Retro Gaming: ‘I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream’

Many games like to tout their ‘moral choice systems’ these days, and game developers do like to try and provide a genuinely tough choice. Whilst some of the scenarios are more than absurd, such as inFamous giving you the option of defending the police station from attackers or blowing it sky high, others have fared better. Bioshock based much of its gameplay around either saving or killing the Little Sisters, which only proves effective when you learn just how much you were being manipulated by the game. No matter how much these games try though, creating an emotional response is not easily achieved – most gamers reported finding destroying their companion cube in Portal to be more distressing than killing the Little Sisters.

No games in the past decade have ever taken these situations to the extreme. For example, none have ever forced you to listen to a character complain about how long they’ve been starving and then being given the option of cannibalism. Nor have they required players to have a woman unwillingly confront her rapist. Certainly no recent games have positioned the player as a doctor in a Nazi death camp with a human test subject on the gurney in front of you, a scalpel in your hand and the instructions to conduct a horrific experiment.

All of these scenarios are taken from the point-and-click adventure ‘I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream’, notable also for the intriguing title. Based on the short story by Harlan Ellison, the story is set over a hundred years after the Cold War escalated and a super-computer responsible for managing the tactics of the Allied forces wiped out humanity. The computer, called AM (voiced in the game by Ellison) has kept five humans alive and spends its time manipulating and torturing them.

This title is rare among the horror game genre in that it is genuinely unnerving. Being from the classic era of point’n’click adventure games the pace is slow, removing the reliance on ‘shock’ tactics. The horror instead comes from the five self-contained situations that AM uses to torment his victims. Each character is forced to confront their personal demons, with the backstory being drip-fed to the player as the story unfolds. One character is driven to commit suicide, although AM prevents this, and it’s through completing his story that you learn why and help him reach his redemption.

Whilst the story provides plenty of chills (feeding your own heart to a talking jackal was more than unsettling) the art design and soundtrack have been brilliantly done to evoke the sense of dread and paranoia that the characters feel. Extra touches, such as distorted radio signals that seem to be coming from another cache of survivors help give the world extra weight, especially as it’s never clear whether or not they are genuine or another manipulation of AM.

Although detailed the graphics weren’t stand-out for the time and the same can be said of them now. Some of the puzzles exist outside the normal realm of logic and requires some random clicking to fully unravel and this can be frustrating in a game of this design. The original features, such as a spiritual barometer don’t add much to the experience and the ability to die (a rarity in the genre) can lead to plenty of back-tracking.

For any gamers who want a completely original and unique gaming experience, or are looking for a haunting interactive experience should track this 1995 title down – though I recommend keeping a guide bookmarked for when the designers logic isn’t as clear as it should be.

Logic? What logic?