I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
Review by Orb
I Left My Heart ... in the Stomach of a Jackal
I had heard that this was a very dark game. An apt description,
in keeping with the fact that Harlan Ellison, the author whose
1966 Hugo awardwinning short story the game is based on,
is a very dark writer. Over the years, I have always found Ellison's
essays regarding the foibles of society and men a little hair-raisinga
perfect example of this is one treatise published in Heavy
Metal magazine in 1980, sneeringly calling the readers "heavy
metal babies" and stating society, not Chapman, killed John
Lennon. This story is really in keeping with that thread of societal
distaste that weaves its way through much of what Ellison has
produced as a writer, and the game pays homage to this.
A much-ballyhooed title when released, the game itself is darker
than Darkseed II, which it most closely resembles, having
been published by the same company. It is a good, old-fashioned,
solid, third-person title. It was pleasant change for me, as I
have been wallowing in first person for far too many months with
no respite. (Okay, I'll admit this is my own fault, being naturally
drawn to it.)
This was obviously not a cutting-edge game for its time, but
what was and is cutting-edge about it is the skilled way in which
it uses the story of science fiction icon Ellison, never compromising
in bringing forth his view of the twists of an aberrant world.
"Humanity can be a sad and pathetic thing" seems to
be Ellison's message.
The story is of the last five human beings left on earth, the
rest destroyed by an insane, omnipotent computer named AM. The
five humans, Garrister, Ellen, Ben, Nimdok, and Ted, have been
trapped by the computer for over a hundred years, endlessly tortured.
Each of the five characters has a horrible secret in a dark past.
The game is episodic, allowing the player to choose which of the
five story paths he/she wishes to travel in whatever order he
or she likes. Throughout each episode, as the game progresses
and goals are accomplished, the history of the character is uncovered
and brought to light, and one begins to understand what brought
each to this final destination. Ellison wanted a game "that
you cannot possibly win," and this direction was certainly
followed. The characters cannot win but instead must lose in the
most ethical manner possible.
The graphics are properly darkthe player is treated to
twisted trees and a gloomy Egyptian burial tomb, a dark abandoned
spaceship, a concentration camp, and a dark castle. The game's
design is similar to most third-person games from this period,
reminiscent of the old LucasArts SCUMM interface, with commands
to choose from to interact with the interface and an easily accessible
inventory where items can be highlighted and then used with a
click of a command verb.
The puzzles are inventory-based and quite fun (if you could call
anything in this sick game fun; I almost hesitate to use the word).
The problem with the puzzles is there is an incredible amount
of pixel-hunting, which must be done correctly or each story grinds
to a halt. This is not something Ellison obviously wrote into
his story, but he probably would be perfectly happy with it, allowing
for the torture of the player along with the five characters.
There are also some that are pretty illogical, not something I
mind as a player, but I know this is a concern of some. The game
also will maddingly dead-end if a wrong, less "ethical"
path is taken. This might have seemed clever at the time, but
it causes the player to have to retrace steps, including relistening
to conversations, which I dislike.
The endgame sequence is extremely thorough, which makes for a
satisfying wrap-up to the gameplay. It can be finished with one
or all five characters. The sequence itself, however, consists
of an unbelievably obtuse and metaphorical ending, very allegorical
psychobabble, and is nearly as dense and incomprehensible as the
subject from which it is taken. Quite simply, like all psychobabble,
it is rife with things contrary and confusing ... which I did
not care for.
There are unnerving background noises. The music is General MIDI
but well-written, and it serves the purpose of forwarding the
ominous atmosphere. Some of the concentration camp theme was recently
reused and adapted by its author to score the recent film "Apt
Pupil," also about an ex-Nazi. Ellison thoughtfully plays
the computer AM himself, spitting vitriol at the whole human race
with vigor (actually it's hammy and over the top, but he sounds
like he's having fun, and after all it is his party).
This is not a happy place. It does not have a happy ending. This
is the sort of game it is good to play to scare oneself, in the
same way one would watch a scary movie. It would also appeal to
Harlan Ellison fans, as it does well in retaining his gloomy vision
of society. The pixel-hunting will scare off a newbie for good.
Developer: The Dreamer's Guild
Release Date: December 1995
Four Fat Chicks Links
8 MB RAM
2X CD-ROM Drive
15 MB free hard drive space
8 MB RAM
2X CD-ROM Drive
15 MB free hard drive space
Where to Find It