I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream review

Last June 28th, renowned sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison passed away at the age of 84. Ellison is considered one of the most prolific and influential sci-fi writers of the 20th century and today we’re going to take a look at the video game adaptation of one of his most famous short-stories: I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream.

I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream is a graphic adventure developed by The Dreamers Guild and published by Cyberdreams and Acclaim. It was originally released in 1995 for DOS and Macintosh. In 2013, it was re-released by Night Dive Studios at Steam and GOG.com, for Windows, Macintosh and Linux. And in 2016, it was gain re-released in Google Play and Apple Store, for Android and iOS.

The original short-story was published in 1967 and it quickly became one of Ellison’s most famous works, winning several awards, including the Hugo Award. And Cyberdreams, famous by their adult-themed sci-fi, fantasy  and horror games, decided to adapt Ellison’s short-story into a graphic adventure game. But unlike other video game adaptations, Ellison was actively involved in it from the start, from co-writing the game’s script to voice AM, the game’s main antagonist.

But before we take a look at the game, let’s first look at the covers, shall we?

837-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-dos-front-cover

I think I’m starting to understand the title of the game…

The original cover features a central image of Ellison himself with his mouth covered by what it looks like computer circuitry, hinting at the game’s plot. In some editions of the game, the central image was in fact a 3D mousepad that was shipped along with the game. It’s a very eerie image that conveys oppression by technology, which is one of the game’s main themes.

But the re-released version brings a slightly different cover:

271594-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-linux-front-coverNow, this version expands upon the computer circuitry imagery, which I personally  adore! While the red and black background in the original cover might look more menacing, the blue highlights in this one makes it look more logical and cold, which still works within the game’s context.

But enough about imagery and let’s boot this sucker, shall we?

The game’s intro doesn’t show a lot of backstory, so reading the manual before playing the game it’s highly recommended. The backstory is basically this: an omnipotent computer called AM, after a nuclear apocalypse (of which AM might have provoked), saves the last five humans from said apocalypse, but when reaching the height of his omnipotence, AM found a great hate for Humanity and for more than 100 years, dedicates itself in torturing the last humans, preventing their deaths by torture or even old age.

AM then decides to put the humans through tests and dramas, both for its own entertainment as well to prove to itself all the failings in human nature. And it’s here that the game starts, in which you have to choose between our five protagonists: Gorrister, a former trucker with guilt-ridden suicidal tendencies; Benny, a former soldier who was the most tortured by AM to the point of being modified into an ape-like creature; Ellen, a former computer engineer with an inexplicable phobia for the colour yellow; Nimdok, an extremely old German scientist and Ted, a paranoid and vain con artist.

10593-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-dos-screenshot

The beginning of the game.

After choosing your character, AM then sends him or her to a scenario where each character must find out the objective of said scenario and fulfill it. However, they must also confront their past, fears and shortcomings in order to succeed in their respective scenarios. However, there are different ways to solve the puzzles and each character has the option of following their basic instincts or learn the human qualities that evaded their past lives in order to raise their karma level.

The karma level is measured by each character’s background colour in their respective portrait, located in the bottom-left corner of the screen. It ranges from black to white, going through several colours. It gets lighter for every “good” action and darker with each “bad” action, including reading each character’s Psych Profile, which provides clues to solve the puzzles. The reason for the karma level is only revealed at the final part of the game, but believe me, it helps to try and finish each scenario with the highest possible karma.

10596-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-dos-screenshot

Gorrister’s scenario.

The screen is divided in two sections: the main section, where the action occurs and the bottom section, where the character portrait, the action menu and the inventory are located. The interface is very reminiscent of the SCUMM engine by Lucasarts, although it’s lacking some common action verbs, like “open” and “pull”. But usually it’s “use” the most commonly one used for such actions.

The graphics are very detailed and quite good, although not very colourful (with some exceptions). But then again, in such a dark-themed game, a dark colour palette for most of it makes sense. The animation is equally good. The sound is great, be it the sound effects, the voice quality; although the voice acting ranges from great (Ellison’s AM is deliciously hammy!) to bad (I’m not a big fan of using actual children to voice kids); and the soundtrack, which is also quite good in providing a proper atmosphere.

