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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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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.
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PollsThe following polls include votes for Amnesia:
Games with a city setting by JonathanCR
I'm interested in games that are set in cities - historical, modern, fantasy, or science-fiction. In particular, games that make you feel that you are in a real, functioning, busy city where life is being lived all around you. Which...
Games with accurate (present or historical) settings by Emily Short
I'm looking for works in the general spirit of The Fire Tower or 1893: they can be puzzly or not, have a story or not, but they should attempt to represent a real-world setting as accurately as possible, and in some detail.
A Poll About ... A Poll About ... Hm. That's Funny. I Can't Recall. by Ghalev
As of the founding of this poll, the IFDB has only seven games with the "amnesia" tag. I don't buy that for an instant. Please vote for games where the player-protagonist-person is dealing with a bout of forgetfulness (usually about who...
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