Developer – Amazing Studio
Publisher(s) – Infogrames Entertainment (Europe) & Interplay Entertainment (North America)
Designer(s) – Eric Chahli, Frederic Savoir, Fabrice Visserot & Daniel Morais
Producer – Bruce Broughton
Heart of Darkness was released for the PlayStation in mid-1998, so just looking at the year, most gamers would know that it will have been up against some of the most sternest of competition the industry has ever seen; competing against games such as Ocarina of Time and Banjo-Kazooie, which was released a day before. But having played this game, it’s not much of a surprise that it made as little a commercial impact as it did. In my opinion, it’s about average. The most surprising element of this game for me was what age rating it got for the time. In both America and Europe, The ESRB (Electronics Software Rating Board) and ELSPA (European Leisure Software Publishing Association) rated this game as being suitable for all ages, despite the fact that there are numerous and horrible ways in which the in-game character can be killed; some including him getting burnt to death, being eaten by carnivorous plants, being crushed, being torn apart by enemies and even falling from mountainsides. The Wikipedia article for the game says that it was rated 11+ by ELSPA, but according to the back of the box, it was also deemed suitable for children of 3-10 years as well as 11-14. But regardless, after playing this game and researching its background, I get the feeling that Eric Chahli was focusing more on story than on gameplay. He tried to emulate the success he garnished with the game Another World, but in my opinion, it ended up thoroughly backfiring on him.
Graphics – 8/10
The best aspect of this game, and seemingly what the majority of the seven years it took to develop the game was spent on, is the visuals. The transition from the normal world into the Darklands was very intriguing, and it only gets even more so as the game progresses. The game’s settings and conceptual design actually somewhat reminds me of the film Labyrinth, with the mountains and marshlands found around the beginning of the game. The gripe I have with the visuals is that the enemies are pretty generic, and it didn’t seem to me that a lot of thought was put into anything else other than the environmental design.
Gameplay – 7/10
I like it when games are challenging, and Heart of Darkness does indeed present a good few challenges throughout the game, making it one of the hardest 2D side scrollers I’ve ever played. But there are instances where the game is marred down by its level of difficulty. One thing is guaranteed; whether players are experienced 2D side scrolling game players or not, they are guaranteed to die over and over and over again. It can be particularly frustrating at times, and I don’t like games whereby difficulty can make them infuriating enough to just not play them past a certain point. This is the problem I had with the original Castlevania and Mega Man games. Although they are considered to be classics by many gamers, I just found the both of them too hard and found myself dying too many times. Heart of Darkness, whilst it was instrumental in keeping the 2D side scrolling genre alive in the midst of the transition into 3D, is certainly not without it’s off-putting difficulty, in my opinion.
Controls – 8/10
Another complication with this game is that the controls can be somewhat difficult to get to grips with at times. In a game, which may already seem too difficult to many gamers, including me, less than satisfactory controls can only add to any frustration. But for the most part, it is down to the player’s level of skill, and the core concept of the control scheme can be gotten to grips with after a while.
Lifespan – 3/10
On average, it can take experienced players to complete this game in about two and a half hours, which for a PlayStation game is unacceptable. Believe it or not, the game is also on two discs, despite lasting such an intolerable amount of time. It’s hard to understand why people hold this game in such high regard today; especially for the time that it was released, when there were so many other greater games for both the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation. In my opinion, like Tunguska, which I reviewed last week, I think it’s a good thing that this game remained so obscure. Although Heart of Darkness is nowhere near as bad a game as Tunguska.
Storyline – 5/10
Although the game’s story also reminded me of Labyrinth to a certain extent, it was still pretty average and certainly contained its flaws. The game’s story involves a boy named Andy, who is having problems with authority in school and is not doing very well. After getting in trouble, he runs away and meets his dog Whiskey in a park, where Whiskey is then subsequently sucked into a strange eclipse and transported to another dimension, obligating Andy to get him back. Luckily, Andy happens to be a genius inventor, who specializes in inter-dimensional travel, despite doing poorly at school, and finally finds use for a ship he has coincidentally made in his tree house to embark on an adventure to get his dog back. A lot of the story’s flaws come from how many plot details are so abruptly sprung on players trying to follow it. I’ve heard of things like this happening in games, films etc, but they are much more elaborated on than this, and it just makes the story simply look like a collection of different things being randomly put together.
Originality – 8/10
Although the story is pretty far fetched, it’s also unique to a certain extent. But most of the originality found in this game is through its settings and conceptual design. But as I said earlier, Eric Chahli focused originality and effort mostly on story and scenery, and strayed too far from the gameplay aspect in my opinion. Eric Chahi had previously designed another game called Another World, which is seen nowadays as a game best known for setting standards in video game storytelling. But with Heart of Darkness, it just seems to me that he simply banked on making a game just like Another World, and hoped that it would have the same impact on people, but it ended up not going in his favour this time round.
In summation, Heart of Darkness is a good-looking game, but that’s about it. It can be unfairly difficult at times, in my opinion at least, and it is far too short lived for a late 90s video game, whilst also having a pretty weak story to accompany it.