|Playstation > Whats New > PlayStation Reviews > Staff Review|
|A.P.I Review:||HEART OF DARKNESS|
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|Game Type:||Action Adventure Platform||Memory Card|
|Review Date:||September 1998||Standard Joypad|
Setting the Scene
The Hype Batman & Robin, The Crow, Judge Dredd, Independence Day... Just a few movie titles that have spawned a Playstation video game. Tomb Raider, Doom... Here's a couple that began life as video games and will eventually be released as movies. Heart of Darkness. Many years in the making, it could be regarded as a movie video game. However, all of the hype surrounding the development of this epic adventure would itself provide an excellent script for a blockbuster of a movie. It all began over five years ago when Virgin Interactive Entertainment and Amazing Studio, led by Another World and Flashback creator Eric Chahi, started development of an ambitious project in which a plucky teenager journeyed through his worst nightmares to save his pet dog. It was far beyond anything ever witnessed on a games console, boasting cartoon animation comparable to that of a Disney movie. May 16th 1996, downtown Los Angeles, HoD received its first preview at the high point of the software calendar, E3 games' exhibition. Then... all went strangely quiet. During '97 rumors were sweeping the industry that all was not well and this culminated is the release of the following press statement: 'The INFOGRAMES ENTERTAINMENT Group continues to flex its muscles with the acquisition of another key title to further bolster its stake in the interactive entertainment market.' 'After a fierce bidding war fought from both sides of the Atlantic, INFOGRAMES ENTERTAINMENT has announced that Amazing Studio's Heart of Darkness, previously funded by Virgin Interactive Entertainment, will finally be released by the Group in summer 1998.' 'This is an amicable deal with V.I.E who simply did not have the willing to continue to fund the games development.' Terms such as 'flexing their muscles' and 'fierce bidding war' only served to fan the flames of interest in this game. And so the countdown began... The Story With his cap firmly on his head, his red sneakers and his bandanna in the wind, Andy is a little boy much like any other little boy. His teacher despises him and his dog loves him. But what scares him most is the dark. One summer afternoon, while he is quietly observing an eclipse in the sky, a high-powered energy like a magnetic force, drags his pal, Whisky the dog, into an infernal spiral down to uttermost darkness. When the sun returns, Whisky is nowhere to he seen. Andy, a clever little handyman, keeps a cool head. In next to no time, he is ready for combat, determined to control his fears of the dark and rescue his dog from the heart of darkness. Fitted out with his plasma cannon, his ray-beam helmet and his survival kit, he climbs on hoard his flying machine made of skateboards and spiral antennas. He takes off, leaving his shed behind him, not knowing his destination or even whether he will he back some day... The Characters Andy is the main character of the game and has a peculiar talent for assembling ingenious machines and crazy robots in his garden shed. His other qualities include his kindness of heart, immense courage, resourceful, though a little naive and unwary of danger. To rescue his pet dog, he must take on the impossible, and in the heart of darkness, impossible means a whole new dimension... Whisky is first and foremost a dog. But not just any dog, He's Andy's dog. They wear the same cap and love each other more than anything else. Whisky goes to school with Andy, waits for him until it is over, keeps guard outside his secret shed, sleeps in his room and eats everything Andy does not like. In a nutshell, Whisky is the ideal dog. So of course, the day Whisky is kidnapped by the forces of darkness, Andy is bent on only one thing, getting him back. Amigo belongs to a friendly tribe of winged devils who have the nose of a hippo and speak in a strange tongue. They all live on a flying island. It's a beautiful place, filled with waterfalls and palm trees. The temperature is always warm and the sand on the ground makes you think that you are walking on a tropical beach. Unfortunately their food is running out and they need to travel to land of darkness to find new supplies. Vicious Servant may be a coward, but this rubbery pink character has the ear of the Master of Darkness. He is devious and sly by nature and will often blame others for mistakes he has made. This guy may look like an over-chewed piece of gum, but he is one of the most dangerous people that Andy will meet during the game. Master of Darkness is the Devil incarnate. His face only shows his eyes and his carnivorous flame-red mouth. He is entirely draped in his black cape and only his gnarled hands will be seen from time to time. When he speaks the ground shudders, the birds hide and the spectres awaken. Nothing can resist him - everyone is afraid of him.
