American McGee's Alice (PC) Review

American McGee’s Alice was released in 2000 by Rogue Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts.  The game, considered mostly ahead of it’s time, paints the more darker story that Alice in Wonderland was meant to be.  The review below was originally published in 2000 shortly after the release and was written by Admiral MM (Matt.)

I am sure you are all familiar with the tale of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (or more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland), and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. Both books are probably the most popular children’s books ever. Charles Ludwig Dodgson wrote them under the pen name Lewis Carroll in 1865 and 1871. There are many tales around how he came about these odd stories. Everything from LSD trips to him being a pedophile. The truth is not so strange at all.

In 1862, Dodgson took a trip down the river Isis with the children of a college dean, Robinson Duckworth. To entertain them on the trip, he told them the story of a little girl who fell down a rabbit hole and discovered a strange land of mystery and wonders. One of the little girls, Alice, told him that he should write the stories he told them in a book. He eventually wrote the book and named the main character after the young girl who encouraged him to write the book.

Now, most of us are familiar with the tale somewhat. Most are not familiar with Through the Looking Glass as much though, but that does not matter. Prior knowledge of them is not that important really except to better understand the story a little maybe.

The story of American McGee’s Alice is a tragic one. Little Alice is the only survivor of a terrible fire that killed her parents. She is the only one left and was mentally scared. She spends years in an insane asylum to rebuild herself. She is mostly comatose and is given one thing that may help her to wake up: a stuffed animal of a white rabbit. In the opening intro movie, we see most of this and the Rabbit calls out to her for help. This triggers the events that follow as she is taken back to Wonderland to help the White Rabbit and others to save Wonderland and her sanity.

Now, this is not the Wonderland you remember from the Disney classic. It is much closer to the Lewis Carroll’s version of Wonderland than the Disney version. This is a very dark and scary place. Wonderland turned from a place of dreams to a place of nightmares. Characters are warped and twisted. The Cheshire Cat has turned from a fat cat to an anorexic looking thing that would make Calista Flockhart look like a Sumo wrestler. The Mad Hatter is really mad now, for he has an obsession with time and turns people into mindless automatons. The most frightening characters are the children. You run into them in the Fortress of Doors and in the Mad Hatter’s Castle. They are mutilated and lobotomized and just giggle and scream for no apparent reason. They are really spooky.

You follow Alice in a third-person perspective, and she is wonderfully rendered. Another interesting part is that unlike other games of this genre, Alice is realistically proportioned for her age. She more resembles the Alice that inspired Carroll, than the Alice that was depicted from the drawings of John Tenniel and the Disney animated film. So, in other words they set out to make a realistic character, and not some sex symbol.

The graphics really bring out the locals in Wonderland and give them a dark and frightening feeling. The enhanced Quake 3 engine used in the game does a very good job of making Wonderland come alive. I have seen very few games that can do what Alice does. Wonderland is very close to Lewis Carroll’s original vision with a Victorian age feel to the game. The levels are designed very well and are very realistic. It is almost as if you really are in Wonderland. The textures and lighting are probably some of the best I have ever seen. The character rendering is wonderfully done, thanks to the engine. It really makes the Quake 3 engine shine and pushes it to its limits.

Each level is split into multiple areas and each area is unique in its own way. You venture into just about every part of Wonderland and visit many characters from the classic story. The design is very well done, but towards the end can get a little repetitive when levels seem to be very similar to the one you just came from. This does not begin to plaque the game until near the end, so it really is not as bad as you would think.

The sound and music are the most interesting aspects of the game really. The screaming of the Boojums made me jump the first time I heard it. The music is done by former Nine Inch Nails member Chris Vrenna. The music uses a combination of toy music instruments, clock and gear sounds, and a female chorus to set the mood of the game. The music is probably some of, if not, the best I have ever heard in a game. I want this on a separate CD. I love it. It has the odd childlike/otherworldly fell to it. The voice acting is also very well done. My favorite character is actually the Cheshire Cat, whose Anthony Hopkins/Hannibal Lector type advice is very interesting. He shows up from time to time with little riddles and quotes to help you along the way.

The controls are very well done. You use the mouse and keyboard to get around. It is almost like you are playing a first-person game from a third person view, where you turn and make the camera look up and down with the use of mouse and the keyboard the strafe and move forwards and backwards. I love this style for it provides a much better feel than any other adventure game I have played. The camera controls are very well done and have not had any obscure vision problems that plaque other games of this type. You also get these nice footprint marks that can show you where you are going to land when you jump. This is a big help when trying to make a jump and judge if you are going to make it and to help you with very short jumps. I wish more games did that.

The weapons system is very well done. Just about all the weapons are a demonic version of a toy. They all have some very interesting effect on the various foes you face. My favorite is the deck of cards where you can slice a lot of enemies in two. Also, a big help is the crosshair and the basic auto-aiming features of some weapons. Both are done very well with very few problems.

The gameplay is not unfamiliar from most adventure games of this type. You still have to use the classic run and jump and pull the lever type gameplay that is very familiar for those that have played these types of games before. Nothing much has changed. Now, the game’s artificial intelligence has a lot to be desired sometime, but it is not that bad. The games wonderful environments make up for the lack of AI. The AI is very simple and basic at times. A better AI would have been a welcomed addition to the game.

Overall, I say that this game is a must get for anyone who is a fan of the genre or is looking for a real fun game to play for a few hours. The game is somewhat short but is worth the price. American McGee and Rouge Entertainment are off to a wonderful start with this game, and I hope to see more of their work. Alice is a destined classic and is a very well-done game. It helped to renew my faith in this genre with a classic tale retold and brought to life in a wonderfully done game and story. So, if you have the money to spare, I highly recommend you go out and get this game.


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