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SummaryThe true heir of Another World
The GoodWhen Eric Chahi almost single-handedly designed Another World back in 1991, players were amazed by the revelation of cinematic and gameplay-directing powers hidden in a game composed out of brightly colored blocks and controlled by two keys. Though cinematic platformers in general have been enjoying a moderate attention since then, I don't know of another game that attempted to emulate the very particular style of the French masterpiece.
That is, until Heart of Darkness came out, after having been stuck in development limbo for too long. The similarities to the classic game aren't surprising at all, since the game was produced by the same author with the help of a few experienced colleagues. Don't let the "childish" premise and the somewhat cartoony visuals fool you: Heart of Darkness is a dramatic, tense, tightly designed cinematic platform that succeeds, for the most part, in recreating the magic of Another World.
I think that what truly distinguished Chahi's seminal work from other cinematic platformers of its time (such as Prince of Persia) was the way it used scripted sequences to convey an incomparable feeling of danger-soaked immersion into a hostile, alien environment. Heart of Darkness manages to do this once again: it pulls you into its world with the sheer power of imaginative setpieces that never feel stale and always keep you on the edge of your seat with their potentially lethal outcomes.
Despite its simple core mechanics and minimalist progression, Heart of Darkness is full of contrasts. It masterfully merges fast-paced action and puzzle-like exercises in creative and sometimes unpredictable ways. Shooting sequences are wildly chaotic and incredibly intense. Just after you have frantically pulled the trigger dozens of times to eliminate suddenly leaping, terrifying shadows, the game takes your weapon away from you and you must figure out how to proceed - which may involve tough acrobatics or even planting trees. Each situation has to be dealt with in a particular way. Heart of Darkness is never repetitive, and is magnanimous enough not to overuse any of the several ingenious gameplay devices it introduces. While some other games would just stick to the same tricks, Heart of Darkness never fails to surprise you. It may be a short ride, but an exceptionally versatile and gripping one: you never know what comes next.
Heart of Darkness is not an easy game: some of the hardcore action-oriented puzzles might give you a headache, and its furious combat sequences are not to be taken lightly. The good thing is that the checkpoints within the levels are very frequent, so you won't have to replay entire stages in order to pass one difficult segment. I wish more platform games were as thoughtful in challenging the player without needless frustration.
Just like with Another World, presentation is king in Heart of Darkness. The beautiful stages are detailed and ooze atmosphere. You'll climb mountains in a canyon, follow a narrow path in a swamp, avoid dangers in volcanic caves, and each time feel how your protagonist becomes an inseparable part of the scenery. The graphics may seem outdated, but don't forget the game was in development for a very long time. Particularly impressive are the game's orchestral soundtrack and its wonderfully animated CG movies with toy-like characters almost reminiscent of Pixar's work.
The BadHeart of Darkness is a short game. In fact, it feels shorter than Another World, probably because its puzzles are generally less difficult. I think it would have benefited from at least a few additional areas or a thematic change in some of them. Perhaps an inhabited settlement or an indoor location would have helped - the game takes place exclusively within natural environments and almost entirely in the open air.
The real problem of the game, however, is its belated release. If Heart of Darkness came out about five years before its eventual appearance, it would have been rightfully hailed as a historically important platformer pushing forward an undeservedly neglected design philosophy. But by the twilight of the millennium things have changed considerably. 3D revolution has brought us Tomb Raider, translating the essence of cinematic platformers into the new dimension and making short and linear 2D games feel outdated. Thus, Heart of Darkness failed to make any lasting impact on the industry and was mostly savored by a few faithful admirers of the old style.