Fade to Black, PlayStation

Fade To Black is a 3D action adventure game developed by Delphine Software and published for the PlayStation by Electronic Arts in 1996 (the MS-DOS version came out earlier, in 1995). It is the sequel to the classic 1992 platform game, Flashback.

Set fifty years after the events of the first game, Fade To Black once again features the character Conrad Hart (in his trademark blue jeans and brown leather jacket), who must this time escape from the futuristic prison of ‘New Alcatraz‘ and go up against the evil alien Morphs who have imprisoned him for destroying their home planet.

Fade To Black is a third-person action game with 13 separate levels. You begin in a cell, armed with just a pistol and also carrying a PDA device for inventory and communication. As soon as you leave the cell security robots are alerted and you must destroy them, as well as avoiding the many hazards that you discover.

Conrad is somewhat versatile in terms of movement. He can run, jump, crouch, sidestep, aim and shoot, reload, use objects, and throw mines. Aiming and firing is done by pressing a single button, and he can also move around while in aiming mode. The game tells you when you have a target in your sights by putting a red cross on it. Conrad also has a variety of jumps too, depending on whether he is standing, walking or running.

The controls are a little finicky, or rather: getting stuck on the edges of furniture is sometimes a problem, because it stops your movement dead, but overall the control system in Face To Black works reasonably well and was pretty advanced for the time. Combat is straightforward, although moving into a firing position can sometimes be tricky. Enemy Morphs (green alien creatures who form from blobs) seem to jump around like they’re teleporting, which is a bit disconcerting. It makes aiming at them difficult and seems a bit unfair in places, but it is what it is.

Exploring, using items, finding keys and pressing buttons solves simple puzzles that are put there to impede your progress (ie. give you something to do), and thankfully there’s very little platforming, other than having to make standing jumps across electrified floor plates. There’s lots of instant death – all of which is gruesomely illustrated with pre-rendered cut scenes.

The animation of Conrad is pretty amazing for the time, which was apparently created using motion capture. The developers obviously wanted to give him fluidity, like they managed to do in Flashback, and the transition to 3D works well in many respects. It’s not perfect, but it is very well done. Unlike the pre-rendered cut scenes, which are dated and look awful by today’s standards.

I can see how people would have been impressed with this back in 1996, and playing it now is still enjoyable. Fade To Black does have a few small issues (like the aforementioned getting stuck on furniture, and also the complexity of the environments sometimes means that it’s not obvious where you should be going next. Plus: the camera view isn’t great during combat (often cutting off the heads of targets), and levels are all set on one level and do not have upper or lower sections, so there’s no climbing), and the constant deaths can be frustrating, but you can save the game at any point and re-try.

The cover art for Fade To Black was created by famous French artist Jean Giraud (aka Moebius), which is noteworthy.

More: Fade To Black on Wikipedia

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