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SummaryThe clever, imaginative material alone makes up for any deficiencies
The GoodYou 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 BadThe 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 LineAn 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.