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American McGee's Alice Review
2000-12-12 Erik Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4

So now we've debunked the atmosphere and story, which leaves the gameplay exposed to the light.  And floating towards the light, because its so inert and moldy that I think its dead.  There's a public misconception that we don't like jumping games.  It may be because of something we said in the KISS or Rune reviews.   Regardless of what inspired the idea, it isn't true.  We love jumping games.   We love Mario 64, Donkey Kong 64, Banjo Tooie 64, the entire Spyro 64 series - all the greats.  What we hate is precision jumping in first-person games.  So if you've decided we're simply biased against Alice's style of play, then in your face, loser. 

The problem is, Alice looks a little bit like a Mario game and controls a little bit like a Mario game, but it's really a shooter.  For those of you whose noses are shoved too far up the PC's ass to still see daylight, console jumping games have evolved to the point where they're now deeper than most PC action games.  Banjo Tooie on the 64 includes a huge, huge world that requires a lot of thought to successfully navigate.  Between them, its main characters have over forty different ways to interact with the environment.  Alice has about four.  Also separating Alice from most modern console platformers is its utter lack of exploration.  It's strictly linear and virtually secretless.

Which is all fine for a shooter, but Alice fails at that as well.   The enemies are brainless and the battle action is about as deliberate, passionless, and audience-unfriendly as  you'd expect from the world's first pretentious art-house video game.

The graphics are crisp and the characters have some clever animation, but, Jesus, I expect that at this point.  They hired a professional Anthony Hopkins impersonator to deliver all of the Cheshire Cat's fake-o profound lines.  His dialogue sounds like Hannibal Lecter reading aloud to everyone from the secret diary you wrote when you were thirteen, which is actually the most terrifiying concept in the game.   The music is by someone who - according to the manual - knows Trent Reznor.

I decided to test American McGee's seemingly infallible edgifying system by pitting it against the one thing I couldn't imagine ever making me sad or scared, Seanbaby's Bowtied Duckfoot Adoracubbies.   I contacted Sean himself and asked him if he'd be willing to try to create an adoracubby that somehow illustrated the grim horror of mental illness.  He said he needed me to give him a definite malady in order to capture the spirit of thing, and I told him that I was really just looking for a non-specific crazy, ala Pink Floyd's the Wall or Nine Inch Nails the anything. 


"I'm still not sure what I can do to make these things horrifying," he told me.

"Look," I said, "spurt some blood all over one.  And dressing it up in a little dracula suit certainly can't hurt."

Two days later, he sent me this:

Upon first seeing it, the sound I made was an inhuman mix of "awwwwwww" and a choked gasp of terror.  So there you have it, conclusive proof that nothing in this world is so pure that it cannot be subverted by the Twisted Genius of  American McGee.

For more information about Adoracubbies and to possibly win an Adoracubby prize package, enter the official Adoracubby coloring contest.

But none of that matters since Giants came out a few days after Alice and outshines it in every way.  Not only is it a third person action game with lots of actual action, the setting is truly surreal.  And the game is comfortable enough with its legitimate weirdness to not stop every few minutes and explicitly point out how freakin' crazy it is.  It even features polygon models that actually act.  Until Giants, I'd never played a game where I looked forward to the cut scenes.  It's the anti-Alice, and we'll be talking more about it later.

What have we learned from Alice?  Well, squirting a little blood on a game doesn't make it very edgy or dark, because 90% of games are already about massacring either people or deer.  After fifteen years spent in the human killing simulator, I'm thoroughly desensitized to rage against chess pieces.  If you're going to appropriate something from Earthworm Jim, make it Professor Monkey For A Head for chrissake.  And if your goal is to make a crazy game, don't blow all the craziness on tilting the doorframes at quite frankly insane angles.  Save a little crazy for the gameplay.   Lastly, American McGee can brood on his own goddamn time.  I just gave you forty dollars, McGee, now dance for me sad clown.

Rayman 2.  'Nuff said!


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