Who’s ready to feel awful?
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream recently saw a revival of its lovely self on Steam. Seeing as I mentioned it on my recent list of nightmare fodder, I knew I had to replay it.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is a game adaptation of the short story by Harlan Ellison, and is a very loyal look into the sadistic, nightmarish post-apocalypse driven by a malevolent A.I. called AM. This cruel, computerized God has decided to keep a handful of survivors alive in immortal suspension of what is essentially Hell times Silent Hill squared. Why? Well, if you’ve never heard AM’s hate speech, you really should. The short version is, he really, really hates you.
The game opens up with AM inviting all his toys to play a game. The player can select between six characters: Nimdok, Gorrister, Benny, Ellen, and Ted – all of which have their own tragic and awful trauma and past lives. Each player is taken to a different area and given different goals. It is all played as a point-and-click puzzle game, so you’ll have to use your wits while avoiding the grotesque and detestable wastelands around you.
The characters have seen a good bit of modification from the novel, but I really don’t want to spoil the stories or reveals for anyone out there. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is just one of those games that has to be experienced, much in the same way that one experiences the fight with Giygas in Earthbound 2 – in extreme discomfort and whimpering.
Let’s discuss my favorite thing in the world: horror. I mentioned in my other article specifically why I found game so frightening the first time I played it: it brought about extremely disturbing thoughts and imagery, and the hopelessness and ugliness of humanity it depicts haunted me. On a replay, it really does hold up on all of these points, though I noticed something new. The game was scary not just in its presentation and atmosphere, but in the horrifying choices and ruthless choices it forces the player to take. You are not one of these poor, lost souls: you are AM, going along with the torture, putting them through their agony over and over until you reach the end of the game. You deny them any relief or comfort. You are the monster, and you have no control over it.
There is the keyword: control. You are never in control, no matter what you do. In that sense, you are simultaneously these immortal toys and AM. It digs under the skin like a dirty secret and it is absolutely not for the Paragons out there. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream brings out the nastiest elements of humanity and the awful things that it is capable of.
So, that’s nice.
As far as the technical aspect goes, the game hasn’t aged well, per se, but it still controls nicely. The sound, atmosphere and overall presentation of the game still manage to hold up, despite the somewhat bizarre face models and reactions (those are the real terror, sometimes).
For a point-and-click adventure that mixes an Egyptian pyramid, a jungle tribe, a zeppelin and a Nazi camp, it is a definite feat that it has aged so well. If anything, the grittiness adds to that dirty feeling while you watch AM coldly revel in your misery.
If I had to watch a competition between him and other malevolent A.I.s, I think I could safely assume I would need a triple bypass. I still believe that unknown intentions is the stronger pull in horror games, but the helpless factor is so strong here that it put a knot in my throat. Players will understand exactly why AM is after them and will have to concede in the fact that they are powerless to change it.
With all of that in mind, I am glad I came back to this game. It really got me in the spirit of facing off against some truly evil antagonists the further I venture into my horror collection.