Review by clarkisdark

Reviewed: 09/01/05 | Updated: 10/31/05

The good looking glass

Alice in Wonderland did not find its beginnings as a Walt Disney cartoon but rather a book series by C.S. Lewis. Being as old as it is, the rights to Alice are free game. Thus, everyone from no-name cartoon producers to famous foreign stop-motion animators have toyed with the precept. Game designer American McGee took Alice into the interactive world in a dark and foreboding rendition he felt was good enough to slap his name in front of the title: American McGee's Alice. I don't know if it's that good.

For its time, Alice was a good-looking game, and if you have low standards, it still is. The presentation is a bit blocky, and the animation is severely limited, but everything is acceptable and runs well even on my clunky, old computer. A few of the outdoor levels are filled with some serious fog, but the gaming novice would only think this was done on purpose to fit the atmosphere of the game. Alice has a very distinct feel to it. This is, after all, a darker version of Alice in Wonderland. The Cheshire cat is older and a touch grotesque, and the rabbit looks like he'd be more at home in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The game isn't only foreboding, it's intriguingly surreal. It's really cool to see a floating castle in an iridescent vortex with a large, wooden door flying around it. It's also fun to find yourself in a black and white world inhabited by battling chess pieces. The Mad Hatter's labyrinth had neurotic, twitching children wandering the hallways. The atmosphere alone makes this game worth playing.

I'd been listening to the music of Alice long before I actually played the game thanks to the availability of an official soundtrack. Female voice samples, toy pianos, music boxes, and other strange sounds are blended together to create a dark, nightmarish score. These are the kind of songs that gives you the creeps, songs desperate for happiness but failing and succumbing to the despair Alice is wrapped in. Decent, full-fledged voice-overs are also provided, but hearing Alice cry or sigh/grunt when she jumps doesn't sound right and should have been improved. There's also a lot of clipping with the voice work.

Alice is a straightforward. No backtracking. No goofy item-collecting. No alternate paths. Alice is an action/platform hybrid, combining plenty of rope swinging and chasm jumping and hordes of enemies. Ten different weapons are available to Alice. Her first is a knife, which can be swung close-range or thrown at a distance. Other weapons have similar functions. Depending on which function you use, your "essence" meter will take a major hit. This works kind of like magic. If you run out of magic, you can't use your better weapons. The meter slowly refills, however, and picking up hearts or gems refills your life and essence meters. Combat starts out on good footing, but it's really basic. Halfway through the game, you realize all there is to fighting is running around an enemy and blasting it with your ice rod. Alice overall is actually a very, very simple game. There is little creativity as far as gameplay is concerned. Its foundation is solid, but compared to other action platformers, it offers nothing new. What makes playing Alice fun is the involving atmosphere and want to see what's in the next room.

I don't play very many 3D games on the computer, so initially, I found Alice's setup overbearing. Tired of tweaking the system to no avail, I eventually reverted back to the default controls (which uses the left side of the keyboard and the mouse) and stuck with it. After an hour into the game, I felt like I was playing on a normal level. In fact, while I generally hate any and all kinds of water levels, controlling Alice as she swam felt a lot better than swimming has in past games. Unfortunately, Alice as a character is quite sticky. She will often get caught on ledges, protruding obstacles, and invisible objects.

There were several instances when I was ready to give up, because I couldn't figure out what to do. But then I'd think, "What if I tried this..." And it worked. Alice is not remarkably taxing. I only started getting mad when I would get caught on something and die at the game's fault. That's not fair! The option to save anywhere, anytime makes up for this, however. Levels are exasperatingly long anyway, but being able to save right before a tricky jump can spare you a lot of trouble.

Lasting Appeal:
Alice is a game you will want to see completed. It isn't that the story is so darn good, because it's not. Most of the time, I gave the story little regard. I was just fascinated with the strangeness of it all. I really enjoyed exploring these unique worlds. My adventure was short-lived, however. I have no way of knowing exactly how much time it took, but I can't imagine I spent any more than eight hours. There are four difficulty levels if you feel like you want to run through the game again, but I would think the appeal and intrigue would be much less a second time through.

Alice isn't the amazingly brilliant game to justify American McGee being voted as a "gaming god," but it's still good. Even in 2005, when I've been spoiled by prettier, longer, more elaborate platformers and adventure titles, I was able to dive into Alice and enjoy its surreal quality. Stripping Alice (the game, not the girl) of its unique facade, however, leaves a very basic and problematic experience. But if you can look past these and just enjoy it as a clever diversion, you should... er... enjoy the game!

+ Cool atmosphere
+ Engaging
+ Solid foundation
-- Though very basic
-- Sticky Alice
-- Boring combat

Score: 7/10

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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