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The Only Thing Worse Than Bad Memories
[...] I found the experience captivating—both as a game, and in the way Disch’s unique literary sensibility made itself felt throughout. Amnesia blends a Hitchcockian wrong-man scenario with the setting of a paranoid thriller from the mid-’70s, spiking it all with a somewhat satirical take on New York City in the mid-1980s.
-- Tobias Carroll
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As frustrating as its simulation elements are, it’s a relatively well written example of its craft and at least keeps the craziness coming thick and fast. Its main problem beyond the instant deaths is that the mystery it sets up isn’t really one that can play out properly on the streets of New York, not just because the actual conspiracy happens in Texas, but because only about four people in the city even play a minor part in it. That means lots of empty streets and unused locations, with puzzles little more than doing Stuff until the villains finally decide “Balls to this, we’ll just tell you what’s going on and try to shoot you.” If they’d just done that from the start, using their specialist skills like ‘knowing exactly where you are at all times’, they’d have been much, much more successful. [...]
A lost interactive fiction classic though? Ha. No. Forget it. In more ways than one.
-- Richard Cobbett
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"Amnesia's" parser is perhaps the only one to equal Infocom's at the time. In many places it surpasses Infocom. With a vocabulary of about 1700 words and a multiple-sentence parser with plenty of synonyms, you'll very rarely need to hunt for a word. The one minor annoyance stems from the fact that objects' words aren't recognized if you try to use them when an object isn't in the current location -- for instance, you can't refer to a telephone of one isn't around, even though there may be one elsewhere in the game. But this is minor. Character interactions are detailed, and range from face-to-face meetings to conversations over the telephone.
The game itself is huge, with as many as 4000 locations. Most of them are street corners or parts of the Manhattan subway system (both of these are completely programmed into the game), although there are a number of buildings and New York landmarks for the player to visit. A map (among other things) is included in the game package, so there's no need to draw your own, but you'll probably need to at least jot down some notes.
-- Christopher E. Forman
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50 Years of Text Games, by Aaron A. Reed
After Amnesia was finally released, more than a full year later, no one involved in the project—not Bentley, not Disch, not Cognetics—would ever make another computer game again.
Rather than collaborate with a game company, Disch went off and wrote a 436-page script, essentially a transcript for an imaginary game.
As Kevin Bentley would realize, a linear script is an awkward starting point for a digital game. Most existing interactive fiction had been designed from the ground-up, as it were: encoded chiefly as a simulation of space, objects, movement, and properties, a platform upon which a story driven by the player's exploration could be told. [...] in hindsight it seems clear Disch's script should have been implemented as something closer to hypertext than text adventure. But commercial hypertexts were not yet a thing [...] and so a text adventure Amnesia became.
Amnesia remains compelling for the rare glimpse it offers into a parallel universe of text games: one where story and simulation did a different kind of dance with each other, where real-world challenges could be as engrossing as fantastical ones, and where a parser could aspire to more than merely interpreting a command. Scripted by a gaming outsider, adapted by a young coder with nothing to lose, it took risks few other games at the time were taking. It tried its best to be something genuinely new, and that’s worth remembering.
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This is an incredible game for its day, despite being flawed by several issues, both major and minor.
It can be somewhat linear at times, and the parser lacks many of the luxuries we have come to expect, but perhaps the worst of its flaws is its unpredictability. It undoubtedly merits a "cruel" on the zarfian scale, with several places where death can occur for no apparent reason, and an unclued timing puzzle which can leave the game in an unwinnable state; all of this in the game's intro section!
Look past its flaws, however, and the game has much to recommend it. The writing has all of Disch's trademark cynical humour, and the story is highly compelling (once one forgives it the use of the titular trope, which one surely must in a game over twenty years old). It is also quite magnificent in its scope, attempting to simulate a large part of New York in text (all the more remarkable when one learns that Disch had to cut out about half of the text he wrote for the game, to make it fit onto common computing hardware of the time). Also of note are the game's simulationist tendencies, with the main character's need for money, food and sleep making up a large portion of the gameplay. This is an aspect of the game players will either love or hate, but here it is done rather well.
In all, a much overlooked game, without which no history of interactive fiction would be complete.
Thomas M. Disch, prolific science fiction writer and reviewer, wrote a game in 1986 that infuriated me as a child. At the time, I felt the game was too difficult, though I liked the premise behind it. So about ten years later, I picked the game back up. It infuriated me. Amnesia just may be the most difficult text adventure ever put on the market. And by difficult I don’t mean that you have to battle mazes and guess what verb the author wants you to use. The game is just damn hard.
As the title suggests, you wake up in a Manhattan hotel room with absolutely no clue as to your identity, or anyone else’s identity for that matter. Overused premise as it is, Disch works it to perfection. Almost immediately you feel as though people are after you. Naturally, you have no idea why.
It’s easy enough getting out of the hotel alive, but here comes the hard part: You’re homeless. You have almost no money. No job. No identification. No food. Half of the game is simply survival, and it’s about as easy as surviving on the streets in reality (or harder, really, considering how quickly I died). Unfortunately for our true homeless citizens, they have no access to a hint book or a restore function.
The game was only marginally easier when I was twenty-one than when I was ten. I was very happy to survive my first day on the streets without dying. I even made some progress towards figuring out my identity. But after dying a few dozen times, I gave in and downloaded a walkthrough; and I have no regrets in doing so. The game remains fair throughout, but I don’t believe I could have ever won it on my own.
Despite the insane difficulty, I have a strong affection for the game. Disch’s prose is beautiful. I wish more writers worked with programmers in developing games, because this one is worth going through the walkthrough just to read his descriptions of New York. Moreover, every single intersection in Manhattan is implemented. Every intersection. Granted, not every one has descriptions of warehouses and storefronts, but every landmark is there, as well as most parks and the entire subway system. A subway system that you’ll have to use extensively to make it anywhere in the game. Finally, the story is fairly intriguing if you ever get to see the end of it. One drawback is that the plot elements are all too often drawn out between various deaths and thus the suspense is hurt a bit.
There are a few programming mistakes, but in a game this enormous, they can be forgiven. So can the sheer difficulty, but only in this current age of walkthrough heaven. If you thought Bureaucracy was boring because it was too easy, then this game should be right up your alley. Otherwise, download a walkthrough and enjoy yourself, watching how a game can shine when writer and programmer join forces.
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