Imagination Becomes Madness
Toys Become Weapons.
Friend Becomes Foe
Alice Grew Up
So Did Wonderland
-taken from EA's banner ad
If you are a fan of the children's books Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, but have always thought that they possessed a dark undertone, then have I got a twisted adventure for you. In American McGee's Alice, Alice returns to Wonderland only to find out that it is a dark and dismal place that hope has forgotten. In it the Queen still rules supreme and every creature that had at one time been slightly strange has now become downright creepy and evil.
The game is in a fantasy world much like the original Alice in Wonderland books, but there is a major difference. Instead of being prompted by imagination and make-believe this place is created out of a neurotic insanity. See, Alice (who is a teenager now) was the only one saved in a fire that killed her parents. Being that this was a bit much for her to handle she was placed inside an asylum under the careful eye of doctors and nurses. Trapped in this cold dark room filled with only the memories of her parents, Alice starts to slip into her mind. And in her mind Wonderland is as nightmarish as the padded cell they keep her in.
Pretty heavy, huh? American McGee's Alice takes the original idea and story of the Wonderland books and heightens the craziness and insanity of it all. If Alice in Wonderland and The Looking Glass were childhood stories on acid think of Alice as a really bad trip. The walls very often break away to reveal a spinning whirlpool of space and color. Everything is askew and inverted. Disproportionate size plays a big part as well. In fact all of the chapters and min-adventures in the book are covered in the game with the horrifying and strange aspects of each of them brought into the forefront and exaggerated for nightmarish effect.
With all of these aesthetic qualities the question then becomes, "How does it play?" This was to be my biggest worry in starting the game. If you have ever read my review of Nocturne then you know that I have a bias against 3rd person games. And when I read the manual and found out that there was jumping involved, I was really paranoid. I feared that I would have to sludge through bad control and poor depth perception in order to look at all of the cool backgrounds and characters. Thankfully this was not the case. The control for the most part was good. It moves a little loose and was a bit slippery but in a strange way t seemed to fit with the swirly strange lands. My biggest complaint was only when the sliding around caused Alice to slide off of a cliff or a ledge and force me to do an entire sequence over again. Other than that I felt that the control was fine. It felt a bit like Tomb Raider control with more smooth 1st person kind of motion.
Despite all of the crazy bells and whistles, this is basically a 3rd person shooter so you know that the weapons play a very important part. Being that this is in the Wonderland universe, automatic rifles and grenade launchers just would not seem appropriate. In its place are some really creative and colorful substitutes that fall right in line with the feel and tone of the game. You start off with a knife and right away you will notice that the blood is going to be pouring. Chopping off heads and slicing enemies in half goes down a path of gore that the original stories only threatened to do. In addition to the gruesome knife you also have deadly cards that can be thrown, a croquet mallet, and many other oddities that are taken right from the book. I find it fascinating that this game translates so well from a child's story to a Quake-style shooter. You really begin to notice the sinister subtext in the books when it is brought out in the game. Of course there are the card guards that are always hounding you but it surely does not end there. The Rose Bushes shoot thorns, there are birds that try and attack you, and one character tries to eat you.
The design elements of this game are the features that are really going to grab you. The levels and characters are crafted with such elegance that the designers can truly be called artists. It is a wicked ride through a kind of dark imagination. Think of the Alice in Wonderland ride at Disneyland as directed by Tim Burton. That is what will draw you in. The fluidity of gameplay and the intense action sequences are what will keep you playing. Just one look at the anorexic Cheshire Cat on the box cover with his wicked grin and earring, you will have an idea of just how crazy this game can get. Then once you play it you will realize that you were underestimating the sheer insanity that courses throughout the game. But then what would you expect from a journey inside the mind of a girl gone mad?
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