The puzzles, however, can be quite hard (especially in the final part) with a lot of pixel-hunting and backtracking. In fact, for almost every puzzle solved, you need to backtrack to previous screens to look for new objects, situations or characters to interact in order to move the story along. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to use a walkthrough several times, especially at the end, since reading the Psych Profile for clues lowers the karma level.

10594-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-dos-screenshot

I wasn’t kidding when I said there was a lot of symbolism in this game!

But I do like the freedom given to the nature of your characters, because your karma level influences the type of ending you can get, ranging from terrible (the canon ending in the original short-story) to the best ending, all of it which gives the game some replay value, something that’s quite rare in graphic adventures.

But for me, the best part of the game, it’s the story and the characterisation. Due to nature of graphic adventures, Ellison had the opportunity to expand all the characters’ backstories and the story’s themes, not just adding extra endings. The story is quite dark and bleak, exploring themes of human nature and condition, especially redemption, mixed with a lot of symbolism and ethical dilemmas. And apart from the best ending, the endings can also be very dark and depressive. You won’t find any comedy or humour whatsoever throughout the game (although the violence isn’t as gory as I expected).

10595-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-dos-screenshot

“Walk like an Egyptian…”

Also, the characters were substantially changed from the original short-story and given a deeper characterisation, making them really fleshed out when you find out their backstory. Of course, there was a little controversy when Benny’s backstory was drastically changed, but there are still some hints of it here and there when playing his scenario.

In conclusion, I Have No Mouth… isn’t a perfect graphic adventure from a puzzle solving perspective, but the premise, the story and the characters more than tip the balance in its favour. Regardless to say that I recommend it, although it might be very hard for newcomers to the genre.

10597-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-dos-screenshot

No, this isn’t King’s Quest, not even close…

I Have No Mouth… was very acclaimed by most critics, even winning some awards, but it sold poorly. Most of its success come in more recent years, becoming a cult classic and increasing Ellison’s fame as a writer, although he personally prefered to stick to writing short-stories, novellas and screenplays.

You can buy it here on GOG.com, here on Steam, here on Google Play or here on the Apple Store for iPhone and iPad. Both the GOG.com and Steam versions come bundled with the original short-story in PDF format and the soundtrack.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this review dedicated to the memory of Harlan Ellison. Next time, we’ll take a look at a more upbeat game. Till then, be good and keep on playing.

World Class Soccer/Italy 1990 review

Like I said before in my Emilio Butragueño ¡Futbol! review, I’m a casual football fan that prefers watching national teams over clubs and there’s no bigger international competition than the FIFA World Cup, currently ongoing in Russia (just don’t ask me what the hell happened with Germany because I also have no idea).

And of course, football has millions of fans worldwide which means that football video games should be more common nowadays (instead of EA’s FIFA series and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, which have a new release every year with almost no new features). But back in the 80s and 90s, there were several football games in the market, coming originally from the arcades to home releases for computers and consoles alike.

Today, we’re going to take a look at one of such games, but based exclusively in the 1990 World Cup tournament that occured in Italy. It’s an unofficial title because FIFA only decided to officially sponsor video games since 1994.

World Class Soccer aka Italy 1990 is a football game developed by Tiertex and published by U.S. Gold. It was originally released in 1990 for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS and ZX Spectrum. It was re-released in 1992 as a budget title for the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.

But as always, let’s first look at the covers:

91568-world-class-soccer-dos-front-coverThis is the European cover which features some famous football players of the time (at first glance, I recognise Maradona, Butragueño and Gullit, among others). It’s a very colourful cover full of average drawings of popular players. It isn’t a bad cover and it shows exactly what to expect from the game.

But the US version had its own cover:

91621-world-class-soccer-amiga-front-coverNow, this cover is simply a photo from one of the matches (Cameroon vs England in the quarterfinals, if I’m not mistaken). It isn’t a bad cover either, but isn’t as colorful or memorable as the European cover.

But it’s time to go to the main event and shoot this ball to the goal:

 

As you can see, the game is as simple as it gets, with a very plain intro featuring a nice, albeit repetitive music theme. Then you get to the main menu, where you can choose to play a friendly match against the computer or against a friend, go straight to the World Cup tournament or mess around with the options, like control schemes and the time length of the matches.

But before playing any match, you need to choose which team to control. All 24 teams are classified by four stats: Skill, Speed, Aggression and Strength, that range from 1 to 5. Then you choose which formation do you want and which players you want for each position on the field. You can even put defenders on the attacking positions and vice-versa, although it isn’t recommended for obvious reasons. All the players are also classified by the same aforementioned stats, so you can make your own squad with your favourite formation.

Then a newscast anchor comes up, introducing the match and the teams and even says who the favourite is, according to the aforementioned stats. Surprisingly, Italy seems to have the highest stats, although it was West Germany that ended up winning the 1990 World Cup. And all the team’s squads seem to be correct (I haven’t check, truth be told).

513393-world-class-soccer-dos-screenshot-the-game-starts

The match starts…

And finally the match starts. At first glance, it looks like your typical top-down view found in almost every other football game at the time, but then when you see the players fully shown and the angle of goals, it’s revealed that it has a sort of inclined top down perspective. There’s also a small horizontal bar on the bottom that shows the result, the time and the name of the player that currently has the ball. The match view almost fills the entire screen, which is what I’m looking for in a football game and there’s a blinking arrow next to the player you’re currently controlling pointing towards the opponent’s goal, to know where you should be going. The only thing that’s missing is a full pitch view on the side to know exactly our position on the field.

The ball automatically stick to each player’s feet and although some veteran gamers might not like that, personally I do, because it’s easier for inexperienced gamers like myself. And also our goalkeeper is mostly controlled by the AI until he gets the ball, which is another blessing for newcomers to football video games. And although the difficulty is linked to each team stats, even if you’re controlling the strongest team against the weakest team, the match’s difficulty is hard. I wish there could be a difficulty selection option available.

513395-world-class-soccer-dos-screenshot-goal

The control scheme is the one commonly found in all retro football games with four directional buttons and one action button to shot and pass the ball or to tackle opponents (the long you push the button, the stronger will be said action). I personally found the controls to be average, either playing with a gamepad or the keyboard, but I didn’t like the fact that you can’t use the gamepad to navigate through the menus.

Also, although the manual refers to the referee’s ability to use cards, I didn’t see any cards or any punishment whatsoever. Either it’s very hard to do rough actions worthy of penalties or the referee simply wasn’t programmed into the game.

The graphics are okay for a game at the time but nothing spectacular. The only sound effect you’ll hear is the sound of kicking the ball, which is as simple as it gets, so apart from the nice (but repetitive) music theme, the game’s quite lacking in the sound department.

513394-world-class-soccer-dos-screenshot-and-soon-i-m-about-to-score

In conclusion, World Class Soccer is a pretty average football game that was quickly surpassed by other titles of the time, like World Cup Italia’ 90 by Sega and the groundbreaking Kick-Off 2 (which we’ll review at a later date). So if you’re looking for an easy-to-use football game, you might want to give World Class Soccer a shot, but if you’re looking for a quality football experience, then I don’t recommend it.

However, the game came with a slew of extras, like a trivia quiz, a wall chart to fill the results, a booklet full of information about the tournament and even a form to fill to enter a competition to win tickets to go watch the finals at Rome! It’s like an entire box dedicated to the 1990 World Cup in which the game itself is just a small part of an entire football experience.

That was our review, and I want to apologize for not reviewing or even streaming for more than a month, but I had a lot of professional and personal stuff to do. And I know I wasn’t supposed to review this game now, but with the World Cup currently going on, I thought it was a good idea to review a retro football game.

Next time, we’ll take a look at a very dark game from the mind of a very prolific sci-fi writer that has recently passed away. Until then, who do you think who’ll win the World Cup? Let me know and keep on playing.

