Flashbacks can be a powerful tool when telling a story. It allows the writer to provide a backstory to a character, event, or relationship in a more interesting way than just having someone verbalize everything. It's a classic example of the storytelling technique known as "show, don't tell."
The advantage of video games is that they can go beyond just showing. Developers can allow you to play the flashbacks, making things even more exciting. Many games have done this over the years, and the following examples are the best – excluding games where the entire adventure is one long flashback.
6 All Ghillied Up – Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
There are plenty of exciting, action-packed missions in the Call Of Duty series, particularly in the Modern Warfare games. However, sometimes the most enjoyable ones are more stealth-based. This is the case in Call Of Duty 4's All Ghillied Up.
In this mission, you go back in time to 1996 and take control of a young not-yet-captain Price. He and his commanding officer MacMillian have to sneak through Russian Ultranationalist territory. The main objective is to avoid being seen while heading to a spot where you can eliminate the Ultranationalistic leader, Imran Zakhaev. It's a fun mission that mostly revolves around hiding in the grass and taking people out from a distance.
5 The Origami Killer Origins – Heavy Rain
Throughout Heavy Rain, you play as several different characters who are trying to stop the Origami Killer. He is a serial killer that drowns children in rainwater while testing their fathers' abilities to save them. While tracking him down, you hear the name John Sheppard. It turns out he was a kid who died in the '70s and has a connection to the serial killer.
In a two-part flashback, you get to witness the kid's final moments while controlling his brother. The scene depicts the two running around a construction site in the pouring rain. Eventually, John gets caught in a pipe that's filling with rainwater. You can't save him, and your awful drunken father is no help, either. As the scene comes to a close, you realize you are playing as the Origami killer, and you have been the entire game, as he's one of the protagonists.
4 Museum Trip – The Last Of Us Part 2
The second Last Of Us game is a distressing experience. After all, you can barely go five minutes without something horrible happening to your favorite characters. But among all the death and heartbreak, you occasionally get moments of light-heartedness. One of the best examples occurs in a flashback depicting a special day for Ellie and Joel.
It is the former's birthday, and her older mentor takes her to an abandoned museum. As Ellie, you get to look around the exhibits and point things out to Joel. While learning about dinosaurs and space, the two share some jokes and generally have a great time. It's a wholesome sequence in a game that doesn't have many of them.
3 Nate Meeting Sully – Uncharted 3
In the third Uncharted game, the bond between Nathan Drake and Victor 'Sully' Sullivan takes center stage. And the two of them spend the game opposing someone from the latter's past. Therefore, to properly tell the story, the developers had to include some flashbacks.
One of them depicts a young Nathan Drake meeting Sully for the first time. The relationship gets off to a rocky start, as while controlling young Nate, you follow and then pickpocket your future mentor. However, the two of you soon get on the same page when he saves you from several dangerous men in suits. The whole sequence serves as a very compelling look into the history of the characters.
2 Kalm Story – Final Fantasy 7
Cloud Strife is among the most popular stoic characters in gaming history. Yet, throughout a significant part of Final Fantasy 7, he is a man of mystery. Despite playing as him, you don't know much about his backstory, and neither do his teammates. That is until they visit the village of Kalm, when he tells them the tale of his past.
This leads to an extended sequence, where you play as a teenage Cloud fighting side-by-side with Sephiroth. Not only do you get an insight into Cloud's past – which ends up being somewhat inaccurate – you also discover what led to Sephiroth becoming an evil villain. It's a very important sequence from a narrative perspective, and it is interesting to have Sephiroth as a party member.
1 Shadow Moses – Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots
In terms of originality, no playable flashback can match the one from Metal Gear Solid 4. Partway through the game, Snake has to return to Shadow Moses island, which served as the setting for the original title. On the way, Old Snake falls asleep, and his dream serves as a playable flashback.
In it, you don't just get sent back to Shadow Moses – you also get sent back to the original 1998 game. To put it simply, you get to play an early sequence of the first Metal Gear Solid game. It has not been updated or remastered. It's the exact same as it was in 1998. So, this is a rare example of a flashback for both the character and the person playing.
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