AliceIf Lewis Carroll dipped into the hallucinogenic cookie jar to write the original Alice in Wonderland, then American McGee scarfed the whole lot when designing the highly macabre Alice, a third-person shooter based on the aforementioned classic tale. While shooter aficionados might find the combat uninspired, Alice's combination of graphics, music, story, and action will make you understand why insanity is so addictive.
The story begins with Alice comatose in an asylum after her family has perished in a tragic fire. Once again, she finds herself knee-deep in Wonderland, which a nasty queen has transformed into a living hell. Your mission: Guide Alice through Wonderland (her dementia), fight off the obstacles and evil bosses (presumably Alice's personal demons), and restore the land (aka her sanity) to its former happy state.
As Alice runs, jumps, swims, swings, and strafes her way through the 40-odd levels in Wonderland's nine regions, she accumulates nine toys, which she uses to battle pesky miscreants and tough bosses. During this time you must manage her sanity (via the red bar on the left side of the screen) and her will (via the blue bar on the right, which essentially measures how much ammo she's got left). Each weapon offers a different ratio of damage inflicted to willpower used. For example, Jacks cause lots of damage without draining much of Alice's will. (For more on Alice's arsenal, see "Killer Toys," p61.)
The game is based on the Quake III engine, and it goes without saying that the graphics are more than half the reason to play it: the falling mists in the Pool of Tears, the lush green of Wholly Morel Ground, and the Escheresque black-and-white beauty of the Pale Realm. There's another reason not to rush straight through the levels: Spend some time looking around, and you'll find helpful power-ups like the Looking Glass, which makes you invisible, and the Deadtime Watch, which freezes your opponents while you kill, kill, kill.
But great graphics come at a price—in this case, the system requirements. While the game officially requires a minimum 128MB of RAM, Aspyr recommends at least 216MB, and it's no joke—Alice stuttered and sputtered on our 400MHz G4 with 192MB of RAM. And believe it or not, we actually recommend that you try this game on Mac OS X: It's gorgeous and it plays well.
Gameplay in Wonderland generally consists of fighting, acrobatics, and puzzles. Aside from the lower-level fire imps, phantoms, and screaming velociraptor wannabes, Alice fights a handful of extremely ugly, extremely nasty bosses. (We bet they smell.) Beating them requires finding the right combination of weapons. For example, the Icewand and Jackbomb make a formidable combination against the Centipede (and that's the only hint we'll give you).
Fighting the boss creatures is a bit frustrating. The game gives no indication of how you're doing or how fast the creatures are weakening; you just keep pounding away until, with little or no warning, they keel over and die.
The acrobatics of bouncing off mushrooms, swinging from vines, swimming down chutes (Alice could benefit from a few swim classes), and hopping across giant mechanized gears can get really monotonous. It's cheating, but we used the F4 quick-save feature liberally to mark our place before we (accidentally) hopped into molten lava, deep abysses, and other environmental hazards.
And finally, puzzles provide a brain-teasing break between the firefights and aerobics—they aren't hard to solve, once you figure out where or how to begin. (OK, one more hint: In Castle Keep, after pulling the mirror-turning lever, bolt upstairs to the three rooms.)
American McGee's Alice is way creepier than the original, and the spooky music by Nine Inch Nails' Chris Vrenna only adds to the intensely real trip down insanity lane. The most extreme (and jaded) hard-core shooter fans will find Alice tilted a little too much toward form over function, but everyone else (and that's most of us) will, quite literally, go crazy for it.