In a world just like our own lives Andy, a boy like any other. His teacher hates him. His dog adores him. The thing that really scares him is the dark... To rescue his doggy pal, Whisky, snatched away by the Forces of Darkness, Andy must face his darkest fears in a secret kingdom, a world of soul- hungry phantoms, bed-time demons with manic monsters and bizarre friends. Only YOU can control Andys destiny, hold back the forces of evil and ultimately confront the sinister Master of Darkness. You will climb, swing, twist, swim and shoot your way through a world filled with mystical mazes, exotic landscapes and evil enemies. You fight head on within 8 huge levels splits in around 180 screens inhabited by The Shades and The Dark Souls. This is a land where your childhood nightmares become a reality...
How much more can be squeezed from the Sony Playstations limited memory? I mentioned some months ago that game developers were moving closer to being able to offer in-game visuals that are almost as good as some of the CG and FMV intros we had witnessed recently. Well HoD development team, Another World, have somehow managed to do just that taking gaming to a new level of sophistication. This is not surprising, considering their all-star team includes the designer and programmer of Another World, Eric Chahi, Frédéric Savoir and Fabrice Visserot's the talented Megadrive duo involved with Flashback, and Daniel Morais the creative programmer behind the IBM PC compatible versions of Future Wars and Another World. Together they have succeeded in creating a work of art where backgrounds no longer look like they have been realistically rendered but emerge as natural scenery with characters that move and appear in an identical style to a quality cartoon. I suggest that you rest a large, soft cushion just below your chin before witnessing the opening five-minute intro movie, because your jaw will truly drop and your eyes will surely pop. Every single second of the animated cut sequences that piece together the game's storyline are immaculate and I can find nothing at all to criticize. Imagine your favorite Disney moving unfolding before your eyes and you get the picture. Furthermore, when playing the game and the visuals unnoticeably slide into one of the cut sequences, the experience you are subjected to is a remarkable cocktail of panic and amazement. You are left looking a flabbergasted fool as you struggle to re-gain control of the character - only it's to find it is now out of your hands. You really cannot tell the difference. Because there is not a polygon in sight Heart of Darkness more resembles a higher quality, side scrolling Abe's Oddysee than take on the expected format of a 3D style Crash Bandicoot game. HoD was rendered using 3D Studio and relies on traditional computer animation. Andy, the hero, has more than 2,000 frames of animation in one direction alone which allows seamless transitions between actions. This mixing of transitions results in a greater and smoother level of interaction. The result is a game that is rich in detail and the nearest I have seen to perfection on the Playstation.
Sounds and Effects
Of course quality visuals require the ambience of a movie style score and for this the talents of Bruce Broughton were acquired. Now Bruce has a number of credits on his Curriculum Vitae including the soundtrack to Young Sherlock Holmes, Silverado, Rescuers Down Under, Miracle on 34th Street, Tombstone, Babys Day Out, So, I Married an Axe Murderer and the forthcoming Lost in Space. His composure was recorded by the full 55 musicians of the London Symphonic Orchestra and I would heartily recommend playing through a high- quality sound system as it allows to output 16 stereo channels. It blends perfectly with the visuals and will without question provide a healthy income selling in it's own right. Naturally you don't want the sound effects to let the whole team down therefore a gathering of famous sound designers were added to the payroll name dropping past achievements such as The Bear, Nikita etc. etc. Together they have succeeded in producing a selection of sound effects that bring the visuals to life.
