Heart Of Darkness is a cinematic platformer developed by Amazing Studio and published by Ocean Software in Europe and Interplay in North America in 1998. The cinematic platformer portion of the game are the cutscenes played in between the chapters and at specific sections of the game. What this tries to create is a cinematic experience within the game and it draws parallels from Another World, which was an cinematic action adventure game made by Delphine Software in 1991.The designer of Another World Eric Chahi, was actually the lead designer on Heart Of Darkness and Amazing Studio was his own development company. What this meant that there were many similarities in terms of the game’s design and look.
The story of Heart of Darkness begins with the main character Andy being abused by his teacher for sleeping in his class, because he had a fear of the dark meaning that he could sleep at night. His teacher then instructs Andy to go to a local park to watch the solar eclipse, and Andy agrees to do this with his pet dog Whisky. However, the teacher who was the Master of Darkness takes Andy’s dog away and Andy returns home to build some inventions to go to this planet to save his dog. Andy transports to the planet using a home made spaceship called the Darkworld where he crashes on the world and it is up to him to fight through the world to save his dog. (Edit: The Darkworld is an alien planet and the planet has a lot of tropes based upon aliens)
The beginning of this story I find to be extremely dark because the teacher was in fact trying to abduct Andy and this dog. The thing that must be remembered was the fact that the game was certified E or 3+ and a dark beginning like this feels really out of place, almost borderline unsuitable for younger players. There is also no explanation why the teacher decided to ask Andy to go out and experience the Solar Eclipse. (Edit: The reason why the teacher asks Andy to watch the eclipse is because he is the master of darkness and wants to abduct him which makes a lot of sense now)
Heart of Darkness is a 2D platformer where the player has to find the way off the screen and there can be multiple routes that the player will have to take.. The unique aspect of the game is that the platforming is in 2D whilst the backgrounds are completely 3D and have a lot of detail. The background also acts as an additional mechanic because there will be times where the player will have to watch shadows to progress. These mechanics are quite interesting because it means that the player has to be aware of enemies that perhaps they would not see.
There are quite a few problems I have with the gameplay in general and the first is the platforming itself. The game has issues where the background and the foreground merge too much and sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish what are backgrounds and what are actual platforms. What this can cause is a lot of confusion for the player especially for new players who perhaps are new to this style of platformer. This can also be a problem with the different amount of light on each screen, meaning that a platform that can be bright on one screen could be really dark on the next screen, which can cause some confusion.
The second and perhaps the biggest problem with the game is how difficult the game is because it is unfairly hard in more than one way. The main problem with the difficulty is that the game does not specify where the checkpoints are because there are checkpoints but sometimes there are checkpoints on the following screen or 5 screens from the screen the player is on. What this means is that the player does not have an idea whether it is safe to try and find a solution to a puzzle, which the player will have to do quite a few times throughout the game. If the player then dies 2 or 3 screens into the puzzle and there is not a checkpoint, then the player would have to redo potentially quite sizeable sections of the chapter, which after quite a while gets quite annoying.
This becomes a huge problem considering the fact that the game is rated 3+ or E in all regions and the game I feel is too difficult for young players and the game also feels unsuitable for multiple reasons. The game has multiple death scenes where the character is attacked by enemies and these death scenes at time are quite graphic and also somewhat gory.(Edit: The death scenes have animation smears rather than actual blood and the only thing with the death scenes is Andy’s shoe might be left behind after dying)
My final issue with the game is simply that the game comes down to nothing more than a trial and error nightmare because you are trying everything to solve puzzles and the game can punish the player for something out of their control. Some puzzles in the game are tough and can be solved without too many attempts, but because the game takes the player back multiple screens and potentially a few minutes of gameplay, the trail and error becomes monotonous and unfair on the player after a while.
The one area of gameplay that the game really excels in is in the graphics department because the game looks stunning and has a feeling of timelessness with how the graphics were designed. It has aged really rather well compared to games that tried the FMV cutscene route at the time and the cutscenes still look quite good. The backgrounds really adds to the aesthetic that the world or area that the player is trying to depict. However, the beautiful graphics with the weakness in the gameplay means that the graphics I feel get let down by the gameplay mechanics.
(Edit: Quite a lot of the puzzles require the player to interact with the environment to solve puzzles and makes the puzzles somewhat interesting to solve.)
The music of Heart of Darkness is perhaps the game’s strongest suit because the music is composed by a film composer called Bruce Broughton, who has composed music for such TV classics as Hawaii-Five-O, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Dallas. The music I feel is of a really high standard and a lot of care was taken by the composer to really embrace the world that the game is set in and really add a great score to the cutscenes. There is no music in the gameplay itself, instead the game relies solely on ambience and sound design to really add to the feeling of loneliness. However, I feel that if the composer had to compose for the rest of the game, then some of the shortfalls relating to the gameplay might not have been as glaring.
The reason why I feel the music really adds to the cutscenes so well is because the music was orchestrated using the London Symphonic Orchestra, which at the time was and is still considered to be one of the best orchestras around. The music makes the cutscenes feel like that they would feel at home as a complete episode in a TV show, especially when all the cutscenes are played back to back. I feel that the music does something to make the game at least memorable for something positive.
Heart of Darkness I feel in concept was a good idea for a game, especially considering it was made by the same designer as Another World. However, I feel that the game is really unforgiving with it’s checkpoints, meaning that the game feels like a grind and a drag. The game I feel is not at all suitable for the certificate that the game was given because it is quite violent and gruesome at times and for a 3 year old it could terrify them. The music and the graphics save the game for being something completely forgettable but the game is a game I can 100% recommend, if the player can overlook the glaring problems throughout the game.
(Thank you to Jack who commented with the information I used for the edits. He brought some points to the review that I missed or didn’t explain 100%.)
Copyright ©2017 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use