Harlan Ellison: I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

aka: Bezmolvnyj Krik, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, No Tengo Boca y Debo Gritar
Moby ID: 617

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Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 75% (based on 27 ratings)

Player Reviews

Average score: 3.9 out of 5 (based on 66 ratings with 4 reviews)

The clever, imaginative material alone makes up for any deficiencies

The Good
You can come across all sorts of crap whenever dipping into the "licensed titles" waters that fill the video gaming ocean, but just as you can get your fill of turds and rare jewels, you can also find immensely intriguing and interesting experiments which bring unknown or cult-fan based products to the videogame world by a combination of low cost production booms (We need CD games NOW!!!), sudden market trends (Yo! That "Mature" moniker sure sells!) and pure, blind chance.

...Scream" is one of those titles. Based on the exceptional (but hardly "mainstream") writings of Mr. Harlan Ellison, "...Scream" takes the characters and situations of the short story of the same name and fleshes them out into a full-blown adventure game using the same interface and gameplay mechanics as the classics of the genre.

Obviously, what sets apart Scream from the competition and what is clearly its strongest point is the use of Ellison's groundbreaking material. Using sci-fi as a means to introduce players/readers into the psyches and minds of several archetypical characters, Ellison crafts a disturbing web of personal traumas and dark secrets that delve into the murkiest corners of the human psyche and question the darkest aspects of our behavior.

As the story goes, the end of the world has come and gone, and humanity is no more. Only AM, a god-like supercomputer roams the earth, but for it's amusement it has kept alive for centuries the last 5 living humans torturing them in all sorts of physical and psychological ways. However AM has grown bored, and thus has decided to engage his captives into one final game, and challenges each of his "test subjects" to undergo a unique experience and see if they pass a little scenario that he has built specifically for them. Each character thus stars in his own little "Twilight Zone" episode, where they are dropped off in a collection of wicked and seemingly alien environments that eventually p rove to have more than their share of connections with their character's past and disturbing secrets. In the end, the games are nothing but a last sadistic joke from AM, but who knows, if the characters (and you) play their cards right, they might find redemption at last from their own demons in the end, and maybe, just maybe, find out that there's more to reality than AM has been telling them all along.

Playing as a selection of 5 unique stories each focusing on the particular traumas and demons of each character, the stories allow the game to delve into subjects hardly ever dealt by videogames (a suicidal worker haunted by the memory of his dead wife and a horrible crime, a nazi scientist that betrayed everything to the horrors of the holocaust, a paranoid strong-willed woman who nonetheless crumbles to the memories of a disturbing traumatic event, etc. etc...), The result is one of the most interesting gaming experiences ever to take place in your monitor, plus AM's god-like nature allows it to inject all sorts of surrealistic touches into each character's adventures and thus when I say that characters have to struggle with their inner demons and face symbolic representations of different obstacles, I mean that they really have to stand up and face the physical manifestations of different aspects of their psyches, past traumas, and even supernatural entities, all without losing the few marbles they have left.

In short? Powerful, heavy-duty, thought-provoking trippy stuff that sets new standards for mature contents in videogames.

As for the game, the progression between the stories flows seamlessly, and includes a lot of freedom towards the player regardless of it's "locked" adventure game-nature. For instance, you can tackle each story in any order, and it's ending can be reached in a different number of ways, which deal with your "karma points" and which determine not only under what tone you end your adventure (do you find redemption at last, just survive the ordeal, or sin k deeper into your own guilt/paranoia/depression/etc.?) but also how you are able to face the final surprise challenge after AM's little games are over. This final sequence takes you to a variety of game endings that depend on how you played the previous sequences and what approach you take towards your final challenge, including hopeful prospects for mankind, eternal punishments for defiling AM's will, immense fuckups and other somber-toned variations on the same themes (and while it's not a "default" ending you can see the original story's ending if you play your cards right.... or is it wrong?).

The puzzles in the game include a lot of challenging off-the-wall situations that call for all kinds of leaps of logic, sometimes intriguing and sometimes just plain crazy, but always interesting exercises that can hardly ever frustrate anyone thanks to a handy built-in hint system that helps you with seemingly vague but concise hints phrased as dictionary definitions! Or other seemingly random psychological profiles that relate to the situation at hand and which help you out of most jams at the cost of a little karma (the downside to this feature is that the cheap players can make a creative use of the save/load functions to see the hints without getting the penalties, but then again that's not the game's fault).

