I have no Mouth and I must Scream
Release date: 1996
Developer: The Dreamer's Guild/Cyberdreams
Game language and manual: German
USK: 16 years and up
A review by slydos 22nd July 2004
Machines only execute instructions ... humans control them ... we can turn off the switch at any time ... are we really sure? In the peak of the Cold War Harlan Ellison, high-decorated SF-author, asked himself this question and created a shocking future scenario, in which a global supercomputer destroyed the world as we know it and and erased mankind up to 4 (5) individuals - "I have no Mouth and I Must Scream".
Ellison's most well-known short story was published 1967, then 1995 as 4-part-comic and 1996 converted into an adventure game. (By the way it is Harlan Ellison's face on the book and game cover.) Ellison was won over by Cyberdreams to an intensive cooperation during game adaptation. Cyberdreams - named after a novel of Asimov - was developer and publisher of such remarkable games as Darkseed 1 and 2. Cyberdream's goal, and particularly that of its CEO Patrick Ketchum, who had recognized this niche, were high-quality games from the SF realm (budget between $400-600,000) for an adult audience. In addition well-known names from the author -, designer- and film scene were engaged such as H.R. Giger, Syd Mead or Wes Craven and just Harlan Ellison.
Ellison worked first together with David Sears on the script, which covered about 1000 pages and continued this work with David Mulloch, who added 600 more pages. Ellison, who himself possesses no computer and who knows the internet only from the distance, now enters with his work on the game the area especially criticized by him. He always emphazises that his criticism covers not the technology inherently, but its abuse by humans and so actually no contradiction exists. Thus there is also a recommendable Ellison-homepage authorized by Ellison himself.
Programming and graphics for "I have no Mouth" came from The Dreamers Guild, who for example also created "Inherit the Earth", "Labyrinth of Time" or "Dinotopia".
In the time of the Cold War as secret project of the three superpowers China, USSR and the USA three enormous underground supercomputers were created to make it possible to wage a world-wide war. So they fed them with all information, about each war, each murder, each crusade, each invasion. The machines extended and repaired themselves automatically and sensed the existence of the others. Since the programmers hadn't included Asimov's robot directives, because finally they were planned for mass murder, the three gathered and waged the last war against mankind, which couldn't be prevented. The big machine, similar to Kubrick's/Clarke's HAL, became self-conscious and called itself from now on AM (from I am), what initiated the whole mess.
After AM destroyed almost all life, he recognized that he had consciousness but no living body. And he started to hate his creators. He holds 5(4) of them on behalf alive - godlike - only to torment them and don't have to suffer alone. Following his endless freaks he creates always new hallucinations and scenarios for the 3 men and one woman (the fourth man, the Nazi physician Nimdok, is taken out in the German and French game version, occurs however stupidly in the texts of the manual and the game and also his prison column is standing about empty and inappropriate. Nimdok is contained in the English, Italian and Dutch version).
In contrast to the text version all characters in the computer game have a detailed prehistory: Gorrister regards himself as a victim of the women in his life and longs for death more than the other prisoners. In Ellen's past something must have happened that gives her angst of the color yellow. The soldier Benny was manipulated genetically and physically again and again by AM and finally transformed into a hobbling ape creature. And Ted finally is a cynic paranoiac. In contrast to the game, where we slip alternating into the 4 main characters in 3rd-person-view, the novel is experienced from Ted's ego-view. The torture already lasts 109 years at the beginning of the game and the task of the players is, to pluck the 4 main characters from the jaws of AM. For this purpose they have to face a new one of AM's obnoxious tasks in each case and brave their own fears.
At the beginning of the game the main characters stand in front of AM's hate column and can get involved voluntarily in his new little games. If they should not succeed to amuse AM at the end of their adventures, he sends them back to the hate column, where one of them can try again. If AM really gets annoyed, your character is placed in a remote hell hole without possibility of return. Can AM be defeated with this new games? Possible. But even, if the four would succeed in outsmart him, they would only find a dead world. Or is this only another of AM's lies?
Ellison actually wanted to design the game in such a way that the players cannot win. Sears and Cyberdreams could hardly stop him from doing that. So it's indeed possible, whether not very easy - even for experienced gamers - to overcome AM. For this purpose each individual character must win, so that the following endgame becomes accessible. The eternal agonies remind of Tantalos, hunger and thirst are skillfully built into the plot. But even Tantalos' family finally becomes released from their curse and it's the same with the players of "No Mouth" to turn the tide in favor of the humans after many efforts.
"I have no Mouth and I Must Scream" is a DOS game, which I played under pure DOS, Windows95 and also with the DOS emulator DOSBox under Windows XP. The installation is started in each case by the file 'install.exe' from CDROM. One can select the standard directory and the installation volume (15 to 40 MB) and has to go through a sound card configuration. While sound runs problem-free under DOS or WIN95, there are some difficulties in the emulation with DOSBox: either sound is clumsy or the screen animations don't run fluently. Of course one can do without sound and set the animation speed to best possible use, but then you'll miss the excellent German speech. One can of course also switch the speed up and down, depending upon necessity.
You start the game by entering 'scream' at the DOS prompt, what leads us into the prologue after the logo animations, where the main characters are described. The prologue can be skipped with ESC and we end in front of the hate column. A small diskette symbol appears in the lower right corner of the screen. It brings us to the main menu, where one can change both text and audio settings and save/load a game or return to DOS. We are requested to select a character by mouse-click. The selected character gets beamed into a new scenario inside of AM. AM gives hope for rescue to each of the four. He lures them with a way out, a place of peace and consolation or the possibility to switch him off. At the new scene we can start to control our character.
We move our character by left-click to the desired spot. 2/3 of the screen is the action screen with the always visible interaction bar below containing some action buttons and the scrollable inventory, which can show 8 objects at the same time. Here we find the 'spiritual barometer', indicating the mind condition of our character by colour in a close-up. If his/her self-respect rises, the green background will shine more brightly, the other way round it becomes darker. The command buttons stand for 8 verbs: Goto, look, take, use, speak, give, swallow and push. Similar to the SCUMM-control they are selected and indicated in a text line below the action screen. Also composite sentences can be used, e.g. use key with door.
There are problems with the action 'Schiebe' (push) in the German version. It's a bad English translation of 'Push'. 'Drücke' would have been more suitable, because one uses the instruction for pressing buttons at computers or consoles and one would never imagine that the word 'Schiebe' could turn on a screen.
Verbs selected with the left mouse button remain selected until the next choice, so that one can look at several objects in row. The right mouse button suggests verbs, which apply best to the object marked by the crosshair, e.g. when it's a character - talk'. During such conversations the interaction window is replaced by a dialogue window with multiple-choice-dialogues. Here one can be forced into not reversible directions and one should always save before making any decisions during dialogues. The diskette symbol for the main menu supplies a good clue. It actually begins to rotate, if we haven't saved the game for a longer time.
"I have no Mouth and I Must Scream" can be done by mouse from start to end, but it's however just as possible to use keyboard controls for all instructions and the character movements.
All functions are described in great detail in the manual, but nearly all are anyhow detectable by own thoughts.
Graphics, music and sound effects are good but not outstanding for the year 1996. The SuperVGA graphics of the different bizarre scenarios are detailed, but don't actually look completely realistic in perspective, scale and shading. Important objects often can only be made out indistinctly. The animations of walking and other movements look simple and awkward, a reference to the long years of tortures?
In Gorrister's location there are humans speared on meat hooks and in Benny's scenario humans are sacrificed too. They nevertheless dissolve bloodless, but it is still no pleasant sight. The age recommendation starting from 16 years is o.k.. "No Mouth" is no family game.
The dark atmosphere is supported by the excellent dubbing voices (there are 25 speaking parts beside some mute extras), led by the cynical-malicious AM, which is in the US original version spoken by author Harlan Ellison himself. Unfortunately there is neither in the US nor in the European version any data about the dubbing actors. I recognized Horst Jüssen as Ted and can only characterize the other voices as suitable and professional. There are minus points however for the localization in another aspect: in many places (whenever one tries to do something apparently senseless) there is the French version in writing and speech!
A further bug crept into the graphics: For a long time an object is visible at a spot, where it should only be seen much later, i.e. after solution of some puzzles. Only then our character can actually see the object and interact with it.
The tasks of "No Mouth" consist of object/inventory puzzles - also with object combinations - and dialogue puzzles. The degree of difficulty varies continuously. If one selects a wrong dialogue topic, self-esteem can decline or you are directly returned into your torture cage and may restart your quest. In most cases is the 'right' answer the most unselfish, which does not let the character persist in depression or paranoia, but expresses a positive attitude. Thus not soo difficult after all!
So it's required to save before each dialogue, not to have to begin again from the start all the time. There are also in allegories or epigrams coded hints to the game, which one can find in a book in the inventory. But the frequent use of this book again lowers the spiritual barometer and can prevent a happy ending. If you don't decide with high-moral value some time, a scenario can result in a dead end. There are different endings for all scenarios. Even if one thinks, that one has shown enough humanity to AM there might be a still higher ethics level to reach.
Hotspots are not directly obvious and also not all stored objects are actually relevant for the game. Likewise adding more difficulty comes from the correct selection of verbs. In Benny's scenario, which lasts several days (if we have made no mistakes), we also have to wait a certain time to get an object. Although it's possible, to get objects before they are actually necessary and also solve puzzles in different order, "No Mouth" is very linear.
"I have no Mouth and I Must Scream" is... exhausting. We quasi play against a mad AM, who is presenting us sometimes simple, sometimes illogical puzzles, always waiting for a small mistake of ours, to let us repeat long game sequences with some long dialogues. The pain of the game characters become pain of the players. The whole is crowned with a show-down, in which the solutions can hardly be deduced logically. But how can one beat a supercomputer at all, if not in the field, he has the smallest notion of?
Harlan Ellison describes hell. A hell with a pseudo god, created by a stupid mankind. Even if it appears little plausible that three machines that were programmed on war suddenly fraternize and even unite with the enemy, one nevertheless can't dismiss Ellison's warning to depict human information in computers as nonsense. An adventure game, which will less entertain than set us thinking. Neither the plot, nor the course of the game make trivial fun, but do haunt in a desperate kind of way. If one adds on top that "No Mouth" has several bugs and dead ends and in the German version they simply dropped a character, which confusingly emerges again and again in the manual and game texts nevertheless, then even deep-rooted adventure gamers will think thrice about acquiring the game and rightly so. Harlan Ellison -, SF -, hell and self-castigation-fans and perhaps potential visitors of the movie "I, Robot" should grab the game nevertheless with an appropriate used-price for this classic.
Rating: 64 %
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimal system requirements:
- DOS 5.0/Windows 95
- 4 MB RAM
- 2x CDROM-drive
- Soundcard Sound Blaster compatible
- SVGA VESA compatible
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Sound card DirectX-compatible
To magnify click on the screenshots