Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Cognetics
Year: 1986
Platform: PC; Commodore 64; Apple II

Thomas M. Disch, prolific science fiction writer and reviewer, wrote a game in 1986 that infuriated me as a child. At the time, I felt the game was too difficult, though I liked the premise behind it. So about ten years later, I picked the game back up. It infuriated me. Amnesia just may be the most difficult text adventure ever put on the market. And by difficult I don’t mean that you have to battle mazes and guess what verb the author wants you to use. The game is just damn hard.

As the game suggests, you wake up in a Manhattan hotel room with absolutely no clue as to your identity, or anyone else’s identity for that matter. Overused premise as is (though, in 1986 it wasn’t quite as cliché), Disch works it to perfection.  Almost immediately, you feel as though people are after you. Naturally, you have no idea why.

It’s easy enough getting out of the hotel alive, but here comes the HARD part.  You’re homeless.  You have almost no money. No job. No identification. No food. Half of the game is simply survival, and it’s about as easy as surviving on the streets in reality (or harder, really, considering how quickly I died). Unfortunately for our true homeless citizens, they have no access to a hint book or a “restore” function.

Amnesia Commodore 64 Under arrest for indecent exposure

The game was only marginally easier when I was twenty-one than when I was ten. I was very happy to survive my first day on the streets without dying. I even made some progress towards figuring out my identity. But after dying a few dozen times, I gave in and downloaded a walkthrough; and I have no regrets in doing so.  The game remains fair throughout, but I don’t believe I could have ever won it on my own.

Despite the insane difficulty, I have a strong affection for the game. Disch’s prose is beautiful. I wish more writers worked with programmers in developing games, because this one is worth going through the walkthrough just to read his descriptions of New York. Moreover, every single intersection in Manhattan is implemeneted. Every intersection. Granted, not every one has descriptions of warehouses and storefronts, but every landmark is there, as well as most parks and the entire subway system. A subway system that you’ll have to use extensively to make it anywhere in the game (the game comes with a detailed map). Finally, the story is fairly intriguing if you ever get to see the end of it. Unfortunately, the plot elements are all too often drawn out between various deaths and thus the suspense is hurt a bit.

There are a few programming mistakes, but in a game this enormous, they can be forgiven. So can the sheer difficulty, but only in this current age of walkthrough heaven. If you thought Bureaucracy was boring because it was too easy, then this game should be fun for you.  Otherwise, download a walkthrough and enjoy yourself, watching how a game can shine when writer and programmer join forces.

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