by Thomas M. Disch and Kevin Bentley

Surreal, crime, slice of life

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Number of Ratings: 10
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Horribly cruel, but worth playing for the story. , May 4, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

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.

- kala (Finland), May 26, 2012

- trojo (Huntsville, Alabama, USA), October 4, 2011

- André St-Aubin (Laval, Québec), May 31, 2011

- Azazel, April 2, 2010

- zer, August 17, 2009

- John D, March 14, 2009

- Cheryl L (Australia), January 9, 2009

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
A Flawed Gem, August 24, 2008
by Jerome C West (United Kingdom)

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.

- Mukeja, August 24, 2008

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