American McGee’s Alice

Developer: Rogue Entertainment

Platform(s): PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 (packaged with Alice: Madness Returns)

Release Date(s): Oct 2000 (PC),Jun 2011 (PS3, Xbox 360)

Insanity. Lunacy. Madness… When it comes to depicting a persons’ state of mind, it is always more interesting to view the damaged psyche of an unhinged individual rather than that of the mentally stable pencil pusher. David Lynch knew it, Stephen King knew it, and if this game is anything to go by, American McGee knows it. Which is why he delves into the material of Lewis Carroll, a necessary part of any surrealists collection, and proceeds to crank it up to 11 on the sick and twisted scale.

The Set-up:
Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, is currently residing in an insane asylum. Years earlier, while happily daydreaming about her adventures in Wonderland, she failed to notice a fire that broke out in her house. It spreads quickly, killing her parents and burning her family home to the ground. Now, she is overcome with guilt, unable to face the possibility that she may have been the cause of her parents death. Her damaged psyche has a domino effect, warping the once beautiful Wonderland into a hideous valley of grotesque imps and murderous flowers. Resistant to conventional methods to cure her lunacy, Alice allows the darkness to envelop her. She plunges deep into the depths of Wonderland, the home of madmen, in order to save herself from madness.

…Are you taking notes Tim Burton?

This is how a ‘dark’ adaptation of  Lewis Carrolls’ classic should be handled! Bleeding the grotesque naturally into the surreal, American McGee’s Alice drags the children’s tale of Alice in Wonderland kicking and screaming, with its entrails hanging out, into a very mature setting. However, and this is important, it somehow manages to never lose sight of the source material. Despite the fact that it features a Wonderland that has the same aesthetic qualities of a failing digestive system, it still remains a fairytale. Grotesque as Wonderland is, it remains an alluring location to explore. Animals speak and offer you advice. However, this advice is less “Follow the Mome Raths” and more “Set that playing card on fire until it dies horribly”.

There is absolutely no question that the games strongest point is its stellar art design. This is your motivation as a player, the game invites you to explore every corner so that you can see what little quirks the land has to offer. One of the first screens you will come across has Alice hopping across platforms in, what looks like, some kind of floating otherworldly dimension. In the distance a door appears. It comes closer. It gets bigger. Eventually it opens, and THE ENTIRE WORLD IS SUCKED THROUGH IT! Occurences like these need to be witnessed in order to be fully appreciated.

It is not only the grand design of things that is impressive. An extraordinary amount of attention is paid unto the little details. As you progress through an ant hill occupied by the Centipede general, you will notice, if you look closely, that what you originally thought were lamps are actually fireflies nailed to the walls. When you wander into the White Queens’ realm, the entire palette turns a slightly deeper shade of grey. Barely perceptible, but ultimately effective in conveying the sense of lethargy in the this realm.

The actual gameplay is engaging also, faulted only by technical limitations. For example, in an action adventure title, the lack of a lock-on button is sorely missed. You’re really going to feel that when you’re dodging a whole pack of cards in the middle of a scuffle. As well as this, none of the weapons are particularly effective. They are original, surely, and a joy to watch in action. But none of them feel….solid enough to pack a real punch. That said, using the ice staff to freeze imps and then throwing jacks at them to make them explode is awesome.

The enemies are a wildly varied bunch also. Just about every variety of freak you can imagine makes an appearance, each with their own special kind of attacks. The boss battles are well-integrated into the story too, and will generally be a character you will recognise from the books. These will require tactics to beat. Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee stood out on my playthrough for being notably tricky and pretty damn gross. However, the Queen of Hearts encounter remains the highlight as it is a truly spectacular event to behold.

The platforming areas fare better than the actual combat in this title. In one section of the game, you find yourself trapped within a giant clock, jumping between gears and cogs in an effort not to get crushed to death. The fact that the platforming feels so integral to the game makes it feel special. You rarely jump from platform to platform simply for the sake of it. You jump because Wonderland is falling apart and if you don’t jump, you fall into darkness!

Finally, the music of the game deserves a mention for being so very unsettling. Largely eschewing contemporary instruments, Alice explores Wonderland to the melody of slightly out of tune music box melodies, and other toy instruments. Music is largely kept to a minimum, making the odd tunes especially unnerving.

American McGee’s Alice is a goth/nerd’s dream game. It takes the mythos of Lewis Carrolls’ work and churns it through a macabre nightmare machine. Few games manage to nail the notion of surreal as well as this one does. Glorious to behold, it also boasts excellent gameplay, with only some minor faults  resulting from its age. Despite this, Alice deserves a high-ranking for depicting a hellish Wonderland that is consistently engaging and often awe-inspiring.

Awful Rating: 9/10

“When the remarkable becomes bizarre, reason turns rancid.” – Cheshire Cat

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • While Tim Burton fell flat on his promise to make a ‘darker’ Alice in Wonderland film, making something that bordered on the ridiculous, Wes Craven had expressed an interest in making a direct adaptation of this game. Intrigued that he may have the cahoonies to pull this off, I investigated. He stated he would like Sarah Michelle Gellar in the role of Alice. Depressing…
Published in: on October 29, 2011 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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