American McGee�s Alice

  • by Sean Molloy
  • December 05, 2000 00:00 AM PST

Wonderland is in peril, the Queen�s cutting off more than just heads, and sweet lil� Alice is sharpening her butcher knife. Take one last mind-blowing trip through the looking glass with American McGee�s Alice.

Oh, poor, poor Alice, have you heard what happened to the dear? After stepping back into the dull haze of her post-Wonderland British reality, a horrible fire killed her parents dead and left the English lass of the looking glass broken, mentally disturbed, and strapped into a bed at the local insane asylum. Heavens! Then, one lovely (and particularly Lithium-addled) day, an old friend paid a visit to her hospital bed � a White Rabbit, as a matter of fact, his eyes crazed and his usually fine tea-time suit soiled and stained with the blood of the proletariat � to whisk poor Alice back to Wonderland once more. Only this time, something far more sinister was afoot than mere tea parties and tart thefts.

The idea behind American McGee�s Alice is a flat-out brilliant one. In the time since Alice last visited her fairy-tale dreamworld, Wonderland has been turned inside out, the rules of time-space have been all but abandoned, and the tyrannical Queen of Hearts has built a bloody regime based on the slavery, torture, and none-too-pleasant deaths of Wonderland�s inhabitants. Now, psychologically shattered, Alice finds herself back in Wonderland as the peoples� champion, and the prospect of taking one more hardcore trip through this shattered looking glass with a maniacal, knife-wielding Alice seems way too cool to be true.

And, unfortunately� it is too cool to be true.

While the graphics are awesome, the levels are frequently brilliant, and the whacked-out character design is perfectly suited to Alice�s Adventures in Hell, this is an idea that deserves more than an overly simple 3rd-person platform shooter. This Alice is far more suited to a role in a grand graphic adventure, and the game stands a shining example of how high-concept gaming art coupled with low-concept gameplay makes for an interesting paradox � you�ll want to see it all, but you won�t really want to play it all.

The control scheme is hyper-simple, set up to play like a third-person version of Quake Lite or Unreal Jr.. You use your mouse to aim and turn Alice around, and use the keyboard to run, strafe, change weapons, and leap about the scenery. Alice�s handling is loose and floaty, however, so you�ll find yourself leaping where you don�t expect, gliding into spots you didn�t mean to get into, and drowning in puddles of water that should have been easily escapable. The mouse and keyboard commands are entirely customizable, so you can pretty much mimic any of your favorite first-person shooter setups.

And really, that�s about all there is to it. Alice runs, leaps, and shoots at spear-wielding Jacks of Spades, giant toothy toadstools, and an assortment of other bizarre Wonderland baddies, occasionally coming across a new weapon (like the imp-summoning Demon Dice or a pack of 52 razor-sharp playing cards with built-in homing mechanisms). Most weapons have two modes of operation � a primary fire, and a secondary fire. Your stats consist of two bars � one red, one blue, one for health, one for magic/ammo � and the only items you pick up are glowing polygons secreted in the death throes of your enemies that refill one or the other or both. While it ensures you won�t be frustrated for lack of ammo, it effectively removes any incentive to poke around Wonderland to uncover secrets. You�ll also run into a �puzzle� here and there, but they�re usually extremely simple (go to this room, then go to this room, pull a lever or two, come back). The game is long, granted, with 15 enormous areas to explore, but by the time you pass the forest beyond the Pool of Tears you�ll have grown tired of hurling kinetic croquet balls at your foes and hopping around on giant leaves with pre-programmed paths, and find yourself wishing there was more to it than this. It�s fun, just not for all that long.

It�s the sights, sounds, and concepts that are the big draw here - and both are, in fact, quite the draw. The characters are haunted, horrible, and somehow still likeable, their bizarre dialogue voiced with deadpan creepiness, even if the game is haunted by the occasional volume level or stutter glitch. The sound effects consist mostly of standard shooter noises, and the incidental and ambient music is appropriately atmospheric and dark, and sits unobtrusively in the background.

The game employs the Quake III graphics engine to its fullest potential - the worlds that Alice leaps around are stunning, mind bending, and unbelievably cool. Take this scene, for example: You enter a stone corridor from a castle courtyard, and find yourself inside of a house that begins to slowly tear itself apart � so gradually that you don�t even notice until it�s too late to do much about it. Floorboards lift and spin and become hovering platforms, revealing that the exterior you had just come from has been replaced with an enormous vortex of blue and purple energy, where chairs dance in the air and enormous English double doors swoop around to engulf you. Then, the grinning, pierced, and tattooed form of the Cheshire Cat fades into existence, and you exchange a bizarre conversation about growing and shrinking and summoning imps from other planes of existence as the world around you continues to twist and reshape itself. Later, when hunting down the evil Duchess to win back the Mock Turtle�s shell, you�ll enter her cozy stone cabin, watch as she emerges from the fireplaces as the walls shoot about a mile apart, and witness as her skull explodes in an endless shower of black pepper after your brand new fire-spewing Jack in the Box cooks her alive. Awesome moments like this come frequently in Alice, but it�s all just a beautiful wrapping for an alarmingly mediocre 3rd-person platform shooter that, in the end, all boils down to this: If Alice had a different graphics set or was based on any less cool an idea, there wouldn�t be much incentive to play.

So file this under games that should have been more. I wanted to absolutely love this Wonderland trip, but it�s hard when Alice�s gameplay just isn�t nearly as deep as Alice�s psychosis. When all is said and done, American McGee�s Alice is all ideas and eye candy � delicious, cyanide-laced eye candy, embedded with LSD-tipped sewing needles.

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jugghead

Good times. Monster Hunters 4 Lyfe!!!! hammer tiiiime!!!!!! -Lisquid Lao-slayer

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