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure DOS review

Like I said last review, today let’s steer clear from action titles and into one of my personal favorite graphic adventures. And since I failed to review a Star Wars themed game this month’s fifth, let’s remedy that with another George Lucas’ former intellectual property. I’m talking about Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure was made by Lucasarts and originally released in 1989 for Amiga, Atari ST and DOS. The following year it was ported to the Macintosh and released in CD-ROM format for DOS and FM Towns. The CD-ROM version was re-released in 1992 for the CD-TV, in 2009 for Windows and again in 2016 for Linux.

The original floppy version features EGA 16-color graphics and the CD-ROM version features VGA 256-color graphics, but no speech whatsoever, unlike other Lucasarts CD-ROM titles.

But before we start with the game, let’s look at the cover:

879-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos-front-coverIt makes sense that a movie-inspired game uses one of the official movie posters as the box cover. For those very few who haven’t watched the movie yet, this cover features the two main actors in the movie: Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (on the left) and Sean Connery (on the right) as Henry Jones Sr., Indy’s dad. One might ask why include Henry in the cover, but he actually plays a very important role in the game itself (just like in the movie).

And the back cover is equally awesome:

880-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos-back-coverAs you can see, it features the Holy Grail, the Grail diary (very important in the game, as you’ll see) along with some still shots from both the movie and the game. I have to confess I like the back cover more than the front cover. Just add Indy’s iconic hat and whip and you would have an original cover more than appropriate for this game.

But it’s time to whip this sucker:

For those of you familiar with the movie, I don’t think I need to worry explaining the game’s plot. Apart from a few changes here and there, it follows the plot of the movie quite faithfully.

The intro’s based on the movie prologue, where young Indy is running along on top of a circus train carrying the Cross of Coronado, then it cuts back several years later, when adult Indy arrives at Barnett College with said cross and has a small exposition dialogue with his friend Marcus Brody. And it’s here that the game introduces the one element that wasn’t adapted from the movie: a peculiar self-referenced sense of humor that borders on fourth-wall breaking (more than once Marcus and Indy face the player).

While the comedy elements aren’t as big as in other Lucasarts titles, like Maniac Mansion or Zak Mckracken and the Alien Mindbenders, the game is still quite funny and it follows more or less the comedy staple that became synonymous with Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

10780-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

The game was designed using the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine which, as one can see, uses a graphical interface in the lower part of screen where you can find a list of commands and below that, the inventory. Using the mouse, you click the action you wish to perform and then click the object in the inventory and/or the place where you want said action to occur. It’s a very intuitive interface that was used in all early Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

The interaction with the NPCs is through dialogs, where you choose which line to say and if the correct dialog tree is chosen; you can progress, gets hints, objects or solve puzzles. In some sections where you need to bypass Nazi guards, it’s possible to avoid any fights whatsoever if the correct dialog tree is chosen. But on one particular section (that can actually be bypassed in its entirety if you know how), there’s no way to sweet-talk your way out with the guards, so if they catch you, you have no other choice but to fight.

911798-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

The very start of the game.

The fighting sequences (and the dogfight sequence) are the only action-oriented sections you’ll ever find throughout the game. But right at the start of the game, you can practice Indy’s boxing skills with a boxing coach. To fight, you use the numeric keypad, one set to attack, one to back away and the middle to defend yourself (it changes accordingly whether Indy’s is on the left or right of the screen). However, the fighting can be quite complex because there are two bars: one for health and another for punching power. If you start the fighting simply by bashing the attack buttons, you’ll lose punching power fast, so to fight effectively, you need to defend and back away when your opponent attacks and strike when you see an opening in your opponent’s defences. It’s easier said than done, so I suggest a bit of practice with the coach before getting on with the game because if you lose a fight with an enemy, it’s game-over. And your health bar recharges very slowly, so it’s very hard to fight all the Nazi enemies in the game.

