The first thing you need to know about Alice, is that she’s not the Alice from Wonderland you used to know. Since her adventures in Wonderland, and her trip through the looking glass, things haven’t been going too well. A house fire that killed her parents has left Alice scarred – to say the least.
The story begins with a teenage Alice lying in a hospital bed – mute, and with staring eyes. The doctors decide that a childhood toy might bring her around, and they leave her with an old furry friend – a little white rabbit.
Alice is then plunged back into the fantasy world that she knew as a child, only this time both she and Wonderland have become sinister and morbid. Armed with a large kitchen-knife, Alice goes in search of the white rabbit.
I didn’t expect much from Alice. It’s based on the Quake engine, and I expected it to be a slightly different slant on the shoot’em-up genre. I was wrong. This is the most original game I’ve played in a long time. It’s visually rich and full of detail – yet the main selling point is the story.
It’s a really creepy and spine-tingling game. It brought back childhood memories of the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and that scene in Pinocchio when the bad kids make him smoke cigars and he turns into a donkey. Don’t let young children play this game; it will give them nightmares.
If you’re brave enough to persist, and enjoy feeling slightly uncomfortable, what should you expect? Well, in the persona of Alice, you’re a dangerous psychotic, but you also have puzzles to solve. Alice is a bit like an insane Lara Croft, though how sane you can be when you shoot endangered species and rob tombs is debatable.
Also not for kids is the game’s plentiful drug references. I’m sure the developers would deny it, but the game is littered with them. The original Alice was presented with magic mushrooms and hookah-smoking caterpillars, but in this story there is skunk weed, LSD and who knows what else. I’m just waiting for Alice to chase the white rabbit into a crack house.
Game-play is full of surprises, both from the impressively bizarre landscape, and the twisted baddies that harass Alice. Luckily, she gets plenty of weapons, or toys as they are called, to play with. Apart from the bloody kitchen-knife, there is a croquet mallet that fires flaming croquet balls, demon dice and other ghoulish gadgets.
Guidance is available all the way through the game from the Cheshire cat. I don’t know who does the voice over, but it reminds me of The Rocky Horror Show’s Tim Curry – full of camp creepiness. The Cheshire cat has changed a little, he has shed a few pounds in the modern Wonderland, and his ear is pierced. Throughout the game, he will pop up to guide and nudge Alice on.
The mastermind behind this game is American McGee. American – yes that is his real name – was one of the driving forces behind the design of games such as Quake and Doom. Now, he’s one of the only game designers to have had a game named after him, such is the respect American McGee commands in the gaming industry. After seeing Alice, I would say this respect is richly deserved. If I see a game with American McGee’s name on again, I’ll buy it.
If you have nerves of steel and enjoy a good story, puzzle, shoot’em-up and general horror-show, you won’t find a finer example than this. American McGee’s Alice is the most original and exciting game I’ve played in years. So turn off the lights and scare yourself silly with an evening of nightmares in Alice’s twisted mind.