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American McGee's Alice (PC) artwork

American McGee's Alice (PC) review

"Load, Save, Delete…woah, hidden messages. "

Load, Save, Delete…woah, hidden messages.

No matter how much great window dressing a game has, it's the rare game that achieve greatness without a great foundation. In the case of American McGee’s Alice, when you strip away the fantastic visuals, the eerie sound, and the wonderfully realized world, you’re left with something playable, but not especially engaging.

The fun here is in the frills. Alice is a seriously fucked up take on the already trippy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, the pair of books by mathematician and wannabe pedophile Lewis Carroll. Emotionally scarred after her parents’ fiery death, Alice has transformed from the doe-eyed curly-locked cutie pie of John Tenille's illustrations into a dark haired, disgruntled, catatonic, institutionalized teenager. Alice’s asylum “casebook,” a neat addition that comes in the box, hints at key events in the game and hints that the adventure is not so much another trip to Wonderland as it is Alice's attempt of battle her inner demons.

The detached glare of Alice on the game’s cover as she uncomfortably handles a bloodstained knife should clue you in on what’s in store. Down the rabbit hole we go again, discovering a Wonderland ravaged and warped by the Red Queen and her minions. The familar characters are all here, but they seem to have gone through the same demented ringer as Alice. The Cheshire Cat is still a jokester, but his new sardonic sense of humor goes with his grim, emaciated appearance. The bumbling of Tweedledee and Tweedledum is now bone-crunching thuggery, and the gleeful mania of the Mad Hatter has become full-blown homicidal psychosis. The Red Queen…well, I’ll let you see her for yourself. Even people who have only seen Disney’s old Alice In Wonderland will have a good grasp of this smart, sharp recasting. If only battling bosses like Tweedledee and Tweedledum was as fun as seeing and hearing these twisted reimaginings.

Controlling Alice is a process. The camera is obstinate, and for a game rife with platform jumping, imprecise leaps can be the cause of much frustration. Progressing through Alice is decidedly bearable, but if you stick with this game all the way through, you'll do it to see what American McGee and his team will come up with next. The number of fantastic looking areas far outnumbers the number of areas with clever puzzles or awesome action sequences.

The weapon system a key problem. Alice’s arsenal is quite unbalanced, and although the enemies are superficially varied, one or two tactics is all you’ll need to defeat the vast majority of them. Out of Alice’s ten “toys,” only three are actually useful. The other seven are cool but impractical gadgets like demon summoning dice and exploding jacks.

The music of Alice, composed by Chris Vrenna of Nine Inch Nails, is creepy and minimalist, and it fits like a glove. Utilizing strange bells, chimes, and children’s laughter, Vrenna's compositions are spot on without a host of flashy effects. The convincing, thankfully British voice acting also helps matters. The interchange between the curious Alice and the bleak Cheshire Cat is delightfully tongue-in-cheek, and the other characters prattle on in the same decpetively profound manner that made Carroll’s original characters so appealingly quirky.

This consistenly standout presentation pumps life into gameplay that is otherwise unremarkable. I'm sure there would have been some fanbase regradless given the popularity of Carroll's works, but American McGee's superior aesthetic accomplishment all but guarantees Alice's broad appeal. You won't be disappointed, but, that said, you'll probably wish this game's stellar creativity was more than superficial.

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Community review by careless_whisper (May 05, 2005)

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