So you get quality visuals and classical sounds, but does the gameplay stand out in the crowd? Hmmm, tricky one this! HoD is not your run of the mill Crash Bandicoot style platform, where you bound along without a care in the world, crashing and zapping everything in sight until you reach the end of a level. First of all there aren't any levels, so to speak. I tell a lie, there are, but they all flow into each other to give the impression of an interactive in a movie. The gameplay leans more towards being an adventurous shoot-em-up as Andy sets off on his quest with the task of zapping his way through legions of shadow demons who hurl their black souls in his general direction by the score, on occasions it seems like hundreds. Their AI is incredible, as each wave of attack seems to happen completely at random. Some beasts crawl along the ground, others leap above and behind Andy, while many charge straight forward and crash into him. Andy begins armed with a zap gun that fire bolts of electric across the screen and, with guidance, fries a few enemies along the way. Should the creatures get their grubby black hands on him then Andy is offered one chance for survival. By systematically pressing the left and right directional buttons he will be seen to shake off the creature and then throw him to the ground. Fail and the demons from the dark will raise the young lad above their heads and duly swallow him whole. Now this all sounds great fun but on occasions the frustration factor can become a little tiresome. Especially when wave after wave of creatures' just keep on attacking. To avoid you from reaching the point where the only option is to throw the control pad down in annoyance, take heed of these words of wisdom. Keep trying something different. If the creatures seem indestructible - jump over them. If they are too big to hurtle - run away. Should they keep on endlessly attacking then try to leave the screen and move on. This little piece of advice should avoid you from standing your ground forever and probably dying unnecessarily countless times. Controlling Andy is an effortless task. There is one button to jump, one to fire, one to run and finally one for a special weapon (when available) while the directional pad moves Andy across the screen. That's it! Simple, but effective. Most of his actions occur naturally without prompting. This comes to light when faced with a steep climb. On approaching a dead end Andy will reach up and begin to scale the vertical rock face. On reaching a gap in the climbing surface he will lean out as if to beckon a jump. A quick press of the required button will see him leap across the gorge and grab onto the opposite ledge by his fingertips. Should you struggle to pass a certain stage of the game an extremely helpful guide automatically appears on the screen offering advice on how to proceed. If at anytime poor Andy falls to his death then the game will restart no more than two screens back form the point of fatality. A game may also be saved at any requested point. The gameplay constantly changes throughout the adventure. One minute Andy is waging war with the demons, the next he is creeping through dangerous swamps, then it's time to scale a mountain, then he is swimming through treacherous waters, then he is crawling through darkened caves, then....
Value for Money
Variety certainly doesn't come into question with dozens of brain taxing puzzles to solve and the non-stop action is undeniably intense. However, there are two disappointing factors within Heart of Darkness. First, the two CD game on medium difficulty was complete inside two evenings play which is way too short in terms of value. Second, during the final quarter of the game, rather than slow progress down by offering perplexing and thought provoking puzzles the same old ones are constantly re-used and it all collapses into nothing more than another mindless shooter. Of course HoD is targeted towards over 8yr olds and family gatherings - just like a Disney movie I suppose. But are the developers aware that a ten- year-old child these days would probably whip his Pop in a Doom Deathmatch? I know mine does! Heart of Darkness is still worth checking out. I suppose you could boost the difficulty up to the hardest setting and try to survive without smashing the set up. Now that sounds like a challenge.
of Darkness has everything going for it with its gorgeous environments,
taxing puzzles and gripping story-line. If the marketing men get their
way it will undoubtedly go down as a classic but I can't help feeling
short changed. I mean, seven hours gameplay is a little ungenerous.
The ending was also very disappointing with the final scenes taking place in... yeah, you guessed it... the dark. Pitch black more like it.
Still... what you get is seven hours of stunning visuals surrounded by a soundtrack that systematically heals the gameplay wounds.
Now stand well back everybody. Here comes the merchandise!
from the opening CG intro I found myself totally captivated by this
game...captivated and frustrated! You see, HoD is the kind of game that
practically forces you to die in order to figure out what to do next and
advance further into the story.
It was one of the few games that I have played in recent memory that actually had me seconds away from skeet shooting the disc...yet I kept with it and continued on...it's like some kind of sick addiction. It just keeps drawing you in thinking "I'll get past here this time."
The storyline is enthralling and the visuals are absolutely amazing...obviously the fours years this title has been in development was well spent.
High quality CG cinematics are liberally interspersed seamlessly throughout the game, and assist in progressing the story along quite nicely. Sound is also top notch.
Overall, HoD is along the lines of games like Flashback and Abe...it's basically a linear 2D side-scroller, but as of right now it's the best in class. I just wish it were a bit longer!