to ruin the game for yourself, we advise clicking away from this here page.

Honourable mentions

Curse you number seven. Why couldn’t you instead be eight, or even better, the number nine? That way, we wouldn’t have to mercilessly cut some genuinely great flashbacks from our list. In the spirit of giving games really brief credit, we doff our jarnalistic monocles to Final Fantasy VII’s flashback, which sees Cloud and Sephiroth working together for SOLDIER. Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations’ clever case that sees you defending a young Wright of murder. And pretty much all of the ace Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves, which recounts Sly’s past adventures as his life flashes before his furry peepers.

7. Splinter Cell: Conviction

The level: Highway of Death, Iraq

We hated Conviction’s Iraq flashback during its opening five minutes. Awkwardly fumbling behind bombed out cars, we had no idea how we were supposed to sneak through the decimated road without alerting attention.

Above: Now this is living

But then you discover that’s the whole point. The game doesn’t want you to succeed through stealth: it wants you to go loud and put the homicidal hurt on everything in sight.

Above: Like this

It’s a hugely liberating moment when you realise the shackles have been taken off and the game is now actively encouraging you to fill men’s faces with AK shells, as you use the buttery smooth cover system to dart behind vehicles and other bits of debris. And we’ve not even mentioned the killer setup yet.

Above: Hint - it involves saving a certain Michael Ironside-voiced, mysteriously youthful pensioner

Why it’s a fab flashback: You save Sam Fisher’s gravely-voiced ass.

The best part of the Iraq mission, is not only are you not controlling Sam, but you’ve actually got to rescue his usually indestructible backside. You’re playing as his old Navy SEAL mate Victor Coste when they were both working together in Operation Desert Storm, y’see. Why not take a few seconds out of your <cough> busy work day <cough> and view the exact moment when Coste saves Sam…

It only gets better after the daring rescue, too. For the rest of the mission, Coste and Fisher create their very own, really shooty buddy comedy, where they proceed to send digital Iraqis to their virtual makers in a violent shootout. They’re then extracted with a small piece of the Middle East blown to hell and with your heart very much in that thing that you wolf down food with.

Above: Who needs Gibson and Glover when you can have Fisher
and... eh, Coaster?

6. Halo: ODST

The level: NMPD Headquarters

Excuse the chin-stroking, but ODST really is the most structurally interesting game in Bungie’s series. Starting in the hub world of New Mombasa, you sleuth your way around the city as the mute Rookie, looking for clues to help you find out what happened to the rest of your unit. Cleverly, when he finds an item belonging to one of his team, the game flashes back to the member’s last mission before going AWOL. The best of all these flashbacks is Romeo’s.

Above: In Romeo's mission, there is no 'i' in team... unless you're a truly awful speller

A sniper with a heart of gold and a ranch in Iowa (note: both these things are definitely, probably not made up) you make your way through New Mombasa’s rooftops with ODST leader Dutch. Shooting the galactic guts out of Brutes and Grunts with your trusty rifle, the mission elevates itself to one of the Halo greats during the last epic set-piece. Having to defend your position on a rooftop construction site until your extraction arrives, it’s an awesome battle that reunites the whole ODST squad, as they fight near endless waves of Covenant Banshees.

Above: We can barely spell Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, but we can sure as shit down a Banshee

Why it’s a fab flashback: Explosions are dang purdy.

Throughout much of ODST, you scavenge the Covenant-plagued streets of New Mombasa struggling to find ammo, and generally trying to avoid conflict. So the moment the game finally lets you unload with some serious toys (specifically, an endless supply of rocket launcher and machine gun turrets), it’s not only cathartic, it’s also really explodey.

Above: What? Explodey is almost a word

Really, is there anything sweeter than seeing a squad of helmeted men take out alien ships with a rocket launcher? The answer is, naturally, yes. Because taking Banshee after Banshee out with a Spartan Laser is very much that sauce some humans describe as awesome.

Above: Mmmm, delicious

Oh, and the hectic battle totally ends with some ODST bonding. Mainly revolving around sticking pointy things in Brute Chieftains’ necks.

Above: Awww, he looks like a little dead angel, doesn't he?

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  • Skykid - January 20, 2011 3:58 p.m.

    That one quiet moment between you and MacMillan in 'All Ghillied Up' was one of the few scenes in CoD4 that haunts me. It's the erie quiet, MacMillan's statement and the creepy laughter of children on the wind that still sets my nerves on edge to this day. *Shudders*
  • LizarDAZZLE - December 11, 2010 12:15 a.m.

    I remember that I managed to hit the terrorist guy in cod4 on my first try. I was pissed because I also managed to curve the bullet into what was clearly right in the face, but of course, that somehow only shot his arm off.
  • sternparez - December 9, 2010 9:40 a.m.

