Survival horror games are notorious for ageing quite badly. Despite their status as some of the most influential games of all time, titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill feel positively archaic in design by today's standards. Even Resident Evil 4, recently released for the Switch, now has deep wrinkles showing in its once fresh, clean-cut face. Yet many gamers look upon the genre – particularly examples of it released back in the '90s – with fond memories and nostalgia. Some would even go so far as to say that the games released during the so-called 'golden era of survival horror' have yet to be bettered.
If you're someone who has a deep affinity for old-school horror games, then Back in 1995 was made with you in mind. Its intention is to pay homage to the clunky control scheme, blocky graphics and weird monster design that was so prevalent in games like Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark. These aspects are all present and accounted for in Back in 1995, but a severe lack of understanding in what made its ancestors so great – such as plot, atmosphere and the occasional jump scare – has resulted in a game that is not only devoid of anything even remotely scary, but is also an absolute chore to play.
Back in 1995 sees you take on the role of Kent, a seemingly ordinary man who finds himself on the roof of what we assume is a hospital. The entire city appears to be overrun by monsters, and Kent decides he must make his way to a nearby radio tower. Aside from a few encounters with fellow survivors, Kent is more or less all on his own, so there's very little opportunity – bar a few notes or newspaper clippings – for Back in 1995 to flesh out its plot. There are no deep conspiracies to uncover, no shocking betrayals; there's not much of anything, really. It's incredibly minimal throughout, which we suspect was probably intentional in order to try and inject a sense of mystery, but it really just ends up feeling empty and uninteresting.
In terms of its gameplay, Back in 1995 is very much Resident Evil through and through, only without the polish. Tank controls are in full effect here, so regardless of which direction you're facing, pushing up on the analogue stick will move you forward. It's functional at best, but we felt as though we were fighting with the controls all the time – an inconvenience only exacerbated by the fact that Kent, for some reason, can't run.
As you investigate your surroundings, you'll come across weapons and items to help you along your way, along with a multitude of monsters roaming the rooms and corridors. Unlike the iconic zombies of Resident Evil or the Air Screamer from Silent Hill, the creatures populating Back in 1995 have no discernible features to make them memorable. They all look like polygonal clumps of Play-Doh stuck together, floating around the environment like lost puppies. Despite being limited to walking, Kent can manoeuvre himself around the majority of the game's enemies with ease, completely rendering any sense of fear or panic completely void while allowing you to essentially stockpile ammunition.
It's not only the enemies that lack any kind of art direction, however. The environment itself, from the rooftops to the cramped corridors, look unbearably bland thanks to drab block colours and only an occasional plant pot to break up the monotony. What's worse, textures stretched over surfaces actually warp with the camera's movement; old-school players will recall this was a common issue with 32-bit PlayStation games, but this 'authentic' touch actually makes the visuals quite jarring and often nauseating. Additionally, like a lot of retro-inspired games, Back in 1995 lets you add a CRT filter, but this doesn’t enhance the experience in any way, and only serves to obscure the already poor visuals even further.
Back in 1995 isn’t a very long experience. We strolled through the game at a fairly leisurely pace and reached the end in a little over an hour, at which point the developer leaves an admittedly touching message about his intentions behind the game. If you’re absolutely desperate to relive the glory days of survival horror, then at £9.99, Back in 1995 is at least a commendable experiment – even if it ultimately fails to live up to the games it so clearly took influence from.
It feels harsh to draw so many comparisons between Back in 1995 and the classic survival horror games of the '90s, but then again, the former is an intentional attempt to replicate the latter, so it's unavoidable. Unfortunately, by staying so rigidly faithful to the typical survival horror tropes – like tank controls and fixed camera angles – the developer has left out important elements like plot and art direction. As it is, Back in 1995 only succeeds in reminding you why its ancestors were so good in the first place – but perhaps more importantly, why some of them should be left back in the '90s.