By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
If Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) were alive today to see how his literary works have been recreated for a new millennium and new medium, he'd be grinning like the Cheshire Cat from his "Adventures in Wonderland" novel.
That is to say if he doesn't mind any room for some, er, creative interpretation.
The latest computer game from talented game designer American McGee (yes, that's his real name) is not a direct restoration of Carroll's Alice trilogy, nor is it a happy-go-lucky Disney-style game for kids; American McGee's Alice is a disturbing � yet beautifully crafted and incredibly fun � interactive romp through the looking glass with plenty of familiar characters and locations.
The game's psychedelic introduction sets the stage as Alice is placed in an asylum as a child following a fatal fire that kills her entire family. Not knowing why she was spared, she is paralyzed by guilt and remains in a catatonic state until she is beckoned back to Wonderland, under the clutches of the evil Queen of Hearts. To restore what has now become a hauntingly surreal and deformed world and to regain her sanity, Alice must explore, solve conundrums and fight against the Queen's strange minions using her arsenal of deadly toys.
Without a doubt, the game's single greatest asset is the graphics, with its unprecedented level of painstaking detail, swirling colors, wonderfully distorted images and dynamic lighting effects.
Alice is played from an "over-the-shoulder" third-person perspective, with plenty of cinematic camera angles to enhance the experience. In one of the many levels, she is shrunk to the size of an insect, in another she's atop a giant chessboard and in a third she's wandering through a hall of mirrors, down a corkscrewed corridor or jumping across doors suspended in space.
Thankfully, many of the classic characters have returned, including the White Rabbit, Caterpillar, Mock Turtle, the Mad Hatter, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and the Jabberwocky, to name just a few.
The eerie soundtrack,composed by Chris Vrenna, and creepy voices and sound effects complement the alluring graphics. American McGee's Alice is definitely one of those games to play alone in a darkened room with the speakers cranked.
This weird, wild and wacky romp through the looking glass is almost perfect, although some may wish there was a multiplayer component to battle online against other players (after all, the game was created using the Quake III engine, based on one of the most popular multiplayer games played over the Internet). Also, I would've preferred more puzzles (and more challenging puzzles).
Overall, however, American McGee's Alice is one of the more unique, immersing and gratifying PC games on the market. Keep in mind the recommended age requirement is 17 and over, and don't blame me if you experience some nightmares after playing this game.
American McGee's Alice action/adventure game is a strange, intoxicating twist on Lewis Carroll's trilogy, for mature teens.