While many retro-themed games harken back to the 8 and 16-bit eras, Back in 1995 instead draws inspiration from the the 'survival horror' titles that graced the Playstation 1. Indeed, the game's Steam page boasts that it is 'faithfully re-creates everything from this forgotten era of games,' and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree. Unfortunately, 'everything' in this case includes all the flaws and foibles that plagued the platform's more unremarkable titles. The cumulative result is a game that starts off promisingly enough but quickly becomes mired in its own mediocrity.
I had high hopes for this game, not least because I had fond memories of playing the original Silent Hill, the title that Back in 1995 most obviously apes. The game even goes so far as to emulate the PS1's graphical style, complete with low resolution character models and limited draw distance. Back to 1995 also lets you choose to apply a visual filter that emulates the appearance of pre-flatscreen monitors. Amusingly enough, it discourages you from viewing the game in its unfiltered state, revealing as it does the rather threadbare state of the game's appearance.
As was the case with Silent Hill 1, Back in 1995 cleverly provides a narrative explanation as to why, when you are outside, you can't see further than a few metres ahead of you. The premise behind the game is that the world has been engulfed by some kind of dark catalysm that has plunged the streets into the darkness. The survivors of this unspecified apocalypse have been forced to retreat to the top floors of various buildings, using zip wires to traverse the black abyss beneath them. This set-up sent shivers down my spine, as my psyche conjured up images of the horrors that might be lurking in the blackness.
Unfortunately, my initial hopes were dashed when I started to play the game and found myself struggling to cope with its player-unfriendly third-person camera. Resident Evil, Silent Hill and their ilk typically used fixed rather than dynamic camera angles, meaning that when you walked past a certain point in a room, you would be presented with a different view of your surroundings. On the PS1 this was occasionally inconvenient, yet Back in 1995 seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in switching angles at inopportune moments, often leaving me lost in a location no bigger than your average living room.
Back in 1995 also offers precious little in the way of horror. The indoor locations are bland and uninspiring, offering no clue that anything untoward has happened. Monsters do occupy the game's identikit halls, yet they themselves do nothing to up the game's fear factor. Not only do most of them resemble floating cornflakes, they move at such a slow pace that I was easily able to outpace them. The only time I ever killed them was when I grew bored of walking around them. The only time my character met a gruesome demise was when I found myself pinned by two the game's larger monsters, who were in turn clipping through the scenery and through each other.
Monsters aside, Back in 1995 does require you to solve the odd puzzle, though they're tediously basic, usualy requiring you to wander between a couple of locations to gather the necessary numbers to open a coded padlock. It's also rather brief, although I'm not convinced that a longer running time would have redeemed the game. The plot – outside of the initial premise – is insubstantial at best, being concluded with a nonsensical twist followed by some brief meta-commentary. I'm the first to admit that Silent Hill didn't sport the most substantial narrative but compared to this it was positively epic.
I really wanted to like Back in 1995 but I have no real grounds to recommend it. I didn't glean any enjoyment from playing it as it was in no way challenging or terrifying. While the idea behind Back to 1995 had promise, the wave of nostalgia I initially felt quickly faded and it it ultimately failed to engage me on any level.