The Bad
The downsides to "...Scream" can all be summed up to a certain sense of disregard towards the source material by the developers and (mostly) the artists that helped craft the game. Basically, you have immensely powerful stuff that was somewhat jammed into the game with little thought as to how to make it work under the videogame medium effectively. I mean, one can't help but wonder what the artists thought the mood of the story was when they made every sprite looks like barely more detailed versions of those found on games like Torin's passage, ho-hum music and almost recorded-in-the-toilet quality voiceovers. And why the hatred for cinematic moments and scripted events? Save for a couple of moments everything in the game takes place in-game, with only textual (and voiced-over) descriptions of what's going on. I mean, doesn't Gorrister's ingestion of a loaf of bread laced with rat droppings merit a little more attention than a simple sprite reaching out for a vaguely rendered clutter of pixels and then saying that it tastes awful? Or doesn't Ellen's supernatural revival of a traumatizing rape deserve some form of accentuation be it from FMV sequences, an intense soundtrack or just good ol' action instead of mere words and boring dialogues without even a descriptive close-up of the participants? This lack of... I dunno... "feeling" isn't because of technical limitations, as the original Gabriel Knight among others demonstrated just how far you could take mature contents under "ye olde" point'n click adventure shell by increasing the punch of a solid material with good scripting, serious and edgy graphics and generally paying attention to what the hell you are doing instead of just dropping Harlan Ellison into what's essentially a generic design based on the genre standard.

Granted, I'm not saying that the game is a complete joke that has no connection to its story and material, but it definitively does a half-assed job of complementing the fantastic material it comes with, which is a shame really since that's probably what could have given the game the competitive edge it needed to carve it's own niche in the video gaming market.

The Bottom Line
An interesting adventure game in which unfortunately the production values and design policies don't go hand in hand with the excellent source material (which is nonetheless present and accounted for in the game). This little flaw is probably the one that caused the game to slip under most gamer's radar at the time, as a simple look at the screenshots here does nothing but reinforce the idea of it being a generic and simple adventure game.

However, the serious adventure gamer and generally any gaming connoisseur would do well to pay attention to this title and seek a copy, as it's a fantastic, thought-provoking, imaginative ride that is sure to jolt your brain and introduce you to one of the most fascinating perspectives on sci-fi to date.

DOS · by Zovni (10504) · 2004

My favorite game

The Good
This game was, for me at least, a truely unique experience. Although I have played games before with interesting plots or compelling narratives, this piece was like reading an excellent novel or watching an immersive movie. The story is rich and deep and the mood is dark and haunting. This is not merely based on the story I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream, this is an expansion on the horrifying world of the story that, rather than try to turn the short story itself into a game, covers the back story of each of the main characters, including the super computer.

Most refreshing is that the puzzles in the game are based on ethics and human interaction, rather than flipping switches and pushing buttons (although there's some of that as well.) Though some have said that the game's puzzles boil down to either doing something noble or doing something crummy, the game is actually far deeper than that. The scenarios are multi-layered and require the player to weigh the possible outcomes of trust and deceit, keeping in mind the back story of each character and how they are likely to behave based on the commands they are given.

Also, the contributions of writer Harlan Ellison cannot be overstated. Ellison, a veteran writer of science fiction as well as other genres, brings the kind of intelligent and well built storytelling to the game that helps it rise head and shoulders above the sci-fi cliches around which many video games are built. Bravo, encore!

The Bad
As others have stated it can be difficult to get the courser to acknowledge some of the smaller objects that must be picked up or manipulated. That's really all I can think of wrong with the game. Other than that I wish that there were more games of this caliber out there.

The Bottom Line
This is and excellent adaptation of Ellison's most well known story and a wonderful experience. Dark, violent, and disturbing, the game's story and world are truely in a league of their own.

DOS · by Jordan Owen (13) · 2005

This attempt at something completely different partially succeeds.

The Good
I Have No Mouth is an intelligent, deeply challenging game. By challenging I don't just mean difficult: I mean that it tries to make the player think about and face up to things we don't normally like to deal with: Traumatic experiences, the consequences of rampant technology, the Holocaust, etc. How daring! This alone makes the game one of my favorites.

The gameplay is similar to, for example, the classic Lucasarts games such as Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island: you use commands or inventory items from the bottom of the screen to interact with the world.

