Who the f… is b… Alice?
Once upon a time, before Tim Burton turned Lewis Carrol’s books into a rather convoluted mess of a story (not knowing if it should appeal to children or grow-nups, not satisfying any to a full degree), when PC gaming was all the rage, there appeared a PC-exclusive titled American McGee’s Alice. The first question of course was “Who the f… was McGee?”, the second “Is there a McGee from another country who is better or less known?” and of course “Why does Alice carry that bloody knife?”, not in a swearing tone, but really with blood dripping down the blade.
Bloody Memories get you every time
Now after 12 years I revisited Wonderland with the Xbox-Download which was included in the Alice: Madness Returns package, for free. To be honest I didn’t remember much of the game, only that it was bloody, played a bit like Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2, another Quake III-engine game and it ended without any cutscene after the final boss fight.
So it was not just going down Memory Lane, experiencing it again, but playing it in a new light.
Even though it might have won lots of prizes in the graphics department, it hasn’t aged that well. Character models, textures look even in HD (which is not more than high-resolution graphics I played ages ago on my PC) not that exciting. Something the recent Beyond Good & Evil HD-make over did much better.
Then the voice acting, especially of Alice, isn’t always up to scratch, but those are pretty minor issues when playing a retro game. The most important thing is: Does the atmosphere carry over and is it still fun to play?
The main idea of having Alice find herself in her own twisted mind being transformed in a decaying Wonderland holds still many surprises, especially when she has to fight all the well-known characters from the book. There’s something very unsettling seeing the innocent child one remembers from the book strapped to a bed in an asylum hearing the screams of her burning parents in a flashback scene (although in the German version the voice acting is atrociously bad) and being weirdly satisfied to cut a Cardguard cut in half with a knife, blood spurting out of his two body halves or his head rolling around.
Fight for your psyche
Weapons at her disposal are as imaginative as the worlds themselves and creatively designed. The only problem is how she moves through these levels and uses her fighting tools as timing of her jumps and aiming is often not precise enough and results in many deaths, even in the normal difficulty. It’s one of those games one is happy to have a quicksave. Some levels (especially with mazes) are not only overcomplicated, but frustratingly unfair. So are the boss fights which usually end up in frantically running around, using any weapon to find out where the weak spots are.
Of course there are also some ingenious ideas in the level design (like controlling one of the pawns on a chessboard), only those are few and far in between.
A timeless classic or a past better forgotten?
It’s funny how a game with a great premise after all those years doesn’t look and play that fresh anymore, even weirder how the follow-up Alice: Madness Returns is critized for not living up to its expectations…because it actually does so much more and better than the original, but that’s another story…or review, soon to follow.
Oh, and about that missing ending? I finally experienced that one with this release. Apparently the PC-version didn’t play a specific video file due to driver incompatibilty. Those were the days…but it’s still great to experience it without paying too much (as the retail version, at least in the US, fetches quite a high price) and without haggling with graphics or framerate problems.