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American McGee’s Alice

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Rogue
Media: CD/2
Players: 1
Genre: Third Person Shooter/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

Hear that?

That’s the sound of my jaw hitting the floor when I first started to play Alice.

Hear that?

That’s the sound of me not bothering to pick it up any more, hours into the game.

The art direction of Alice is beyond good -- it’s phenomenal. Wonderland is Wonderland, not some namby-pamby computer rendition of the place. The place is alive -- alive with color, alive with characters, alive with sound. The first time you see the world ripping apart and you watch the random things fly past in the surreal vortex surrounding Wonderland -- a door here, a desk there -- you’ll know that the spirit of Lewis Carroll’s drug-inspired world has come to life, part and parcel. And it is fine.

Of course, Alice doesn’t take place in the relatively tame Wonderland of the books. Instead, it has turned dark and disturbing, a child’s pleasant if odd dream transmogrified into a nightmare. All of the old characters are there, but they’ve definitely changed. My personal favorite is the Cheshire Cat, who is now a lanky smart-ass with a ring in his ear. The designs just get better and better as the game goes on, and you’ll gawk in awe as you wander around the environments in Alice. From Alice to the creatures to the world, it’s downright amazing.

The sound follows much the same path: absolutely gorgeous. The score has to have some of the most eerie tracks I’ve ever heard, and it melds beautifully with the surreal gothic-horror setting of Alice. There wasn’t a song in the game that I didn’t like, and many of them I found myself prolonging, so as to experience the whole tune. I’m not prone to do that, mind you, so it must be good. The sound effects are solid as well, not quite on the level of the music -- but are they ever? The voice acting, on the other hand, is uniformly excellent. I especially like, once again, the Cheshire Cat, who sounds a little too sly for his own good. It’s all good stuff, though, from the young British schoolgirl voice of Alice to the cackles of the enemies.


It’s something of a shame, then, that the gameplay in Alice doesn’t quite live up to the amazing game-as-art qualities of its graphics and sound. While still a damned enjoyable game, Alice isn’t quite the groundbreaker we were hoping for. Prepare to fear American McGee’s next offering, though -- if he can learn from the few mistakes he did with Alice, we’re going to have a monster on our hands.

You take the role of Alice, thrown back into the fantasy world of her youth because, well, they need her. The Queen of Hearts has corrupted all of Wonderland into a twisted version of its old self, and only Alice can revert it to the slightly less deranged mode it used to have. Along the way, she encounters pretty much all of her old “friends” -- not that they’re all so friendly now. Thankfully, the Cheshire Cat is still around, and is actually a hell of a lot more helpful than he was in either the book or the animated movie.

The gameplay itself consists mostly of running around in third person, solving simple puzzles, doing boatloads of platform-jumping “puzzles,” and slaying the occasional enemy or 20. As far as it goes, it’s nothing particularly new or exciting. And that’s Alice’s one flaw -- the core conceit of the gameplay isn’t all that enthralling.

Thank the gods, then, that the world and character more than make up for it. You’ll find yourself playing Alice, not because of the (rather weak) storyline or the (rather weak) gameplay, but because you just want to see and hear what the hell’s going to happen next. Mind you, it’s nowhere near the “level” that, say, Alien: Resurrection is when it comes to mismatching gameplay and atmosphere. There’s a lot of fun to be had in Alice. It’s just not quite what it should be.

Alice herself starts off with nothing in the way of weapons, but soon picks up a Vorpal Knife. I found myself using this weapon throughout the whole game, as it’s the only one that doesn’t use Alice’s equivalent to magic points. It can be used both as a melee weapon and a ranged weapon. Not long after, you start collecting more interesting weapons. There are death-dealing cards, wands, and a pair of devil-summoning dice or two. The weapons are quite unique, even if they’re not the most playable that I’ve ever seen. I found myself reverting to the Vorpal Knife a whole lot, just because I found it easier to deal with. Each weapon seemed to have its place, though.

And exploring the worlds is a hell of a lot of fun too. The first time you walk into a room that starts to warp around you to make it harder to get across, you know you’re in Wonderland for real. The moment of realization as to just what was happening I had when crossing a certain chasm in the game -- one where the walkway forms under you -- made me shudder. And I actually got vertiginous a few times while playing Alice, making it the third game ever to make me queasy. (Well, Alien: Resurrection did too, for entirely different reasons.)

Combat is simple, with a semi-auto-targeter that makes your life a hell of a lot easier. Moving around is simple. Jumping is simple. It’s just the combinations of all of these that makes Alice complex.


You can choose from four difficulty levels when you first start a game of Alice, from Easy to Nightmare. And the descriptions are pretty much on the mark, at least as far as combat goes. The puzzles, jumping or otherwise, are not insurmountable, although there are a few that are sure to give people some trouble. As always in this sort of game, perseverance pays off, and unlike many games of this type, it’s rare that you feel the game is playing cheaply. Of course, that could just be because you’re busy staring at the pretty graphics.

Game Mechanics:

The controls, configurable though they are, are perfect in their default settings. Seems the world’s woken up to the while WASD deal (and I was using it years before it became popular -- feh!), and the mouse control is absolutely necessary for tight Alice play. The camera never gave me many problems, certainly less than most other games of this type, and the menus are easy to navigate. The load/save screen may be confusing at first, but that’s because it auto-saves like crazy and never deletes any save games. A few minutes spent getting acquainted with all the game’s systems will save you a world of grief. And the core game mechanics, such as they are, are solid as well. The engine’s morphing abilities impressed me mightily -- but no one ever said I wasn’t easily impressed.

Alice ain’t perfect, but when it comes to games as art, this is as close as it gets. Gorgeous, enthralling, and quite fun to boot, Alice’s problems shouldn’t keep anyone from experiencing one of the most original, lush, and downright disturbing universes ever realized in any media. If you’re a fan of art, or of games, or both, you should definitely check out Alice. There’s a little of Wonderland inside of each of us, and American McGee’s Alice shows us just how dark it can be.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win9x/Me, 400 MHz K6-2 or Pentium II, 64 MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, 580 MB HD Space, 16 MB OpenGL-compatible Video Card, Keyboard, Mouse, 16-bit sound card

Test System:

AMD K6-III 450 running Windows 98, 256 MB RAM, 6x/24x DVD-ROM, Sound Blaster Live!, Creative Labs TNT2 Ultra w/32 MB RAM

Windows Crusaders of Might and Magic Windows Daikatana

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated