Posted: October 12, 2014
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is a fascinating piece of work. It's one of those games, much like Scratches, that works wonders with atmosphere, but not so much when it comes to the actual gameplay. Although where Scratches had a really tense, frightening atmosphere, No Mouth is more mysterious and depressing. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream works more with fridge horror, I feel. Yeah, it's creepy, but it's only truly scary if you sit back and think about it. And you will, because it's a tale that provokes thought.
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream was originally a famous short story by one Mr. Harlan Ellison. If you get the chance, I recommend giving it a read, as there's a reason it's so famous. Actually, that's a lie. I don't recommend reading it. I really recommend listening
to it. The I Have No Mouth audiobook, read by Harlan Ellison himself, is truly a treasure of audio. Ellison is hammy and over-the-top, but man does he sell
it. The man gets completely into his story, and it benefits immensely from it.
If you've done the above, then I think you'll be more than pleased to hear that Ellison also plays AM, the maniacally hate-filled, torturous supercomputer who serves as your antagonist and tormenter for the duration of this game. He's every bit as hammy and over-the-top, and it's hard not to hang on his every word. The other voices in the game vary in quality, but you won't really notice the dips as you'll be too focused on the unfolding storylines, and also on WHAT DO I DO
So let's start with the story. You play five different characters, who comprise the entire remaining human population of Earth. AM, a colossal supercomputer which resides beneath the crust of the Earth, more or less got frustrated with his lot in life and unleashed the world's supply of nukes at... well, the world. But it kept five human beings alive to be his playthings for the remainder of eternity. For over a hundred years, these five humans have been subjected to ungodly torments, and now AM would like to play a little game.
Each character is thrown into a scenario built especially for them, expected to be horrible and miserable for AM's amusement. The true goal before you is to fail AM, and prove yourself above his petty games. It is in these scenarios that you will learn about each character, their faults, their history, and a little bit about AM himself and what's going on behind the scenes and beyond your view.
This obviously differs from the original story, as these scenarios never existed. They were created (with major input from Ellison) especially for this game in order to give more backstory on the characters. Things change. The story as a whole changes. But it's still very much I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.
Let's talk about the gameplay.
It could be better.
IHNM is presented in a classic SCUMM format. You have a list of verbs and an inventory at the bottom of the screen, both of which can be used to interact with the world around you. You will talk to characters, solve puzzles, find objects. All the familiar trappings of a good point-and-click adventure. So far, so good. The first major hitch is that eternal adventure game hellspawn, the unrelated event. You know what I'm talking about. When you do a thing, which triggers an unrelated thing to happen somewhere else which you have no way of knowing about and no reason to think might have happened. So many point-and-click adventures have fallen prey to this design flaw (Myst IV and Hector 3 among them, just thinking off the top of my head, here), and I wish it would stop.
I had one point in the first scenario I picked where I didn't know what to do. I looked up a guide, and it didn't help. I thought maybe my game was glitched, as I had done everything the guide had ordered. And then I saw it. A very subtle thing. A line in the guide telling me to exhaust a certain character's dialogue. All I had skipped (for reasons that we'll get to in a moment) was an entirely unnecessary rude line that doesn't actually help anything. But lo and behold, when burning off that one useless line of dialogue caused an unrelated character to appear in a different location, freeing progression from the devs' icy cold grip.
There are some other annoying bits, here and there. Some items and interactables that aren't exactly obvious on the screen. Two scenarios allow you to progress past important items or before doing mandatory bits. It's problematic, and very confusing when it happens. Luckily, it's possible to die after this moment in one of the scenarios, bringing you back to the character select where you can choose to try again. For the other one... well, just keep multiple saves, is all.
In addition to simply making through each scenario, every character has a personal spiritual meter. The better the spirits they're in, the lighter the background behind their portrait in the lower-left becomes. Practice good morals and make progress to lighten it. Screw up, be corrupt or evil, or just cause your character to freak out to darken it. If the meter turns white as the scenario draws to a close, you've perfected that scenario. This is not always easy to do. I only managed it in two scenarios.
They say you need to get a white meter with each character in order to see the best ending, and that's going to require either a guide or multiple playthroughs. I wonder, though. I'm pretty positive I did in fact get the best ending, despite not having all whites. I think it's probably possible as long as each character has almost a white meter, or a couple characters have white meters and everyone else is close? Or something? Though don't quote me on that, I really don't know, and there's a surprising lack of entirely helpful documentation on this subject.
Anyways, my advice is to not worry about it. Do your best and get an ending, whatever that ending may be. Give the finale a few tries, though, because you'll probably screw it up a couple times.
Anyways, point is, the game looks great and sounds great, and the story will draw you all sorts of in. Just be aware that you may need to consult the Internet at times, and be sure to rotate your saves. Or do what I did and just make each save a new one, because this game seems to have infinite slots. Which is a nice feature.
For all its faults, I still enjoyed the majority of my time with I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. And if you're a fan of the original story, or games which not only don't shy away from adult themes, but walk straight through a minefield of adult themes and take it all in stride with a sly grin upon their lips, then I think you'll enjoy it too.