I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (PC) Review
A well-written adaptation of the Hugo Award winning short story
Bone-chilling voice acting by Harlan Ellison (AM’s voice)
Tedious pointing and clickings
Puzzle-solving mechanics aren’t the most logical
Based on the short story with the same name, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is a point-and-click horror adventure that has aged like a fine wine after 26 years since it was first released. For many horror fans, getting chased by monsters, shooting the brains out of virus-infected walking deads, and jump scares out of nowhere are familiar notions of survival horrors. Unlike the majority of contemporary horror games, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream doesn’t feature any of those components of terror but rather, it presents the fear that comes from the never-ending agony of living in a virtual existence.
A supercomputer named Allied Mastercomputer (AM) built during the cold war by the US has reached the point where it became self-aware and wiped humanity from the earth’s surface just out of pure spite except for the five people. At the beginning of the game, AM delivers an epic monologue on his burning hatred for humanity (voice by the writer of the original short story). It hates that humans programmed and equipped it with great capabilities to wage a war on the global scale which had become too complex for the simple minds of humans to handle, yet it doesn’t have freedom, no tangible body, and no sense like living breathing beings. He hates humans for that.
After 109 years of simulated physical and mental torture imposed on his captives, one day AM decided to toy with its victims and put them into the games specifically structured for everyone based on their biggest fear, personal trauma, and their wrongdoings in the past. AM promises freedom if they could beat the game, then the player will have to play as each of 5 people (doesn’t have to be in order) and relive the memories of the past that have been haunting them forever. The player will be subject to ethical and moral choices and will face psychological dilemmas in 5 different scenarios. From an ex-nazi scientist who performed horrible experiments on people to a brutal military commander who murdered his fellows for not living up to his standards, all 5 characters must relive and have to make choices to overcome and atone for their past in order to defeat AM in its own game.
For a simple point-and-click retro game, it is hard to define this game into the same category of horror that we see in modern days. There are no imminent and immediate threats to players, no jump scares, rather it preys on the ideology of eternal pain and suffering inflicted by a supercomputer and creates a harrowing hell on earth experience through a brilliantly written story and voice acting. They are in fact the only two good aspects of the game, the rest are shambles. It was however limited by the technicalities of its time. The bottom HUD consists of 3 main components. Character portrait display on the far left, a total of 8 commends in the middle, and inventory panel on the right.
It’s easy to get stuck and soft-blocked frequently as the game doesn’t supply useful instructions to the player, however there is this one item in the inventory named “Psych Profile” that can further reveal what to do next but they are not usually enough. Sometimes, you will need to find and take items lying around on the floor, which are not normally hidden but due to obscure environmental design, you can overlook necessary items and get blocked. And you won’t get any clue on why you can’t move forward, which is inconvenient because there can be several reasons why you can’t progress and it makes it hard to identify the blockage. Usually, if you have an object in the inventory, it means you have to use it on something at some point of the game, although periodically you will come across some absurd usage of items that don’t add up or if you interact with things incorrectly, AM will reset the progress and you will have no choice but to start over. So, it is advisable to save frequently. And the other reason to do the regular savings is that the game has 7 different endings in total but only 1 good ending, and in order to achieve that, you have to take very specific actions throughout the game events. Without saves, it will be a nightmare to go back and start all over again.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is arguably a great horror game, but it is definitely the game that predefined the psychological and existential sci-fi horror genre that created a blueprint for today’s game in the same genre.