3. Batman: Arkham Asylum
The level: The second Scarecrow hallucination
Technically, we’re cheating a bit with this one. See, you never actually go back in time in Arkham Asylum. The flashback to the scene of young Bruce Wayne’s folks being done in is merely a hallucination brought about by Scarecrow’s (remember to say no to them, kids) drugs. If we were counting every intoxicated memory that didn’t really happen, Max Payne and God of War III would have both made the cut, too. The Bat’s flashback is so well done, though, we just had to make an exception.
Just before another nightmare sequence where the Dark Knight battles a 50 foot version of the sack-wearing baddie, Bruce finds himself inexplicably walking down a hall in Wayne manor. As you slowly stagger down it, the hall gradually transforms into a rain-swept back alley in Gotham. Before you can cry ‘holy repressed memories, Batman!’ you hear the cries of his parents as they’re mugged and shot. Their bodies then flash onto the screen, with a now ten-year-old Bruce on his knees next to their lifeless corpses. The game then forces you to keep walking down the alley for what seems like forever with the crestfallen mini crime fighter.
Above: If it's any consolation, you'll soon have a plane that's shaped like a bat, Brucey boy
Why it’s a fab flashback: It’s the one time Bats is truly vulnerable.
One of the main reasons Arkham was so damn good was it completely nailed the feeling of being Batman. Over the course of the night in the infamous nuthouse, you’re made to feel like both the World’s Greatest Detective, and it’s most lethal ass kicker. Nothing phases you. Not waves of insane inmates. Not poisonous plants. Hell, you barely break a sweat when you put the whammy of justice on a homicidal 15 foot crocodile. But battling Scarecrow is different.
Above: Yeah, 'cause having a couple of quid/bucks in your pocket is all you need to get over being orphaned
Where Bane and Poison Ivy just try to break your back or poison the hell out of your bat lungs, Scarecrow goes right for Batman’s mind. Targeting the only real chink in Wayne’s brilliant brain, he reduces him to a vulnerable, damaged mess, as he forces our spandex wearer to relive his darkest moment. The flashback is partly so amazing for helping inform who Bruce becomes. But also, because it broaches such a dark subject in a game that’s mostly about delivering a swift, righteous uppercut to mental patient’s criminal crotches.
Even with some crotch cruelty, this is getting pretty depressing. Here, have an image of Adam West using the Bat Phone to cheer you up.
Above: A sure-fire cure for the blues every time
2. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
The level: Snake’s MGS1 nightmare
Eh, Snake, mate? You’ve got something on your face.
Oh, our bad. Don’t worry, it was just some fugly PS1 textures.
The moment Snake wakes from his Shadow Moses circa 1998 dream is a great Kojima fourth wall-breaking moment. The actual flashback to the original game is even better, though. In a completely unforeseen twist, you’re shunted back to Metal Gear Solid’s helipad opening at the beginning of Guns of the Patriots’ fourth act. It’s a great chance to dip into some nostalgia-tainted waters, while also showing you just how far the series has come in a decade.
As soon as you infiltrate the 32-bit compound, you’re snapped back to PS3 reality, where Snake must now sneak through Shadow Moses once more. Like our rapidly ageing hero, the Alaskan base is now in a heavily decayed state. So the moment you return to the helipad (which is now falling apart under a heavy snow storm, ten minutes after seeing it in all its former blocky glory), it really forces you to reflect on all the years you’ve spent with Snake’s series.
Above: Believe it or not, these were indeed the glory days
Why it’s a fab flashback: It’s the ultimate piece of fan boy-pleasing service.
If we’re honest, the entire mission on Shadow Moses essentially works like one giant flashback, not just the PS1 dream. Eh, except the fact it’s set in the present (or, by Metal Gear’s watch, the future). Even still, it’s dotted with little audio cues from the PlayStation classic. When Snake comes across specific areas, he hears a quote from his first Solid adventure, which jogs his senile brain cells.
One of the first and most effective, is stumbling upon an old surveillance camera. In MGS4 it’s falling apart (again, highlighting our hero’s dying plight), and just before if crashes to the ground, you’re given a flashback from the first game. These moments are dotted throughout Shadow Moses.
Above: Ah memories. Horrendous, 32-bit texture-sponsored memories
But even though we love coming across Liquid’s Hind D and briefly flashing back to the epic battle, nothing can quite top Kojima handing us a slice of unexpected playable PS1 brilliance at the start of the chapter.
Above: That said, we really do love reliving memories of blowing that 'copter to crap