But don’t worry about the dogfight sequence because there’s no penalty if you get shot down (remember that’s what happens in the movie). Even if you fight all of the Luftwaffe Air Force, your plane will eventually run out of fuel and crash.

Like I said before, the game follows more or less the movie plot, although it expands some parts (like the Venice part, which is probably my favorite part in the game) and reduces other parts (like Hatay and Salim, that aren’t even mentioned in the game) but it’s still well written and very faithful to the movie’s spirit. As far as game length go, if you go to every area you’re allowed to go, the game has a proper length. But if you bypass certain areas (by solving the right puzzles and/or having the correct object), the game might appear somewhat short. Besides, apart from one hard section (which I’ve already mentioned), there’s practically no reason to avoid areas (especially if you want to follow the movie’s plot as close as possible), unless you’re trying to finish the game fast.

911800-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

The adventure starts…

This game even takes a page from Sierra’s graphic adventures and introduces a score points system, called IQ Points. But unlike Sierra’s games, to get the maximum score of 800 points, one needs to replay the game several times and choose different outcomes and solutions for the puzzles. It gives the game poor replayability value because, although I do like the different solutions for certain puzzles, it doesn’t change the plot all that much and there’s basically just one ending with some mild variations here and there based on your final actions. There’s actually no need to replay the game unless you want to see everything this game has to offer and/or you’re a completionist.

And talking about the puzzle structure, the puzzles themselves aren’t too hard nor too easy, just the perfect amount of difficulty. Although in the Venice section, you have to do a bit of pixel hunting at the beginning, but the rest of the puzzles aren’t as frustrating. The most important object (just like in the movie) is the Grail diary (diaries actually), which the in-game version is essential to solve some of the puzzles, while the physical version is incredibly important to solve the final puzzle (whose solution changes randomly in every playthrough). It even features some Indiana Jones’ lore, including some references to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series. In fact, as games extras go, the physical Grail diary must be one of my personal favorites game items of all times and for me, it’s more probably faithful than the movie replica lorewise.

545652-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

Ah, Venice…

As far the graphics go, in both the EGA and VGA versions, I think the graphics look great with detailed sprites and good range of colors (even with just 16 colors EGA graphics). The animations are more or less fluid and all the characters have a good range of movements, even during the fighting sections. And both the mouse and the keyboard controls are quite responsive, especially during the action sequences.

The sound effects are okay and you can tell the designers tried to provide a good atmosphere with the sound of footsteps (even muffled and splashy footsteps, depending on the terrain), but just the sound effect without any musical score sounds weird to me. And talking about the musical score, I think the quality of the MIDI music it’s okay, even the iconic Indy theme. If you manage to run the game with a Roland MT-32 soundboard, the soundtrack should be even better but unless you have said soundboard, the only way to truly appreciate the soundtrack in a modern PC, it’s to run the game either through Dosbox or ScummVM along with a Roland MT-32 sound emulator (like Munt). I simply wish that there were more musical themes, although the few that are present, are actually good.

So in conclusion, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a very good graphic adventure, perhaps even one of the best made by Lucasarts at the time, but it quickly got eclipsed by other Lucasarts graphic adventures, like the Monkey Island series and The Last Crusade own sequel, Fate of Atlantis (both of which we’ll review at a later date). Needless to say that I highly recommend it for both Indy and graphic adventures fans.

545651-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

No, this isn’t Castle Wolfenstein.

The Mac version is very similar to the DOS version, except for a smaller resolution and better menus and there’s practically almost no differences in the Amiga version. I haven’t played the FM Towns version, but it’s considered the best version due to having not only having VGA graphics but also a CD audio quality soundtrack with some of the themes taken directly from the movie soundtrack.

You can buy the modern re-release here on GOG.com or here at Steam. But I don’t recommend the Steam version because although it is the VGA version, the soundtrack is in MIDI format and it doesn’t bring the Grail diary in PDF format.

So, are you a fan of Indiana Jones? Which is your favorite movie and/or game? Tell us by commenting below or by following us on social media. Next time, let’s move genres again but not very far away. Until then, put on your hat, grap you whip and keep on playing!