American McGee's Alice

American McGee's Alice

Return to a wickedly deformed Wonderland; confront the cruel Queen of Hearts and her revolting toadies; fight for sanity, control and survival

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Genre: FPS/Adventure
Release Date: October 6, 2000
(Repackaged by The Adventure Company September 2004)
Platform: PC, Mac

Note: Originally published 23 July 2011

Introduction

I am not much of a fan of FPS action games, but every so often one comes along which is just my speed. It is not enough to to offer mindless destruction, not that there's anything wrong with that, but there must be a compelling story to keep my attention. Almost as if it were an Adventure Game...


Story

Alice Liddell was good friends with Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Rev. Dodgson enjoyed the company of young children and, with the permission of their parents, would take groups of them on boating trips and picnics in and around the grounds of Cambridge University. It was on one of these outings that Rev. Dodgson made up a story about Alice and her adventures while following a white rabbit down its hole. The story was so popular with the children that Dodgson was convinced to write the story down and submit it for publication under the pen name of Lewis Carroll.

That much is history and has been well documented. American McGee now continues with the story. Not the stories written by Lewis Carroll which we all know and love, but the story of Alice Liddell herself.

Alice has fallen asleep while reading her favorite book and is dreaming of her friends in Wonderland. Dinah, her cat, decides to get up and take a stretch which knocks the kerosene lamp off the table and catches the house on fire. Alice escapes the burning inferno, but must listen to the screams of her parents who die in the blaze. The horror throws her into a catatonic state and she is sent to an asylum where she lies in bed, staring straight ahead, responding to nothing.

A kindly nurse gives Alice her old stuffed rabbit hoping that it might help snap her out of it. Almost instinctively, she pulls the rabbit closer and, just as their noses are about to touch, it speaks to her. “Save us, Alice!” it begs.

Next thing we know, we are falling through the hole and into Wonderland. But Wonderland has changed. It is now dark and gloomy. The mad have become manic and the bizarre has become perversion. The intriguing has become deadly.

The Story is wonderfully told by cut scenes throughout the game. Each minor victory yields another piece of the puzzle as we gradually find out what is happening to Wonderland and to us.

The characters are wonderfully realized with each one having a unique and well-developed personality. The humor is dry and cutting. Everyone is either edgy or on the edge. I found myself constantly torn between wanting to stay with a character to find out more and running away from them as quickly as possible.

Everything about the story deserves an “A.”


Puzzles

Yes, there are puzzles in this FPS game. Quite a few of them.

Most puzzles are of the maze variety. Wonderland is huge and it is rarely linear. But the scenery is quite varied so it is possible to always keep your sense of direction. Doors and paths may sometimes be subtle, but they are never hidden. There is no Hunt-The-Pixel in this game. There are two outright mazes in the game – hedge mazes. But even these have remarkably varied scenery.

There are several logic puzzles. These are fairly straightforward and you always have a hint to push you in the right direction. A couple of them had me reaching for a walkthrough, but the result was “OK, I can see that now.” and never “Now how was I supposed to know that?”

The inventory puzzles were of the Find Weapon Upgrades variety. You keep everything you find and then get to figure out which weapon works best for each villain.

The puzzles also force you to think outside of the box. Stuck in town and just can't find anything else to do? Jump in the canal and swim underwater. Maybe you will find a pipe leading to a new location. Or maybe you should try throwing your knife at those objects which seem a bit out of place. But everything makes a Wonderland kind of sense.

The puzzles are all well-integrated into the game and most give great satisfaction with their solutions. I give the puzzles a solid “B+.”


Navigation

Alice uses the Quake 3 engine. You use the W, S, A, D keys to move forward, back, left, right and the mouse to steer and shoot. I was barely through the first scene before it became natural and I hardly thought of it. And since the less you think about navigation the better it is, I can give this engine n “A-” for having nailed it.

Graphics

You can see from the screen shots the dark and gloomy caricature of Wonderland. What you cannot see is that everything is in motion. Each land is a surreal masterpiece where the sky might be clouds, stars, swirling vortex, or combinations of all, buildings pulsate as if alive and everyday objects fly around. The atmosphere is perfect and you cannot help but be affected by it.

But even beyond that, there is a FMV introduction which is the best I have ever seen in any game. Yes, I've played all theMyst and Uru games. Yes, I've played everything made by B. Sokal. I have been playing adventure games for over 25 years. And this intro in Alice is the best. The entire clip is 3-D rendered with the camera flying around Alice's house from scene to scene. It is a montage of actions and images constantly in motion. Barely a word is spoken, yet by the end an entire story has been told and you need to know what happens next. It will hook you.

Even better, there is an ending FMV which wraps everything up nicely and leaves you feeling that it was all worthwhile. How many adventure games can you say that of?

There is no doubt that this is “A” quality work and an example to other developers.


Sound

Not much music, but all the sound effects are just right. The voice acting is excellent. Everything blends in quite well in a supporting role. “B+” for sound.


Addictability

Yes, I had to finish this game. Yes, I lost sleep over it. And yes, that was just as true the third time I played it. “A-


Conclusion

This is a game which can be enjoyed by any adventure gamer. The story is compelling. The atmosphere is moving. It is everything you want in a game.

Even if you absolutely cannot handle the dexterity required of a First Person Shooter, there are cheat codes available to make you invulnerable and able to move anywhere. The game will still keep you enthralled.

Without question, this game deserves an “A."

Note: Alice: Madness Returns will include a code allowing console players to download American McGee's Alice for free. Source: CVG, 18 April 2011

System Requirements:

  • Windows ME or Windows 98
  • 400MHz processor (500MHz recommended)
  • 64MB RAM (128MB recommended)
  • 8x CD-ROM drive (16X recommended)
  • 620MB Disk space
  • 16MB Direct3D video card DirectX 8.0 compatible (32MB recommended)
  • DirectX 8.0 compatible sound card
  • Keyboard and mouse
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