Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.
All the way through? I don’t believe you for one moment.
Heart of Darkness was one of those games that I was convinced, over the months and years, that I had to like, had to buy. It would have been the first time that I was truly a victim of videogame press/marketing hype, had it not been for Rise of the Robots a few years previous.
Heart of Darkness was going to be games-as-cinema. The moment games grew up. It was always a little hard to square this with the fact that it was a 2D platformer in a time when 3D shooters were considered the bleeding edge of game technology and artistry. Perhaps it was a little before its time, in its way – there wasn’t yet a thirst for any kind of retro comeback.
In any case, it was the cinematic and animation qualities of Heart of Darkness that caused the hype. Half an hour of CGI cutscenes, seamless switching between game sections and movie sections, character animations supposedly on a par with a Disney film… With Another World’s Eric Chahi at the helm, it also had heritage, in terms of visual storytelling.
But it took years to arrive, and anticipation turned to suspicion. When it did finally arrive, it was nothing more, really, than a platformer. A very familiar platformer, of a kind whose time, one felt, had past. And an exasperatingly hard platformer, to boot. I did not make it far, before The Rage at yet another repeated jump and fail caused me to bounce off it hard.
Looking back at videos now, the animation quality of the in-game sequences shines perhaps more than it did at the time. We are in an age of renewed appreciation for 2D artistry, and there is a level of quality and subtlety to how its characters move and its world responds which is rare even with today’s advanced 2D development tools. It is easier to understand the delays. The pixels are big and some of the character design is questionable, but it still looks good. Almost better now than then, even.
The CGI 3D cutscenes are sadly deeply embarrassing however, both in terms of how outdated they look and their inept, clownishly-performed dialogue.
It’ll never see a remaster, which is for the best, really. But I wonder – a heavily edited and re-playtested version which ditched the cutscenes, streamlined the jump’n’fail and become more of an Inside/Limbo affair – that could work.