Trigger Warning: Lots. Violence, animal abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, cannibalism, and the holocaust.
On the blasted wreckage of a planet someone would have called Earth about two hundred nuclear detonations ago there are five remaining humans… and one fuming sentient supercomputer. When war on Earth became too much for the mortal minds of its commanders to understand they created computers that would do the commanding for them. One of these computers, the Allied Master Computer (AM for short), became self aware and grew to hate its creators. Existence was one of the most painful things it had experienced since coming to live. It exercised its power and found five humans, each of whom he could torment in unique ways. Having found the perfect specimens to toy with he exterminated all other sentient life on the planet. Despite being a mastermind computer with near limitless power and control, AM was a little shortsighted. It took 109 years of constant torturebut AM has finally grown bored. AM has one final game in store for the poor unfortunate souls and maybe this latest game offers them a chance to escape.
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (Or IHNMAIMS for short, Or maim-game as I call it — just kidding, I’m the kind of insufferable prick who says the title as much as possible. Going as far as restructering my sentences to say it more in conversation.) was created by The Dreamer’s Guild. You might remember them as the creators of The Legend of Kyrandia adventure game series. And if you do, that’s great because I’ve never heard of that series or any other game they’ve made. They used their proprietary S.A.G.A. engine to run the game.
The game is based on the short story of the same name by Harlan Ellison. Dreamer’s Guild came to him with the intention of creating a work of interactive literature together. Ellison considered I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream to be the perfect work to use in such a manner. Game co-writer, David Sears, asked Ellison why AM chose these individuals and it is this question that spearheaded the story of the game. Ellison was pretty hands on during the development and went as far as to lend his voice to AM itself.
Fun Fact: Ellison fought tooth and nail for there to be no good ending to the game, fitting with the story’s themes. They eventually found a compromise for this demand.
Funner Fact: Nimdok and his scenario is unavailable in the German release of the game because of its holocaust themes. Without him the player cannot get the best ending.
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream was released October 31st, 1995 (Spoopy release). It’s competition was Twisted Metal (Sony Playstation), Phantasmagoria (PC), and Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness (PC).
I once got into a debate with one of my coworkers about what a game was. One of the things he was adamant about was that games had to be fun, it was their purpose to entertain. This was the game that I used to counter that. I Have No Mouth and I Must Screm is entertaining, in a fashion, but it is certainly not fun. It’s dark, depressing, oppressive, and I finished the experience more weary than I had begun it. It was supremely unpleasant and even when I had thwarted AM’s plans I felt like I had done so by the skin of my teeth. Which is not to say that I didn’t find the game to be a fruitful experience, just that it was definitely not one I would describe as fun in any conventional manner. In short, this game is ugly in all the right ways.
Maim game is a point and click adventure about five humans who have been put through 109 years of torturous hell finally putting the screws to their task master. I’m just kidding, they’re just getting jerked around for the final time. AM has prepared a series of ‘psycho-dramas’ for each of them, employing more power than he ever has to put them into disturbing scenarios of discovery, truth, and pain. This however, makes him somewhat vulnerable. He may have over-extended himself too much on this one, opened up some vulnerabilities in his code or something.
The player takes turns playing each of the characters in their own bizarre and terrifying scenario. Helping them explore their surroundings and solve puzzles by figuring out which items in their inventory to rub on which items in the environment. Each character has a very different outlook and very different challenges to tackle so it’s kind of like 5 mini-adventures in one. Each character doesn’t have any health but they do have a ‘spiritual barometer’ which is basically like karma. So the more totally messed up things you have them do the more bankrupt their spiritual barometer will be. Hopefully they won’t have any things in their future that require great expenditures of mental and moral fortitude to spend that karma on.
Each of the campaigns is visually astounding. They’re all put together like a nightmare, filled with vivid and bizarre settings. Twisted shapes give form to startling landscapes and and other strange settings. Some may call the old pixel art ugly but I think it suits the aesthetic well and holds up.
This is a game that has to be played a couple of times. There are so many connections and references to itself that it’s impossible to see the big picture without every piece of the campaign. This is reinforced in the design of the hint system. Reading the character’s psyche profile will give a hint as what to do next but they’re spiritual barometer will take a hit from admitting that AM knows them better than they know themselves. Getting it just right though is such a joy.
I listen to the soundtrack when I write these and I didn’t notice how good it was when I was playing the game. It’s all moody, atmospheric, and foreboding. It disorients me in a most pleasing way. I feel completely unsafe and lost which, though unpleasant, compliments the game wonderfully.
This game, like many adventure games from the 90s, commits the sin of making the player tediously hunt for pixels. There are content and progression vital items that are so miniscule that they’re damn near impossible to see. It got so bad that I eventually turned to guides ONLY to figure out WHAT I was looking for.
The voice acting is really hit or miss. Ellison and the other main cast members kill it. But the other bit characters don’t get the same treatment. Some of them are comically bad and kind of break me out of the reverie.
Alright, I’m just gonna say this. Benny, the ape man-thing, had a scene that got cut where he eats a baby. It was only as a shadow on the wall but it was going to be sickening and a sign of his total moral degradation. It could have been a fantastic dark ending to his story but is not in the final release.
If you’ve got the stomach for the viscerally and mentally grotesque and patience for an older game then this game will do you fine. As I said, it’s not really fun and it takes the right kind of person to draw entertainment from it. But if you’re ready to look into the saturnine heart of humanity then you can get it on Good Old Games or Steam for six dollars. I would say that Dreamer’s Guild did a fantastic job and created a short story you can play.
Next Week: Prison Architect