    Clearly MGS is the best one! Gave me chills when I first played it
  • josuerosales - December 9, 2010 4:20 a.m.

    ahh nm, someone already said something
  • josuerosales - December 9, 2010 4:18 a.m.

    for the ODST part, isn't the captain of the odst team Buck and not Dutch?
  • ClassicCreation - December 8, 2010 8:44 p.m.

    The Batman: Arkham Asylum flashback was beautifully done. It's no fluke that it remains my favourite game.
  • Mode - December 8, 2010 5:54 p.m.

    MGS4 man...I love MGS, and Shadow Moses did it for me. “Sacré bleu! Come quick my American papa! Ma seebling eez drowning!” This article is hilarious.
  • bass88 - December 8, 2010 12:52 p.m.

    The greatest Scotsman accolade goes to Connor MacCleod. Piss on MacMillan.
  • pizzasmellslikechrisantista - December 7, 2010 10:06 p.m.

    gamesradar should do a top 7 of psychedelic hallucinations. I nominate fallout 3: point lookout
  • dfhrfktk - December 7, 2010 9:10 p.m.

    I was kind of surprised to see ODST on this list, I thought I was the only one who actually enjoyed the storytelling in that game.
  • crumbdunky - December 7, 2010 8:34 p.m.

    MGS4 is still this gens besst all round gaming experience for me-tying up all the loose ends of that story(seemingly MADE of them_) was amazing on it's own. That Kojima did it while still allowing some amazing interactive touches and his usual eye for anal detail was just mindblowing and the old to new(but old, natch) Snake after the Moses flashback was one of the best in a great game. I never replayed MGS1 until AFTER playing Guns sol the original jerk to the mind of suddenly being back there DURING MGS4 was a lever touch for me personally and to think some people are daft enough to knock the game as little more than cutscene after cutscene is really, really sad to my mind-just a great example showing exactly why Kojima -and the series-are so great. So, though All Ghillied Up is among my favourite FPS levels ever, I'd have made MGS4 number one. Thing is, to this day, the missus, who likes to snipe sometimes, still can't drop a guy before whispering "Oi! Suzy!" in a Scots brogue first. A level that leaves an impression and that's for sure, great stuff up there with anything from more affecting games in the genre like HL or Bioshock and definitely worth inclusion.
  • sleepy92ismypsn - December 7, 2010 8:26 p.m.

    Even though I played MGS4 before MGS1,2 and 3, I really liked that flashback level. I wish more developers would pay homage to the predecessors of a beloved series.
  • waffman11 - December 7, 2010 8:10 p.m.

    I was expecting Reznov's flashback from Black Ops to be in here, that was the greatest piece of fanservice I have ever seen. It also had quickscoping with the scoped Mosin-Nagant in the level (a bonus easter egg as it mimics almost perfectly CoD2 sniper rifles), just so Treyarch can say, "No, there's still quickscoping in Black Ops, just play the campaign."
  • philipshaw - December 7, 2010 5:58 p.m.

    Couldn't agree more with number 1. Also MGS4 is the only time that I felt proper nostalgic in a game
  • MJHAYLETT - December 7, 2010 2:10 p.m.

    'All Ghillied Up' was awesome and I am not the world's biggest FPS fan. MGS4 takes the No. 1 spot for me though, it was pure magic having Act 4 start off PSOne-Era MGS only to be woken up and have his face revert from old Snake to um Old Snake :D
  • quincytheodore - December 7, 2010 6:19 a.m.

    lol I see you used the pistol-in-chicken-ass trick too for the Meat King.. Yeah.. those were the times.. If only I had grenade or something.. Agree with no.1.. It was the best mission of COD, I played it in veteran I think. My first FPS in X360, I still fumbled the controller back then and then came the helipad defense, I went Rambo, floated like butterfly and stung like bee, after maannnyy retries, I finally nailed it. Man, did I screamed that times.. Then my friend told me there was a sweet camping spot OTL..
  • TeaserTuesday - December 7, 2010 6:12 a.m.

    This is the best Top 7 in quite a while, I agree with pretty much all of the entries (the ones I played anyway). Plus it's true, these moments are all the best parts of these great games.
  • Jamahl - December 7, 2010 3:52 a.m.

    That CoD mission was the best CoD mission ever. No exceptions. If only all of them were full of missions like that.
  • soren7550 - December 7, 2010 1:57 a.m.

    @KnightDehumidifier - As awesome, atmospheric and epic it is, I don't think it counts since the only flashbacks that happen are quick pictures that pop up from ME1.
  • mrm1138 - December 7, 2010 12:55 a.m.

    How about almost the entirety of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time? "No, no, no, that's not the way it happened!"