Some play time with Back in 1995 at PAX East shows a mystery game that is unapologetically inspired by early PS1/Sega Saturn games, bringing tank controls, slow-paced combat, weird monsters, and CRT-scan to players.
Tanks controls and fixed CCTV camera angles go hand in hand in the demo for Back in 1995. The controls and angles can be quite jarring for someone who’s unused to them, but enemies in the initial area of the game move slowly, giving the player lots of time to become familiar with how movement works.
These enemies may be slow, but they make up for this speed by hitting hard. It only took a handful of hits to bring the character close to death, requiring the use of finite healing items to make him healthy again. Luckily, enemies that were killed stayed dead, leaving clear routes through previous areas.
That being said, the game’s narrative, which only involved doing oddly-normal favors for a doctor (like finding papers) somewhere within a large hospital, would often make the world change. A door that lead to one place would go to another once the main character spoke with the doctor, creating this sense that reality was in constant flux. It also meant the enemies were back, but those new rooms meant new opportunities for items.
The rooms could also contain weapons as well. Weapons degrade as the player uses them (the wrench in the demo did not, though), requiring they find new melee weapons over time or keep locating bullets for firearms. This meant that, despite including melee combat, players would still need to be very sure a fight was worth going through. If enemies could be avoided, it would be best.
The visuals gave the game a strange sensation. They make it difficult to clearly see the monsters, requiring the player use their imagination to figure out what the creatures were. It’s a unique effect that makes the game unsettling due to the visual vagueness in some of the areas and effects, and yet comforting for someone who grew up playing these kinds of games.
The CRT scan lines also gave the game an authentic look, but for those who found them too much for their eyes, they could be turned off.
This build for Back in 1995 featured very little of the plot, with the main character mentioning that they were seeking out a tower despite having to do inane tasks for the doctor. The doctor didn’t seem entirely interested in what the main character wanted, though, sending him to find items and paperwork throughout the hospital.
Despite the simplicity of the tasks, the ever-changing locations of the hospital loaned the simple actions with menace. It made the game feel like a nightmare where no one was listening to the main character, only forcing him on a set path toward more monsters.
Back in 1995’s visuals and controls may be an acquired taste, but the dated look of the game and the surreal storyline give it an unsettling feeling, creating an atmosphere that is uncomfortable in its lack of clarity. The player is left to wonder what they’re fighting, what they’re doing, and why the world won’t settle into one identity. It’s a wonderful mixture for a mystery game.