I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream

Harlan Ellison: I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream DOS Front Cover

Developer: Dreamers Guild
Publisher: Acclaim
Year: 1995
Platform: DOS, Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS

While the book to adventure game thing has been done many times, it’s rare for the original author to have so much involvement in its design. Douglas Adams had a significant hand in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, though I don’t think he can hold a candle to the creative control Harlan Ellison had here. Unfortunately, this did not cause for a great game; in fact, Ellison sued to get profits from the game he though he deserved, only to learn the game made no profit. I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream is one of the more ambitious adventure games I have come across that unfortunately couldn’t quite figure out what it wanted to be and is nearly as frustrating to play as it is to be one of Ellison’s characters.

The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the supercomputer, cheekily named AM, has won and has decided to keep five humans alive to torture them for its own pleasure. In the story the humans join forces to try to destroy the supercomputer; the game takes a different approach in that you play as each human individually. In your quest to destroy AM you must face your own character’s demons (and in most cases a severe mental illness) and attempt to improve upon your own moral character to advance. It’s pretty damn cool in that what is morally an improvement for one character may not be the same for another as they each have their own code that you must learn. What’s not cool is that there are endless amounts of inane, needlessly complex puzzles where you either have to guess the designer’s mind or click until you get lucky. Even worse is that there is one super non-obvious way to make the game unwinnable, and you can bet your ass this player found it, necessitating several more hours of game play.

Harlan Ellison: I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream DOS Failed suicide attempt

While I found each character individually interesting, the game does a poor job of helping build their character throughout. I never really rooted for any of them, so I had no investment on whether they could overcome AM. And since you don’t really join forces, it feels like five separate games mashed into one. To top it off the production values are uneven. The graphics are gorgeous, but the character sprites are ugly. Gameplay is clunky, unintuitive especially when compared to the Sierra and LucasArts game of the era. And while it’s pretty cool that Harlan Ellison himself voiced AM, I was not terribly impressed with his work.

Harlan Ellison: I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream DOS Mass grave

Computer Gaming World named this the #1 adventure game of 1996 and it definitely has its fans. Adventuregamers.com gave it 4 out of 5 stars while stating the game isn’t necessarily fun to play, just really intriguing. I’d have to agree with their assessment. If you like the story its based on or just like creepy, unsettling stories, this may be worth your time. However, I’d advise you keep a walkthrough handy so you can enjoy the experience while avoiding many of the flaws.

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