Wonderland gone REALLY bad
American McGee's Alice is a fascinating game - at least it is for me. But where does this fascination come from?
The first and foremost thing about this game is its atmosphere and style. In my opinion it's sheer genius to expand the nice Alice in Wonderland
story into a tale of death and murder, blood and torture, and pure paranoia - a tale for grown-ups. But it is one thing to have a good idea, and something completely different to make a good game of it. But here, the designers did.
The level designs and graphics all resemble the "known" Wonderland, but this time a Wonderland gone really bad. The game throws levels at you that vary from stunning beauty to mind-twisting surreality. This alone kept me playing, just to see what crazy stuff the designers had up their sleeves, yet. And I wasn't disappointed when with the conquering of the heart queen's castle near the end game, another visual blast was waiting. The enemy and weapon design also fit well here, both adding to this wonderful dark and paranoid atmosphere this game delivers.
Speaking of enemies, I really liked my cannon fodder, as no two enemy kinds are the same to kill. There are the lava monsters that are fluid and easy to kill when they come out of their lava pit, but turn to stone and, therefore, get harder to kill by the second. There are those little devils that just take one hit, but come in hordes. There are those fish pests that charge at you while swimming and throw acid and lava when you're standing at the shore. And the list goes on. Every enemy kind is well thought out and has its strengths and weaknesses to be discovered. And when you found out how to kill them more or less easily, they will team up to make your life harder again. The same goes for the boss fights, pure adrenaline.
Speaking of weapons, those all are Alice's toys gone dangerous. There's her cards, her cricket bat, her jack-in-the-box, her dice, and so on. They all kill the enemies in two different modes, can be used short or long range, are toys of single or mass destruction. It's part of the fun to try out all these funny goodies and see what they can do to your opposition. And you should know your weaponry well, as there will be fights that are impossible to win with one weapon, but easy going with another one or a combination of them.
Some things hinder this game from becoming a true classic, though.
If you put aside the covers of cool design and style, a linear action platformer is left for you to play. A good one, that is, but somehow the actual gameplay can't really keep up with the presentation. The level designs vary in quality, top notch levels make room for huge mazes with spawning enemies that are an exercise in anger management. Furthermore, the cool background of Alice freeing her own fantasy world of her problems and sense of guilt isn't developed well within the game. Here and in those enemy-ridden mazes you will most painfully notice that the developers of this game have a history of developing 3D shooters.
The controls sometimes annoyed me, especially the jumping didn't work as expected, more than once it wasn't clear to me whether Alice can grab hold of an edge in front of her or not. Falling down into nirvana too often is the result of all this.
Last thing, fighting enemies it's sometimes not obvious whether you're doing damage or not. Especially when battling the centipede boss monster, I spend half an hour throwing everything at him until I finally looked up in a FAQ that there's a special area where he can be hit.
The Bottom Line
I love this game, no doubt about that. But still, I sometimes dream about it done right from start to finish. With a good storyteller to develop Alice's problems, with a huge Wonderland for Alice to roam freely, maybe with an RPG-like experience and questing system. The sky was the limit...
But heck, a sequel is in the making, let's see what they'll do with this legacy.