During the first section of the game, you take each of the 5 protagonists through his/her own dilemma. Gorrister, for example, only wants to commit suicide. Ellen tries to deal with her horrifying past. The end result of each of the sections is not necessarily completing your original mission, but helping to destabilize the allied mastercomputer (AM). After each of the character's quests are completed, you have to try to defeat AM in an endgame.

The graphics and artwork were tremendously atmospheric, even if they didn't utilize the "latest and greatest" of technology. I can't remember the music, but I remember that the voice acting was supurb (Harlan Ellison, the author of the original story, plays AM). I found alot of humor in this game, but it definitely requires a dark and demented mind to see.

The Bad
The very end bugged me. It seemed a little to wrapped up and neat compared to the rest of the game. Also, some of the puzzles in the game had absurd, frustrating, and very difficult solutions in an attempt to draw in the player to the absurd, uncontrollable, somewhat Kafkaesque world . But hey, there are always hint files if you are really stuck.

The Bottom Line
This is a rare game that really is different: not in terms of appearance, but in terms of philosophy. Here, the goal is to challenge, frustrate, and bleakify the player. It is a joy to play because of that, but on the other hand some of the puzzles suffer. If you love Kafka, you must play this game. A misguided ending doesn't detract very much at all from the story.

DOS · by Ben Sokal (15) · 2003

Bold move, long fall.

The Good
This is one of a rare species, an adaption from book into game form significantly involving the original author.

Now, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream is your classic story of supercomputer starts global thermonuclear war, exterminates human race save five, keeps said people around for amusement through torture. Harlan Ellison himself appears as the voice of the sentient ultracomputer "AM", which is rather an interesting statement.

As the game begins, AM informs its captives that it has "prepared a little game" for them. Actually five games, each tailored to the flaws of the person. You can play these subgames in any order. While in a subgame, you can give up and try another character's subgame, though that discards all progress in the current one.

This alone should tell you that this game is a radical variation on the original story; in it, the characters struggled together. In the game, there is more introspection with the characters on their own.

The subgames explore the background and personality of the characters by casting them among people and scenes from their past and/or situations that hinge on their character. I could see an excellent opportunity for moral complexity here. The game, however, throws ambiguity to the wind and indicates how much Good and Bad you've done by displaying a green tint behind the character's portrait on the status bar. It's basically a karma meter; do something Bad, such as torturing animals, and you lose karma.

The really interesting thing here, then, is that you're playing characters that have pasts and personal problems, unlike the naïve, well-meaning vanilla heroes with no history to speak of you get in most adventure games. From the karma meter description above, you may have guessed that you're supposed to make each character a better person through doing The Right Thing(tm). You can tell when you've done good, because your character portrait will flash a moronic grin. No, I'm not kidding. The first time I saw it I nearly choked.

Still, you may think, figuring out which action agrees with the character's moral standards might be interesting. However...

The Bad
One subgame is plain ridiculous. Another has a gratuitous time progression that forces you to play each day twice just to get your bearings, while a third basically shouts the character's background at you. In fact, the subgame that works the best is the one where the story is revealed behind solutions to barely tangential puzzles, which is a sure sign that the designers weren't up to this difficult task.

There was one subgame which I thought realized the character competently, but it contained some of the worst puzzles I've ever seen. And the ending... well, I can't really talk about it without spoiling, so I won't.

The interface feels unfinished, unresponsive and clunky. The character animation often looks downright comical, like poorly directed marionettes. There are serious bugs. There are puzzles that give no feedback on your actions. There are several opportunities for stranding yourself, one of which may leave you to play most of the game over again. And finally, if you're going to have a story-driven adventure, you'd better not have any pixel-hunting puzzles. I Have No Mouth does have a pixel-hunting puzzle and I did scream. Loudly.

The Bottom Line
All this is irrelevant, however: It's still required playing, because it's one of the few game adaptations to significantly involve the original author, and the only graphic adventure I can think of that works towards really complex characters. And for anyone remotely interested in Harlan Ellison and adventure games, there's simply no question. Shame, really; a more polished I Have No Mouth might have hooked some people on adventure games, possibly even raised the standards of what an adventure game should be.

DOS · by Ola Sverre Bauge (237) · 2004

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by Trevor Harding, Sun King, Robert DeMeijer, Patrick Bregger, Tim Janssen, Scaryfun, Alsy, Mr Creosote, Jeanne, deepcut, Dae, Rodrigo Steinmann, Joakim Kihlman, Apogee IV, Víctor Martínez, Wizo.