Review: “American McGee’s Alice” ( Computer Game)

“American McGee’s Alice” was a computer game which was released in 2000, it’s also one of the few console-style 3D platform games (although it sometimes plays a bit like a third-person FPS game, since it uses the same engine as “Quake III”) that I’ve ever found for the PC.

It is an unsettlingly gothic re-telling of “Alice In Wonderland” which takes place entirely in the mind of an older (probably about seventeen or eighteen) version of Alice whilst she is lying in a coma in a Victorian mental asylum following a long period of mental illness brought on by survivor’s guilt after the rest of her family died in a house fire when she was a child.

Needless to say, the wonderland which she visited when she was younger has now been twisted, corrupted and distorted out of all recognition.

Yes, this definitely isn’t a game for children. But, saying that, it isn’t the most disturbing “Alice In Wonderland”-related thing I’ve ever seen either. That honour has to go to an extremely macabre horror comic called “Return To Wonderland” by Raven Gregory, Daniel Leister and Nei Ruffino (maybe I’ll review this some other time…).

Anyway, I discovered “American McGee’s Alice” by accident whilst browsing through a charity shop in 2010, the cover art looked interestingly gothic and it was fairly cheap too. Interestingly, this was the same charity shop where I found “Doom 3” for about £4 back in late 2006, seriously that place is a goldmine. Anyway, as soon as I started playing this game, I kept playing it – in fact, it’s probably been quite a major influence on some of my art too (it’s no coincidence that I started using checkerboard designs in a lot more of my drawings since I first discovered this game).

One really brilliant thing about this game is it’s visual style. Even though the graphics look fairly old these days, it is still a work of art and there isn’t really anything else like it (apart from it’s sequel, which I’ve only had the chance to play a few times). Yes, it contains some of the ‘traditional’ 3D platform game settings (eg: one part of the game takes place in an ice world) but most of the settings have their own distinctive ‘twisted Victorian fairytale’ style to them and even the map of Wonderland itself looks wonderfully nightmarish, surreal and evil too [here’s a picture of it, although it obviously contains some spoilers].

Another great thing about this game are the characters – particularly the Cheshire Cat, who serves as your companion and narrator throughout the game. Apparently, he was originally supposed to follow you throughout the game and help you out during combat, but this was scrapped for some reason. Even so, you can still make him appear briefly and give you menacingly cynical advice if you press a button on the keyboard. All of the other characters are really interesting too and you’ll probably recognise quite a few of them from the original novel, even though they’ve been….. changed somewhat.

“American Mc Gee’s Alice” is also one of the few games I’ve played where I’ve really noticed the soundtrack too. Chris Vrenna wrote and performed the music for this game and it fits the game absolutely perfectly. In fact, it’s one of the main things which makes it such an atmospheric, haunting and unsettling game.

The weapons in “Alice” are really innovative too and they range from a deck of sharpened cards which can be thrown at your enemies, to a watch that can stop time for about twenty seconds to a collection of diabolical dice which can be used to summon small demons who will attack any enemies nearby (however, if they are summoned when there are no enemies nearby, they will start attacking you instead).

Most of the nine or ten weapons in this game also have an alternate firing mode too – which can come in handy as well. However, the most powerful weapon in the game (the blunderbuss) can only be found in two hidden locations (the first one pretty much requires a walkthrough to discover but you’re probably more likely to find the second one on your own).

One interesting thing, which is both convenient and inconvenient is that almost all of the weapons don’t have separate types of ammunition. Instead, they take “meta essence” from an energy bar at the side of the screen which can be refilled by finding power-ups and defeating enemies. This is useful since it means that you can use any of your weapons if you have enough “meta essence”, but it also means that you have to be a lot more careful too – since if one of your weapons runs out of ammo, then they all run out of ammo.

All in all, this is an incredibly atmospheric, original and imaginative game which is extremely fun to play too. Yes, it’s a fairly old game – but don’t let this put you off playing it, it’s probably got more atmosphere than quite a few modern games can even dream of (along with “The Longest Journey”] it’s further proof of my theory that computer games, as an art form, were at their best in the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s). If you like horror games, anything Victorian or anything gothic – then you will probably love this game. If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it’d probably get a six.

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