1995 was a pretty magical time for pop culture; the original Toy Story landed in theatres and set the trend for CG motion pictures that everyone is all too familiar with now (not to mention Toy Story 4 is just around the corner). The visuals of Toy Story were unfathomable at the time, and while most video games couldn’t even come close to producing such graphics in-game, they still included cut-scenes showcasing the best of CG animation. In 1995 3D gaming was still in its infancy, with fighting games leading the pack as the standard-bearer tech demo for new hardware, as games like Tekken and Battle Arena Toshinden impressed gamers and non-gamers alike.
A lot of great things were happening in 1995, but Diesel’s run with the WWF Championship certainly was not one of them, and neither were the tank controls or locked camera angles of early survival horror titles. Back in 1995 is a 2019 release which plays like something which should belong in the year 1995, and stay there too. Perhaps the game’s title should have been Back in 1992 given the stark similarities to the original Alone in the Dark (1992).
Alone in the Dark arguably laid the groundwork for the survival action horror genre, before Resident Evil became the undisputed standard bearer in 1996. Still, things like tank controls, limited use of warped polygons, and uncooperative camera angles were not deliberate, but rather necessary evils since developers and programmers had very little choice to work around technical limitations.
Back in 1995 is the latest of the indie releases which aims to recapture the feeling of bygone games, with all flaws intact, but this time rather than being out of necessity they are simply deliberate, intentional design choices. Video game ideas like this should only go as far as conceptual curiosity at best, because no one wants to play deliberately broken and handicapped games; in fact they weren’t that much fun to play during their heyday either.
The original Resident Evil (1996) as influential as it was, feels just as cumbersome to the modern gamer as it did to gamers back in 1996 (maybe the human race was a tad more patient for it too). The best way to satisfy such curiosity is to head on over to content creators like 98DEMAKE on YouTube, this channel for example provides concept videos of how modern games would look like if they were made for the PlayStation or Game Boy, and that’s enough to pacify anyone’s curiosity. No one would actually want to play Assassin’s Creed as a 1995-style PlayStation game today.
Back in 1995 is a survival horror game which, in addition to being built like games from 1995, has a premise which also takes place in 1995. As a survival horror game, it plays and looks like the original Alone in the Dark; right down to the horrendously grainy polygons. The graphics are so poor that the warping and deformed floor textures are more horrifying than any of the monster designs. Now it is probably not fair to fault a game which went out of its way to look horribly dated, but imagine if the SNES launched with an 8bit looking Super Mario Bros. 4 instead of Super Mario World. Intentional or not, there’s nothing to enjoy about the game’s graphics or visual design in the slightest.
As a classic survival horror game Back in 1995 comes with all the tediously cumbersome controls and restrictive camera issues intact. Still, Resident Evil (1996) even now is light years ahead in gameplay and control, and these were issues developers actively tried to improve upon, as evident in games like Resident Evil 2, Dino Crisis, and even Deep Fear. It’s not as if these developers went out of their way to purposely create inconvenient 3D games, it was just something they were continuously improving upon given technological limitations. Back in 1995, in its hellbent quest to underachieve, mechanically plays worse than its apparent outdated inspirations even. From a game design standpoint, this is as basic as they come, with pretty self-explanatory puzzles and an uninteresting game world to explore. Even the combat system is an absolute slog of an experience.
There are a couple of things Back in 1995 actually does succeed in; for one thing the basic premise is actually quite interesting in a B-Movie horror style fashion. The story is an interesting mix of science fiction, horror, and mystery, almost running as a throwback to the kind of horror films people were watching in 1995. In that regard the game succeeds in capturing an authentic mid-90s pop culture appeal. Unlike the graphics, the sound design actually benefits from modern conventions as the sound effects and the limited use of music are put to good effect here. Even the deliberately campy voice acting, while unnecessary, doesn’t take away from the sound design, and it all does a pretty convincing job of creating a brooding tense atmosphere you’d expect from a survival horror experience.
Back in 1995 doesn’t feel like something worth experiencing as a video game in 2019. At best, it is something which simply exists to satisfy a modern gamer’s curiosity, as even those who grew up with classic survival horror games don’t honestly miss playing these archaic games once the rose-tinted lenses are off. To say that it is unfair to fault a purposely archaic modern video game is like saying it is unfair to discipline Little Johnny who purposely got a F on his math test.