Alice the Homicidal Maniac
In the opening cutscene, we learn that Alice’s life has gone downhill since her initial forays into Wonderland. Orphaned by an accidental fire, Alice is now institutionalized in a catatonic state brought on by survivor’s guilt, clinging to a button-eyed white rabbit. But as Alice’s mind has changed, so too has Wonderland. The Red Queen has turned malevolent. Her Card Guard has imprisoned the people of Wonderland. The Mad Hatter has become uncomfortably curious about clockworks. And it’s up to Alice to make things right again.
American McGee’s Alice is a wildly inventive game that plays as a third person shooter, more arcade than adventure. American McGee’s Wonderland, is Carroll’s world reflected by a funhouse mirror. Familiar characters are stretched and twisted. White Rabbit embraces his rodent side. You can see the Card Guard's ribs beneath their garb. Alice notes that the Cheshire Cat has a touch of the mange. Alice herself has had a gothic makeover—dark hair, dark eyes, and a blood splattered outfit (with runes?). The locations are breathtaking, ranging from a sinister Skool to a chessboard city and even a bug’s eye view of the world.
What comes across, as far as level design, is American McGee’s respect for Alice’s world and his Burtonesque ability to turn it on its head. The Skool, for instance, is logically illogical including rooms that seem adjacent but are really floors apart. And everything moves. The sky in the Chessworld moves overhead. The buildings in the first levels seem to dance. The environmental effects add realism to the surreal.
As I mentioned, at its heart, Alice is an arcade game. Unlike the acrobatic Ms. Croft, Alice’s moves are simplified. But she can still swing on vines, cling to ledges and hoist herself over obstacles. With abundant jumping puzzles, the designers have kindly added ghostly footprints to indicate where Alice will land. Alice’s weapons also have a targeting reticule (which almost automatically aims).
Speaking of weapons (called toys), Alice begins the game with the Vorpal Knife. This is the only weapon that doesn’t deplete Alice’s will (the equivalent of mana, magic, etc.) and it remains useful throughout the game. Later on Alice acquires diverse toys such as the piercing playing cards, the flame throwing jack-in-the-box, and the Demon Dice. Most weapons have a primary and secondary attack option and each one is visually impressive. Toys reappear throughout the game and every time Alice reacquires a toy it grows in power.
As I mention above, Alice has to keep track of her Sanity (a red life bar) and her Will (a blue mana bar). Power-ups appear throughout the game and she can collect essence from her defeated foes. In addition to the toy and life power-ups, there are several special power-ups available for the observant player.
But what would this game be without enemies. In addition to figuring out which former friends are now foes, Alice also has miniature Jabberwockies, Snarks, and rogue chessman among others in the villains’ roster. Finally, Alice has several bosses to deal with. These bosses can be incredibly challenging and (for the most part) it’s up to Alice to out-battle them rather than figuring out the “trick” to beating them.
Lastly, while some reviewers have emphasized that this game is style over substance, I have to disagree mainly because the style is the substance. Not only does McGee offer us a twisted version of Wonderland and the characters, but also the game twists in on itself. You can’t tell me after seeing the resolution of the White Queen level that there isn’t more here than candy for the eye or music for the ear.
Bring on American McGee’s Oz! (or Narnia-- wouldn't that be interesting?)
Is there anything I didn’t like about this game?
The graphics were great, except for the somewhat blurry ending.
Voice acting was pretty good, except for a few characters.
The Bottom Line
A wicked romp through Wonderland.