The search for a missing dog leads to an otherworldly adventure in Interplay's Heart of Darkness. Help a boy named Andy rescue his pilfered pooch, Whisky, by navigating a surreal land ruled by the Master of Darkness. Viewed from a horizontal perspective, the game involves confronting shadow-like enemies and solving puzzles while exploring eight worlds spanning 176 locations. Andy can run, jump, climb, swim, and even swing to reach new areas. Andy will also be able to acquire magic powers and a plasma cannon at certain points, allowing him to shoot his foes from any direction. Developed by the team behind Flashback and Out of This World, Heart of Darkness features an orchestral soundtrack performed by the London Symphony and over 50 minutes of cinematic cut-scenes.
Originally started back in 1993 by the developers at Amazing Studios, Heart of Darkness was conceived by a team made up of past Delphine employees who had worked on Out of This World and Flashback. In 1997, after a full four years waiting for development to come to an end, Virgin finally decided to let the product go. After a solid showing at the ECTS show in Jan. of 1997, the developers were able to find new partners in Interplay and Infogrames (Infogrames secured the rights for European distribution). Finally, the game that wowed the press back in 1995 was going to hit store shelves. Unfortunately, the wait seems to have been for naught.
For those of you who haven't been following the game, Heart of Darkness is a platform adventure game that puts you in the shoes of Andy, a little boy with a talent for invention. After your dog is stolen by inter-dimensional raiders, you run back to your self-made rocket ship (er, it sure is lucky you had that handy) and set off on a grand epic to track down your canine companion, and ultimately to fight the evil that took him in the first place. The whole story has a very E.T. meets Lassie feel, and may be a bit to Leave it To Beaver for the more jaded of our readers (which judging by the letters we receive is most of you). Even so, the action that takes place in the other world you travel to can get pretty creepy and might be a touch scary for the younger members of our audience. Let's take a look at the game itself.
When this game was first shown to the press all those years ago, the thing we all walked away with was an absolute sense of wonder that such sharp images and fluid movements were even possible on a PC. Unfortunately, this was so long ago that motion capture was still in its infancy and none of us had even thought about 3D acceleration yet (plus we'd all been drinking a lot). Heart of Darkness still has an amazing cartoon feel, but the fact remains that no matter how ground-breaking the game's graphics engine was four years ago, it feels really dated now. On the other hand, the animation remains some of the best I've ever seen, Andy and his antagonists run, jump and climb with unbelievable fluidity, and should shame many of today's game designers who've had more technology to work with but can't manage as pure an effect. Unfortunately, the game's overall look remains the most endearing of its qualities.
The real problem I had with this title is pretty hard to get around ¿ it's the core of the game's design. Heart of Darkness offers you arcade action in a puzzle universe. The blend is frustrating at its best. There something that's really irritating about holding a control pad in your hands, equipped with the ability to jump, climb, and shoot, and having to replay the same screen over and over and over while you figure out exactly what it is the game designer wanted you to do to get past this point in the game. Are you really skilled at arcade game control? Well, it won't matter. Despite this game's arcade feel and look, Heart of Darkness is all about solving screen after screen of mind-numbing puzzles that are completely counter-intuitive. You'll spend your time discovering that, although you pushed rocks earlier in the game, now you're supposed to figure out that you have to push a shadow. In one screen you'll have to run at break-neck speed to escape a pursuer, but only a few screens later, in an almost identical situation, you'll die if you attempt the same thing. None of this is to say that the game is too hard ¿ it isn't. It's just that playing it is mostly a matter of dying several times until you figure out what doesn't get you killed. Believe me, after about the eightieth time you see the death animation you'll want to throw yourself off a large cliff.
Heart of Darkness, for all of its age is still a pretty amazing product in some ways. It has incredible voice acting, an amazing symphony produced soundtrack and a storyline that is well though out and implemented if a little bit sappy. Furthermore, the guys over in our console departments loved it. Still, as a PC gamer, I demand a bit more intelligence from my adventure gaming, and Heart of Darkness simply doesn't have it. If you're looking for a game to play with your kids (I don't recommend leaving them alone with it) or you were a really big fan of Out of This World or Flashback then this may be worth checking out. The rest of you, who have gotten over the Dragon's Lair style of trial and error game playing, will find that you have better things to do.
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