New horror games have a tough time these days, what with all the quality already available. From more recent takes on the genre such as Amnesia, Dead Space and the ill-fated P.T./Silent Hills, all the way back to classics such as the early Silent Hill, Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark games, there is an abundance of stunningly atmospheric content across a wide range of formats.
And it’s from those classics that Back In 1995 draws its inspiration, which is immediately apparent once you get into the game. Visually it looks like an original Playstation game, not due to poor design but because the developer wanted it that way. It’s meant to invoke memories of games from, you guessed it, around 1995, and it does that superbly. I was immediately reminded of Alone in the Dark 3 and the first Silent Hill (yes, I know that didn’t arrive until 1999, stop being so pedantic), thanks to the blocky character model and low resolution textures. It also uses a fantastic CRT filter to bring with it a sense of nostalgia, of playing games on a standard definition television, usually through an aerial – the standard before SCART, which preceded the HDMI cables you crazy kids know and love today. This filter brings with it a grimy, dirty look that apes the atmospheric visual tools of Konami’s first foray into the town of Silent Hill.
Much like the original Silent Hill, Back In 1995 begins with your character searching for his daughter in a strange and foreboding environment filled with monsters. It also uses the same ‘tank controls’ made popular by games from that era, especially Resident Evil, although it does feel overly cumbersome in comparison to those earlier games, to the point of making the game incredibly sluggish to play. This slowness is especially apparent in combat, as swinging a wrench seems to take an age to animate, but luckily the creatures are just as slow to react. You can easily beat most monsters to death without taking a hit.
This lack of difficulty highlights Back In 1995’s biggest and most baffling problem: it isn’t scary. At all. The monster designs are dull and uninspired, despite seemingly representing story-related things that are difficult to describe without spoiling the plot. Only one enemy is an actual threat, albeit a very mild one, and that doesn’t appear until later on and it still only hit me once, by which point I was almost drowning in health pills. This complete lack of threat in a horror game almost entirely removes its ability to scare.
Despite these issues, there is still something about Back In 1995 that keeps you playing. The story is intriguing in its sparseness, only drip-feeding you glimpses into its world and the strange circumstances surrounding your character and his journey. It also deals with a kind of ‘New Game Plus’ in an impressive way, though through that it also introduces a mechanic that really should have been used to greater effect. It leaves you with a vague feeling of disappointment, in that it could have offered so much more than what is available in the game’s meagre length.
When I say meagre, I mean under two hours. You can see everything Back In 1995 has to offer in a mere 100 minutes. This doesn’t impact player enjoyment, of course, but it’s just not enough game time for your money. It also doesn’t offer any real reason to replay the game after seeing all it has to offer, despite its unique take on NG+, so its entire marketing tool lies in nostalgia, which also leaves a lot to be desired after the first half hour.
Back In 1995 is a very strange game and tough to recommend, mainly because I was left wondering if I actually enjoyed my time with the game. Its exploration is limited, its combat slow and repetitive, but its story, although not entirely interesting, somehow holds your attention long enough to keep driving you forward. For that reason, it’s worth giving it a shot, but probably only if you’re over 30.
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