So speaks the Cheshire Cat in American McGee’s macabre
variation of the tale of Alice in Wonderland.
Although Alice did have her enemies and trials in the original Lewis
Carroll stories, American McGee takes the world of Wonderland to a whole new
level. Portraying many familiar places and characters from the original stories
and adding more than a few of its own, the player is introduced to a land where
things are anything but a pleasant fairy tale.
Upon first glance, some might wonder if American McGee’s
Alice is simply a shallow attempt to take a familiar children’s story and turn
it into a shooter with a mere setting change. This couldn’t be further from the
truth. This game creates not just a new setting – but also a whole environment
from visual to visceral in which the player, familiar with the stories or not,
is treated to a gaming experience inarguably different from any previous.
The intro movie quickly brings you up to speed on just how
and why Alice has "gone through a few attitude changes" since you
might have heard of her last. You learn at the inception of the game that Alice
was the sole survivor of a fire that consumed the lives of the rest of her
family. The trauma leads to grave mental illness
– so much in fact that she is institutionalized and she rescinds from
society. Her sole companion: an old battered stuffed white rabbit, Alice’s
connection to the Wonderland of her childhood and her bridge to the dark
Wonderland she is to be plunged into.
Greeted bruskly by the ever time-conscious rabbit and then
more formally welcomed by the now mangy and quite gleefully sinister looking
Cheshire Cat, your quest begins. The Cheshire Cat is worth mentioning as an
excellent and unique concept in Alice. Aside from his strangely suave appeal,
the Cheshire Cat serves as a charming companion and tutor during many key points
in the game. It might be hard to imagine for some, but despite the fact that he
looks rather mangy, has an earring, and dons the trademark luminescent eyes and
smile (with the addition of a smug grim and plenty of teeth), you might wish you
had a cool cat like him around the house.
The game play in ‘Alice’ is predominantly action. After
all, Alice has a whole lot of demons to rid herself of (both physically and
mentally). Health levels are measured as “Sanity” levels and there are
meters for both life force and magic force. Life force and magic force can be
restored in the form of jewel-like crystals that Alice may find along the way or
in the form of “life-essence” surrendered by slain enemies. The bigger the
enemy, the bigger the jewel will be. Another “jewel” of a find; Alice may
come across items which transform her briefly into a more demon-like being which
wreaks even more havoc upon the foes who have the misfortune to be within her
The enemies are sometimes specific variations of the
original Alice stories, such as the Card Guards, the Tweedle Brothers,
Centipede, and of course, your arch nemesis – The Queen of Hearts. Other enemies, although not
familiar, are rendered with detail and are definitely not like anything you’ve
seen before. For example, the detailing and modeling of common ordinary insects
into full size foes (they would be that big if you’d had a sip of a shrinking potion)
was impressive. With bomb/acorn dropping winged bugs and fully uniformed “army
ants” you’ll never look at your garden the same way again. The variety is
consistent throughout the game: Although you might see some foes more than once
– each level has a slightly different creature to add to the mix.
Over the course of the game Alice will collect 10 weapons
of increasing potency. Some examples include your more typical vorpal blade, a
demented jack-in-the-box/grenade, some quite nifty jacks which surround your
enemy, and demonic dice which summon demons to your command. Some of the
weapons are dependent on magic levels while others are melee weapons. These
weapons can easily be shuffled or summoned by number keys.
The adventure aspects of the game include puzzles, fairly linear
quests (like the collection of potion components), jumping and climbing, and
other thought-out feats of agility. The Pale Realm, which included marvelously
crafted white and red chess pieces, includes portions where Alice must take the
forms of various pieces and maneuver the board in order to proceed. For the most part, the adventure aspects
remain unintrusive to the forward progress of the game – but there is just
enough to remind you that this is after all based on Alice’s Adventures
in Wonderland – not a mindless massacre.
