I’ve wanted to throw my two cents in on this for a while now, but, in the interest of coming across as at least somewhat well-informed, I kept putting it off. I really wanted to play the game all the way through before writing anything; sadly, I haven’t had the time save for a few fleeting moments.
So, full disclosure, right off the bat: I haven’t played all the way through the mobile port of I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream. I have, however, played through one-and-a-half campaign (Gorrister’s and Ted’s), and I have played through the entire game on PC a number of times.
This isn’t a review of the game itself, though. It’s a review of the mobile port of the game that was originally released for DOS and Mac in 1995, and now for Android and iOS phones/tablets in January 2016. So I think I’m somewhat capable to review the port based on what I’ve experienced thus far.
Quick sidenote there: Articles abound that say it was Night Dive Studios that brought it back, but DotEmu are actually the ones who did the port and have the publishing rights. I’m not sure what Night Dive’s role in this was, but hey — I asked. They wouldn’t tell me.
So I let it go at that. I mean, what am I, a journalist? Fuck. Anyway!
The original game had a fantastic story and incredible writing, thanks to the warped brain of Harlan Ellison, but those selling points were almost overshadowed by the game’s multitude of technical problems.
DotEmu have tried their best to make the UI play nice with touch devices — even small touch devices — making the hotspots larger and thus doing away with some of the pixel-hunting that plagued the original. But the pixel-hunting was the least of the game’s problems.
Look, I’m sure the folks at The Dreamer’s Guild, who were contracted by Cyberdreams in 1995 to provide their SAGA engine for the game, are very nice people. But their engine is shit.
And that’s something DotEmu couldn’t fix without basically rewiring the entire game from the ground up. So we’re still stuck with characters moving jerkily across the screen — sometimes moonwalking because the engine forgot to flip the character sprite — or getting stuck in inanimate (sometimes invisible) objects, or even failing to appear entirely. Exiting the screen you’re on can also be a chore, because the character is perfectly content with just standing there and looking off into the distance instead of fucking walking off the edge of the screen unless repeatedly moved away from and closer to the exit.
These are not game-breaking bugs, but they do take away from the seriousness of the game and make it very easy to ridicule what is otherwise supposed to be a harrowing glimpse into the awfulness of our species. Well, I suppose it’s ironic that the same awfulness carried over to the actual production side, but let’s leave it at that.
What I’m trying to say is, DotEmu seem to have devoted their attention to making the game playable on mobile devices, and not mess around with the game itself too much. On the plus side, this means there’s now a hotspot indicator that all but eliminates pixel hunting. And when you’re in a dialogue tree, giant arrows appear to make sure your finger doesn’t slip and tap on the wrong tiny line in the dialogue box.
The downside of that is that everything — and I mean everything — from the old game has been retained. Yes, the game’s original “we took LucasArts’ SCUMM verbs and made them stupid” (why “Push” and no “Pull”? and was “Swallow” really such an important action that it needed its own verb?*) interface is intact and still obscures about a quarter of the screen at the bottom. On a tablet, this isn’t too bad, but it does make for a fair bit of squinting on a mobile screen**.
I really do appreciate how DotEmu went above and beyond on the audio side, though. They actually re-recorded the soundtrack — well, they played the original MIDI files through a really good synthesizer and recorded that as digital audio — and it really enhances the experience in a number of ways:
First of all, it brings out the details of Hollywood composer John Ottman’s score. (Seriously, look the guy up. He’s done actual films. Fuckin’ Usual Suspects, people!) Second, it balances the audio well with the voice-overs in a way that the OPL3-chip of your old Sound Blaster 16 would be very jealous of. You can switch back to the original music, too, but I don’t see why you would.
Overall, it’s a really good port of a deeply flawed game. A game that’s been a guilty pleasure of mine since I first played it at age 16 and had no idea how to progress in it; and later, in my university years, replayed and discovered the hidden gem hiding under the layers of filth and crap on top: Multiple paths for each of the characters leading to either damnation or salvation, and several endings depending on how you traverse the final chapter.
It’s a port for the nostalgics, though, because there’s still too much wrong with the game itself to make it palatable to newcomers or quote/unquote “casual gamers.” Not that I’m assuming that was the intention behind this port. And don’t get me wrong; I very much appreciate the efforts DotEmu put into this. But there you have it. My two cents.
(Oh, and I’m also a bit disappointed they didn’t reinstate the scene where Benny eats a baby.)
* Yes, I know Ben’s entire campaign has to do with him being very, very hungry. But it’s still a strange decision to have a verb present for all the campaigns when it really only relates to one of the campaigns, AND there’s a fuckin’ “Use” verb right there! “USE FRUIT” = “EAT THE FUCKING THING.” Jesus.
** Not that I was expecting otherwise. The game is a straight up port, not a remaster or remake. I know they couldn’t do full-screen graphics (‘cos there isn’t any) or retool the UI. I’m just sayin’.