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American McGee's Alice (Windows)

85
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.0
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Zovni (9355)
Written on  :  May 21, 2002
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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Summary

Impressive as a visual experience but ultimately shallow as a game.

The Good

Well, even though the main idea is not really that original (taking Alice in wonderland and giving it a bizarre/dark twist) the game manages to stand out as a truly original experience. I guess that on it's own is a remarkable feat worth mentioning, yes it may be a platformer, but you ain't never seen a platformer like this. Of course, all the credit for the uniqueness of the game goes to the superb level design that combines weird curves and angles, radical lightning, psychodelic visual illusions and bizarre architecture to make a unique and beautiful gameworld. Such bizarre levels have been made before, most notably on Thief: The Dark Project (which seems to have had a major, let's say, "influence" in this game) but now you have a complete game filled with bizarre landscapes and places to visit.

Furthermore the Quake Arena engine, while not used to it's maximum extent, delivers some gorgeous graphics and effects (like mirrored corridors, etc.) which run surprisingly fast on rather wimpy computers like my own and allow you to see some of the best art in a 3D platformer in full glory.

The use of bizarre weapons and items also help the game stand out on it's own, with several original items like a set of deadly jacks or a deck of cards, each with two different firing modes. The enemies are also a breath of fresh air, from the super-cool massive bosses to the over-grown chess pieces that you encounter later on.

The game stands out on several other areas like sound with excellent voice acting that fits each character like a glove, good controls, etc. (this is after all an EA game, so you know you can expect a nicely produced package).

Lest I forget, a clever addition to the game is the inclusion of a jump targeting indicator to help you judge those nasty jump puzzles. It was about time somebody thought of something like that!

The Bad

Despite all the hoopla about the level design and the novel graphics, enemies, etc. the game is not a lot of fun to play. It is essentially a completely linear action platformer, and that gets old. Fast. Most good platformers add a host of secrets and bonuses to encourage you to explore the gameworld around you or extend the original adventure, not so in Alice. For as spectacular as the gameworld may appear to you, you are forced to move linearly from place to place following a single path towards the endgame.

But everything would be ok if that path was fun to play through, right? I mean, Out of this World wasn't exactly an exercise in non-linearity... Well, the problem is that Alice never seems to know what kind of game it is. You sometimes get inspired jump puzzle sequences, but a lot of moments in the game include Quake-like shootfests. And that's the game's biggest flaw, that it thrusts you into a massive amount of combat in a game that isn't really about that. I couldn't help but think that A. McGee just couldn't resist bringing some of the good ol' gameplay mechanics from his days on id and that stops the game dead. The inclusion of a Quad damage-like power up is a proof of that, as is the rather annoying tendency to place mazes filled with enemies towards the end of the game (be prepared to kiss that original level design goodbye every now and then pal!!).

Also I know originally you were supposed to be able to summon the Chessire Cat to fight by your side, but since that was removed I seriously question the point of keeping the "Chessire help" option. I mean, he's super-suave and all, but what's the point of wasting valuable cd space on generic one-liners that never help you??? It's like if Jedi Knight had a "Yoda" key which would allow you to listen to 4 or 5 generic words of wisdom...Next time add a text-only REAL tip system or nothing at all.

The Bottom Line

A rather poor gameplay experience masked under a beautiful if sometimes inconsistent level design. I guess this is one of those game you have to play just so you can experience something truly new and unique (at least when it comes to graphics) but the game is by no means a masterpiece, and I wouldn't recommend it except if you found it on a bargain bin.