There are a wide variety of settings and unique level
designs to be experienced while playing this game. Each level design is
noticeably different from one another – evading the sometimes monotonous tones
of some action/arcade titles. Some are fascinating to look at and have a very
M.C. Escher-like feel. It’s hard to get bored or use to any particular
method of approaching this game when it seems like every time you learn the
rules – the rules change. Whether Alice is a giant or as small as a mouse, the
variety of levels are impressive. Definite compliments go out to the originality and
effort that went into creating the many faceted levels/worlds that make American
McGee’s Alice a cut above the rest.
American McGee’s Alice also offers something for those who
ache for a little philosophy to go with their carnage. Alice doesn’t completely
disregard the intellectual side of things, opting to add some deeper meaning to
Alice’s struggle against the denizens of the malformed Wonderland. The game uses
familiar characters such as the Cheshire Cat and Caterpillar to reveal that it
is Alice’s own self-torment and guilt over her real-life tragedy that has
transfigured Wonderland into the hell that it has become. It is her mission to
overcome her guilt and self-pity in order to restore sanity to Wonderland – and
as you would conjecture – to restore her own sanity.
As a side note: For those who have read and enjoyed the
books – it is completely evident that the creation of the game did not get any
of its information from the Disney version of the story. The anecdotes and words
of wisdom spoken by many of the characters will make you "curiouser and
curiouser" to go back and revisit the books yourself.
In conclusion, American McGee’s Alice delivers a truly
immersive game which defies comparison. Whether or not you’ve read the books –
it doesn’t take long to be lost in the addictiveness and atmosphere of the game.
So hurry up and follow the white rabbit – "You’re Late!"
American McGee’s Alice is rated M for animated violence and
animated blood and gore.
Game Play (9): Certainly the first fear in encountering such a graphically
intensive game is the fear that game play smoothness will be sacrificed for
"looks." No need to worry in this case. My system matched the
recommended requirements and with only a few exceptions of gameplay slowdown,
even at the highest possible detail, I experienced a
flawless ride down the proverbial rabbit hole. There are very few controls in the game and they were
extremely easy to learn and to customize to personal preferences.
Graphics (9.5): Alice has taken the Quake III Arena Engine and
given it an increased depth and scope of color. Alice is rendered smoothly from
her blue dress (somewhat reminiscent of our own recollections of the story with
the addition of some arcane symbols), to her vivid green eyes. The M rating is
vividly illustrated in the detailed and grotesque deaths of many of her foes. As
previously mentioned, you won’t soon forget that ominously glitter of the
Cheshire Cat’s eyes and smile. The coloring and depth of the Pale Realm left an
impression I won’t soon forget.
Sound (8.5): Voice casting was done very well for this
game. Alice has a pleasant and soothing accent as a lovely contrast to her
deadly purpose and hard-edged attitude. The Cheshire Cat also has quite a
unique, somewhat sinister voice to match that wickedly toothy grin. The original
soundtrack was suitably matched to the somber and dark atmosphere of the game
although not drawing too much (perhaps too little?) attention to itself.
Difficulty (9): The game options allow for four levels:
Easy, Medium, Hard, and Nightmare. Each seems to be logically scaled for the
novice to advanced gamer.
Concept (10): An absolute original! As previously
mentioned, American McGee’s Alice goes above and beyond the typical game in
its genre – providing a gleefully wicked, intelligent, and dark twist not only
to a familiar fairy tale but also to the action/adventure category itself.
Whoever thinks that there’s no such thing as an original concept in the gaming
world hasn’t played this game yet!
Overall (10): Kudos to a truly original and fascinating new
idea in the gaming community. Anyone can make a dark atmosphere and tough
characters – but Alice is a wonderful and WITTY adaptation of a familiar story
into an intriguing and addictive action/adventure experience.
Installation: Easy. Alice delivers a truly complex and
impressive game – recommending 620 MB hard drive space and also saving some room
for saved games.