Heart of Darkness is an excellent but little known platform adventure game with designer Eric Chahi, best remembered for sleeper hit Out of this World (OOTW). Under development for over five years, Heart of Darkness features the same surreal, stranger-in-a-strange-land setup as OOTW but is decidedly much more light-hearted in tone -- perhaps to appeal to younger gamers. You are Andy, a Dennis the Menace wannabe whose greatest fear is the dark. After an eclipse of the sun whisks away your beloved dog, Whiskey, you quickly fly off into another dimension in a homemade spaceship you built. Yes, it is far-fetched, and yes, it makes little sense. But since most of us don't play platform games for good stories, this is somewhat forgivable. |
Armed with a trusty laser gun, you must blast screen after screen of unspeakable horrors to find your dog. While it sounds simple, Heart of Darkness is much, much more difficult than OOTW. Even side-scroller veterans will find themselves dying more than usual after only a few minutes of play. This is a game that requires patience, flawless reflexes, and lots of trial and error to complete. Although you have virtually unlimited lives, you will have to start over either at the beginning of the level or at checkpoints when you die. These are few and far between, and there is no telling where you will restart. This leads to hours of backtracking and grinding teeth, and you may be too frustrated to play it through to the ending.
Fortunately, Andy has the ability to run, double-jump, and shoot through multiple screens, and the action is more thought-out than other platformers. Rather than mindlessly jumping for coins or power-ups, this is a true action adventure, and survival relies on wit as well as reflexes. Light and shadow, along with subtle audio cues, play major roles in the game, as seemingly innocent reflections come to life. Though the enemies are cartoony, several of them are quite disturbing, and this probably isn't really the best game to give your kids. After all, Andy gets beaten up, snapped in two, swallowed whole, torn apart, immolated, and crushed in a variety of grisly fashions.
Though the quality of the animation is quite good, it's not entirely smooth. Jumps and other split-second moves are way too fiddly. This problem carries over into the game's poorly compressed cutscenes. Even though the cinematics have been rendered with the utmost attention to detail, they also suffer from a choppy frame-rate and poor resolution -- and just like the rest of the game, they're not even full-screen! But the upside is that those five-year-old graphics translate into five-year-old system requirements -- the game runs smoothly on a 486/66 and a dual-speed CD-ROM drive, as long as you've got Windows 95.
Overall, if you're a big fan of action adventures in the style of Out of this World or Abe's Oddyssee, you will probably enjoy Heart of Darkness. Be warned, though, this game is extremely difficult for all but the most dexterous gamers. Make sure you know what you are getting into before you buy this brutal game. Thumbs up!
Reviewed by: Underdogs