“Hate!” The word is choked out of the mouth of the narrator to open up the first scene in the game. “There are 387.44 million miles of printed circuits in wafer thin layers that fill my complex. If the word ‘hate’ was engraved on each nanoangstrom of those hundreds of millions of miles, it would not equal one one-billionth of the hate I feel for humans at this micro instant.” These are the words of AM, the super-computer antagonist of the criminally ignored horror-adventure ‘I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.’
The central premise of the game centres on the ‘Allied Master computer’ or AM, a machine created by humans in some distant past to conduct their wars for them. As the World was destroyed, AM lived on, growing more and more sentient and developing an ever-greater hatred for the race who gave him such intelligence, yet no way to move or feel. So he has kept five humans alive, artificially, for 109 years, in a state of constant physical and mental torture. You play as those humans.
Wow, AM makes System Shock’s Shodan look like an iPod in a Hello Kitty soft case. If that isn’t one of the most horrible premises you’ve ever heard then you’re a much harder person than me. The game itself gives no quarter either. Without wanting to ruin too much of the plot, a good example of the kind of material this game contains is in one of the scenes surrounding a character who experienced a particularly abhorrent form of abuse in an elevator at the hands of a man dressed in yellow. AM repeatedly traps her in yellow rooms, forcing her to re-live her trauma. It is moments like this that set ‘I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream’ apart from other horror games. Being a point-and-click adventure, it can’t rely on the traditional horror techniques of forcing players down a linear path and throwing pre-determined jump-scares and eerie noises from just off camera at them. It has to rely on conceptual horror and in this field, it stands tall above most of the genre.
But there’s more oddities to be found, in fact, this game oozes weirdness out of every pore. As if a point-and-click horror wasn’t odd enough, the developers teamed up with relatively obscure sci-fi author Harlan Ellison, who wrote the 1967 short story of the same name, in order to make a game based on it. A highly unusual move in itself, made even stranger by Ellison’s demand that the game be un-winnable. The developers were a little more forgiving and the game can, in a very vague sense, be won. But the sadism and hopelessness of Ellison’s vision permeates every animation, every scene and every exchange of dialogue throughout the whole game experience.
The gameplay is also unusual for a point-and-click. The interaction itself takes place through a series of word-choice actions, similar to the old text parsers, which include options such as ‘talk’, ‘walk’ and even ‘swallow.’ But your choices are all counted on a ‘spiritual barometer.’ This measures good and evil acts (a mechanic which was quite uncommon at the time) and greatly affects which of the games multiple endings the player will receive.
But undoubtedly what sets ‘I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream’ apart from most other horror games is the utter bleakness of its narrative. The constant ethical dilemmas which never lead to a good ending, the idea that these five people are being endlessly tortured as punishment for humanities wrongdoings and the utterly overwhelming nature of the antagonist in the form of a supercomputer who not only seems to know everything you’re going to do, but also sees everything you do because you live inside of it. You know, when playing this game that you can never really escape, only try to beat AM at its own game and not let him break you. The small, insignificant victories to be had in overcoming whatever twisted little joke he plans to play on you is all you can hope for.
Nobody seems to have played this game. When I mention it to people they seem completely perplexed, which I find hard to understand because it has a strikingly long name and includes some of the most controversial content I’ve ever experienced in a game. I just can’t understand why it hasn’t garnered the notoriety it clearly deserves.
Anyway, it is now on both Steam and GoG so splash out a few notes and show it some love. I promise it won’t show you any in return.