I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is a 1995 point-and-click adventure game developed by Cyberdreams and The Dreamers Guild, co-designed by Harlan Ellison, published by Cyberdreams and distributed by MGM Interactive. The game is based on Ellison’s short story of the same title. It takes place in a dystopian world where a mastermind artificial intelligence named “AM” has destroyed all of humanity except for five people, whom he has been keeping alive and torturing for the past 109 years by constructing metaphorical adventures based on each character’s fatal flaws. The player interacts with the game by making decisions through ethical dilemmas that deal with issues such as insanity, rape, paranoia, and genocide.
The premise of the game is that the three superpowers, Russia, China, and the United States, have each secretly constructed a vast subterranean complex of computers to wage a global war too complex for human brains to oversee. One day, the American supercomputer, better known as the Allied Mastercomputer, gains sentience and absorbs the Russian and Chinese supercomputers into itself and redefines itself as simply AM (“I think, therefore I am”). Due to its immense hatred for humanity, stemming from the logistical limits set onto him by programmers, AM uses its abilities to kill off the population of the world. However, AM refrains from killing five people (four men and one woman) in order to bring them to the center of the earth and torture them. With the aid of research carried out by one of the five remaining humans, AM is able to extend their lifespans indefinitely as well as alter their bodies and minds to his liking.
You take control of the 5 characters in any order you like and play through their scenario in a typical point-and-click adventure fashion. The interface provides you with a verb list and inventory view, as well as your character’s “health” (depicted by their headshot and a coloured background). I didn’t really understand the health mechanic as I played through this, even with a walkthrough, but apparently keeping your character healthy (I think “health” had a different name) actually affects your ability to get the best ending.
The goal is to overcome the character’s issue that they’re struggling with in order to escape the scenario and end up back in their torture chamber.
The game’s interface is intuitive if you’ve ever played an adventure game. You have the option to interact with NPCs or machines, which is controlled via a typical menu-driven dialogue tree. Some interaction options aren’t revealed until you’ve solved some puzzle, located an item or interacted with another character in some other fashion, but this is all standard adventure game fare.
Though there are a number of fetch quests throughout the scenarios, they actually don’t feel out of place or like “busy work”. The solution to each puzzle isn’t overly complicated to identify if you read everything and interact with everything on each screen. Seeing as this game is an adaption of a short story there’s quite a bit to read throughout the game that helps advance the plot.
What really sets this game apart is the story. There is great effort put into developing each of the five characters, and by the end of the game you feel you’ve helped them overcome their fears and insecurities as they confront the ghosts of their pasts. Harlan Ellison collaborated with the game’s writer to adapt his story to this format, and even leant his voice talents to the game by voicing AM.
Though his delivery is a little over the top, it’s not out of place. The game is fully voice acted, and each of the characters are well done. Their delivery helps keep you immersed in their scenarios and doesn’t detract from the overall game play.
My favourite scenario in this game was Nimdok’s. Nimdok is an ex-Nazi doctor that is sent back to the camps to resume human experimentation. The goal is to find “the lost tribe”, which he actually winds up being a member of. As he slowly regains some memories of his past it turns out he turned in his Jewish parents to the regime, and helped develop the tech that AM uses to prolong the lives of the 5 captive humans. Nimdok redeems himself by helping the Jewish captives of the camp escape, and gives them control of a large golem, which they use to kill him for his past crimes.
The sound effects and background music feel appropriate and maintain the dark and brooding atmosphere. Most of the scenes are very dark and depressing, which you’d expect given the source material.
After all five humans have overcome their fatal flaws, they meet again in their respective torture cells while AM retreats within himself, pondering what went wrong. With the help of the Russian and Chinese supercomputers, you select one of the humans to be translated into binary and enter the world of AM’s mind. Each of the 5 characters needs to navigate this landscape and activate a pillar and confront the Id, Ego and Superego.
Apparently how you complete the character’s scenarios actually plays into the ending here, and you can find yourself missing key items if you didn’t finish with a high enough “health” level (or something to that effect). I started the game with the Gorrister scenario, and when I made it to the end I was missing the heart that I needed to activate his pillar.
You can still win the game if you’re missing these items, but you won’t get the best ending … which I didn’t.
Overall I had a good time with this game, and plan on reading the short story in the near future. I really enjoy the dark psychological introspective stories such as this so the subject matter resonated with me personally.
As far as adventure games go I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream doesn’t really introduce anything unique or innovative to the genre, but still makes for a good experience. The strong story is what sets this apart, and though I highly doubt I’d ever play this again I very much enjoyed my time with this game.
|I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
|The Dreamers Guild
|October 31, 1995
|Mac OS, DOS
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