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.
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.
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?
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?