That’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Interplay’s Heart of Darkness. One of the best things Interplay ever did was to divide its development houses into different areas of expertise. Heart comes from Tantrum, the action game side of the family.
With low system requirements making it accessible to nearly anyone who bought a computer sometime in the past four years (66 MHz required), simple controls and a story line that appeals to both adults and children, Heart is destined for greatness. In early GiN industry awards voting (see our Web page if you have not cast your ballot yet) Heart is a strong competitor for game of the year.
When you start the game you are treated to an animated sequence that brings to mind many of the great 1980’s space exploring and adventure movies like Flight of the Navigator, Explorers and Labyrinth. And our main character, a little boy searching for his lost dog Whiskey, is at least as loveable as some of the characters played by the late River Phoenix. Basically, you learn that Whiskey is stolen by aliens and taken into space. This would be a dilemma for most children, but not our hero, who has his own personal hand-built spacecraft in his tree fort. He quickly flies to the alien home world, we’re never sure exactly where that is, and crashes.
Once on the ground, following the 10-minute intro, you are then challenged to navigate a side-scrolling world where you have to run, jump, shoot and swim your way through a series of dangerous landscapes. The controls are extremely simple, and might work better with a gamepad instead of a keyboard. Arrow keys move you and three other keys can be used to shoot, jump or run.
The world players find themselves in has a variety of puzzles to solve. Some are action based, like knowing when to hop across a lava fountain without getting fried. Others require more thinking, like discovering which panel to push to open a door.
The game borders on being explicit with its graphical views of our hero getting killed from time to time, but keeps things just toned down enough to avoid scaring children who might be playing. For example, in one scene, if you are caught by a giant fly-larva-looking creature you are pulled into its den head first. This is followed by a snapping sound as the creature breaks your back. And finally it emerges from another hole to devour your dangling legs. This sounds pretty gross, but it’s done without blood and your hero is alive two seconds later, ready to try and defeat the room again, so children probably won’t be too disturbed. There is more violence in modern cartoons for the most part.
But the world is dark enough to appeal to adults. Battles with evil flying creatures, with them tossing orange fire balls and you throwing back green energy bolts, are fairly epic with our hero vanquishing rooms full of monsters. For part of the game, the little boy also uses a lighting gun he built that makes him look like a ghostbuster, adding a comical element to an already fine game.
But the greatest strength of Heart is the way it makes players feel like they are a part of the story line. This is done by seamlessly integrating cutscenes into gameplay. And I do mean seamlessly. You will be crawling up a mountain one instant and then all of a sudden the game triggers a cutscene that looks just like the active part of the gameplay. About the time you realize you are no longer in control of your character, the camera will pan back to give you an awe-inspiring view of the evil fortress over the hill, with black flying creatures screaming out like TIE Fighters. Then you are shown the muppet-like sidekick to the ultimate evil boss as he grovels, goofs around and generally adds comic relief to the game.
The cut scenes also seamlessly integrate back into game play. In one instance you are brought to a friendly village and told by the inhabitants that you will be safe. Just as that happens, the village comes under attack and you go from watching a movie about the battle to being plopped right in the middle of it.
For children, Heart offers a sometimes dangerous but always exciting world that I doubt even the most imaginative kid could conceive. For adults, the game is just as fun. And with low system requirements, we tested it on some low-end machines just to make sure, nearly anyone can enjoy the game.
All the best game elements come together in exactly the right way to make Heart of Darkness a true classic. It shines with a 5 out of 5 GiN gem rating, and wholeheartedly earns a perfect score.