Review by Jihad

"A wonderfully realized Wonderland"

Load, Save, Delete…woah, hidden messages.

No matter how many frills a game has, eventually it will be revealed for what it is. In the case of American McGee’s Alice, when you strip away the fantastic visuals, the eerie sound, and the warped game world, the game you’re left with is playable, but not something especially worthwhile.

Fortunately, the non-gameplay elements of Alice come together to create a fun, gripping experience. Alice is perhaps the darkest take on Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass thus far (as if there weren’t enough crazy interpretations already). Emotionally scarred due to her parents’ fiery death, Alice has transformed from Alice, the doe-eyed, eight-year-old of Disney’s Alice In Wonderland, into Alice, a dark haired, disgruntled, catatonic teenager locked in the confines of an asylum. Alice’s asylum “casebook,” a neat addition that comes in the game box, hints at key events in the game and indicates that the entirety of Alice is really taking place within young Alice’s mind.

‘Off with her head!!’

Some people say that the imagination knows no bounds, and the folks at American McGee really went all out to make Wonderland seem like a place of limitless wonder and fear. The detached glare of Alice on the game’s cover as she uncomfortably handles a bloodstained knife should be enough to clue you in on what’s in store. Playing as sort of a sequel to Alice’s first romp through Wonderland, Alice returns to Wonderland several years later to find everything in disarray. Various locales that Alice had visited before have been rendered barren, warped, and deserted due to the nefarious actions of the Red Queen. All of the notable characters are back as well. The Cheshire Cat is your (now emaciated and grim) guide, Tweedledee and Tweedledum are massive, bone crushing thugs, the Mad Hatter is even more psychotic (and a tad more homicidal), and the Red Queen…well, I’ll let you see her for yourself. Story wise, Alice is a morbidly charming take on Lewis Carroll’s original story. Encounters with the cast of friends and foes are well done, and even people who have only seen Disney’s old Alice In Wonderland will be “in the know” enough to understand some of the inside jokes. If only battling bosses like Tweedledee and Tweedledum was as fun as actually interacting with them.

First of all, controlling and manipulating Alice is fairly shoddy. The camera is obstinate, often refusing to follow Alice’s actions, and jumping is unreliable. In Alice, a game rife with platform jumping, Alice’s often-imprecise leaps can be the cause of much frustration. Progressing through Alice is bearable, but by no means is the journey going to be without frustration caused by control problems.

Alice is heavy on exploration. While there should be more than enough eye candy to keep a player from becoming fed up, this game is quite often monotonous. Expect hordes of enemies that can all be defeated with a few stratagems and plenty o’ jumping. The number of fantastic looking areas far outnumbers the number of areas with clever puzzles or awesome action sequences.

The weapon system is also a problem. Alice’s arsenal is quite unbalanced, and although enemies definitely look different (and wickidawesome, I might add), one or two tactics is all you’ll need to defeat the vast majority of them. Out of Alice’s ten “toys”, as they are called, only about three are actually useful, with the other seven being impractical gadgets like demon summoning dice and jacks that explode futilely. These items are wonderfully creative, but practically useless. You can also collect an uber-powerful “Jabberwocky Staff,” one of the only secrets contained within Alice. The effects of every weapon are cool, from a watch that stops time to a staff that freezes enemies, but when it comes time to really play with your toys, Alice is sorely limited in what she can and cannot use if she wishes to survive.

The music of Alice, composed by Chris Vrenna of Nine Inch Nails, is minimal and perhaps a bit simplistic, but definitely fitting with the rest of the game. Using strange bells, chimes, and the sounds of children’s laughter, Alice certainly sounds the part. The convincing, thankfully British voice acting also helps matters. The interchange between the curious Alice and the bleak Cheshire Cat is delightfully tongue-in-cheek, and the other characters seem to chatter on with the same quizzical, slightly inane banter that made Carroll’s original characters so appealingly quirky.

Each area of Wonderland is highly distinct, and full of enough small touches, including deranged children babbling incoherently and running up the sides of walls, to make your head spin. Some of these areas really stand out as some of the most creative and breathtaking in recent memory, and actually having to play through the various regions of Wonderland may not be as fun as simply taking them in. Some superb level design pumps life into gameplay that is otherwise unremarkable. Alice itself does not stand out as a 3D adventure game.

The Bottom Line

Alice is game that pretends, through its highly effective, highly admirable presentation, to have boundless potential and a vast range of possibilities. By filtering all the trappings of Alice, however, one will discover a highly formulaic, fairly linear third-person adventure game. Fortunately, the visual and aural efforts of American McGee are not in vain, managing to save poor Alice from bargain bin mediocrity.

Alice is a wicked journey through a fantastical, fantastically imagined world, but expecting Alice to be as mechanically solid as it is aesthetically is expecting too much.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/22/01, Updated 07/13/02


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