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Chronological Challenge – Heart of Darkness

January 20, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

Hello! Here’s today’s review as we continue to push through the games of 1998. This is a game about a boy and his dog. Enjoy!

Heart of Darkness
Publisher: Ocean Software | Developer: Amazing Studio | Year: 1998
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: Save Andy’s dog

Actual Outcome: Got to the heart of darkness but got stuck

Cinematic platformers are a strange breed. They’re games that test you and rely on trial and error in their challenges. Oddworld is a perfect example of this genre done right – it’s all charm and character in an interesting world that makes you want to push ahead, while the puzzles are a nice blend of challenging and frustrating.

Heart of Darkness is an example of how things can so easily go the other way. It offers up a very similar brand of trial-and-error 2D platforming with precise timing and a challenging level of difficulty. The problem is, Heart of Darkness neglects to make the challenge feel rewarding, and does very little to endear the player to it on the whole.

First of all, this is a game that’s heavy on FMVs and story, but despite this, the story is largely garbage. You are Andy, a small boy who is afraid of the dark (according to the manual, I think), who loves his dog, Whiskey. Then, for some reason, during an eclipse, Whiskey is kidnapped. Andy then goes home to his…techno-treehouse (?) and flies his homemade spaceship (?) into a strange, dark world full of creatures (???).

As you can tell, the first problem here is that nothing is ever explained. Why does Andy have his own spaceship? How did he know where to fly to get to this spooky world? Why did the eclipse lead to his dog being kidnapped? What on earth is happening? The entire opening movie that’s supposed to establish everything suffers from rushed pacing and dated and slightly terrifying animation that means by the end of it you’ve had a lot of things shoved in your face but you’re none the wiser about anything.

This feeling of confusion never goes away. Every FMV is rushed and fails to explain anything. There’s no world-building, no character development, and even when Andy gains some friends, we don’t learn anything about them that matters. It’s just a bunch of stuff, and it’s not clear why anyone should care.

Maybe the gameplay is an improvement? Sadly, it is not. This is about as luck-based as it gets. Firing weapons (when you have them) is difficult as enemies really love to instantly dodge everything you do, sometimes deaths are sprung on you in ways that you can’t predict in any way, and sometimes doing the same thing on the same challenge doesn’t always net the same result. This is a game that punishes you for playing it, and increases the punishment as you continue. This isn’t challenging, it’s torture.

Does the game have anything going for it? Yes, it looks rather nice outside any time human beings are animated in an FMV sequence. Lots of pretty and interesting backgrounds and the sprite work is really nice. It’s actually aged pretty well for a game from 1998. The animations are really good too…it’s just a shame that this is often at the expense of being able to be as precise as the game wants you to be.

Basically, this is a game that tests the limits of your patience while looking quite nice in the process, and…that’s about it. It’s largely a forgettable experience outside of the frustration.

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