American McGee’s Alice Review for Xbox 360

American McGee’s Alice Review for Xbox 360

Off With Their Heads

It’s been eleven long years since American McGee’s Alice showed us a twisted and terrifying version of Lewis Carol’s Wonderland. With the long-awaited sequel, Madness Returns, finally out, many gamers are only now being introduced to this unique take on the classic Alice in Wonderland story. I too missed out on Alice when it first came out back in 2000, but thankfully, Madness Returns brings with a chance to experience one of the most beautiful and haunting games of all time. So how has Alice’s first adventure held up?

You might think that after over a decade’s worth of evolution in technology, graphics, and visual effects, this game might not have fared well. Surprisingly, this isn’t the case. Games that don’t try to strive for realism tend to age better, and since Alice depends on its unique art style and gritty, cartoonish visuals, it still looks pretty good. Now, I’m not saying there’s a chance a passersby will mistake this for a game made in the last couple years, but it definitely looks good for an eleven-year-old game.

American McGee's Alice Screenshot

Madness Returns is comprised of six chapters, each with their own unique look and feel, whereas the original game is broken up into nine areas, all of which look different from the next. This means there’s plenty of variety in the environments, and, as opposed to its sequel, many of the puzzles and platforming segments in each area are actually unique to that part of the game. This means you won’t be doing the same thing over and over.

Having not played the original until after playing through Madness Returns, I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to the combat, puzzles, and platforming. To my bewilderment, I actually found myself enjoying the puzzles and platforming in this game way more than its sequel (though the combat was vastly improved in Madness Returns). In the original Alice game, you’ll be asked to solve a large variety of puzzles, from trippy illusions that have you walking through endless doors and rooms, to the more common puzzle type where you have to pull levers in a specific order. The variety in the puzzles is great, and would have been a welcome addition to its sequel.

American McGee's Alice Screenshot

The platforming is also pretty fun and surprisingly void of frustration. I welcomed the extra variety, but there were a few control issues that, on occasion, made the experience a little frustrating. Every so often, Alice would slide off a platform, plunging me to my death (or small loss of health), or I would get stuck on geometry forcing me to reload my last save (thankfully, there are plenty of checkpoints.) There were even a few times when Alice refused to pull herself up a ledge. (By the way, being able to grab ledges also would’ve been a welcome addition to Madness Returns.) For the most part, though, the platforming elements felt solid.

The combat is the only gameplay issue that could have used more work. As opposed to its more agile sibling in Madness Returns, the Vorpal Blade is a very slow weapon. Alice swings far too slowly, almost as if the air in Wonderland is as dense as molasses. My only saving grace in many of the fights was that enemies usually don’t take very much damage before they’re vanquished.

American McGee's Alice Screenshot

Unlike its follow-up, there’s a lot more variety in Alice’s arsenal of weapons. In Madness Returns, there are four to choose from, but here you’ll have ten. There’s also the added bonus that many of the weapons have a secondary ability. These range from turning a close combat weapon into a ranged one (by throwing it or firing projectiles from it) to far cooler abilities like creating walls of ice or summoning a powerful demon. The larger arsenal gives you more options during battle, and the secondary abilities only multiply that.

Games from the 90s and early 2000s (and even many today) tend to be plagued with awful voice acting. I don’t know if it’s because we didn’t have voice actors like Nolan North to lean on (he’s been credited on dozens of video games) for believable acting, but I’m happy to say that Alice doesn’t share this problem. The writing and voice work is almost as entertaining as what’s found in the sequel, only this time there’s more of it.

American McGee's Alice Screenshot

What’s even better than the dialogue is the incredibly haunting soundtrack, scored by Chris Vrenna (drummer for Nine Inch Nails), Mark Blasquez (guitarist), and singer Jessicka (lead vocalist for Jack Off Jill). The soundtrack is at times beautiful and soothing, and other times its dark and twisted, providing the perfect backdrop to the deranged world of Wonderland.

Looking at the weapons, puzzles, and platforming, you might have noticed a startling trend. I’m stunned to say this, but American McGee’s Alice has more variety than Alice: Madness Returns. Because of this, I actually found myself enjoying this game over its sequel. As a fan of horror, I also enjoyed the darker feel of the world of effectively creepy denizens. The insane children that roam the halls of the school stand out in my mind, if only because I find it a little surprising that they’re there in the first place; kids weren’t usually portrayed negatively in games until fairly recently. Turning a corner and being met with the wide-eyes (the eyes looked to have been stapled open) and even wider grin of a child walking robotically or pecking at the floor as if it was a chicken was genuinely unsettling.

If you’re looking to get a little more bang for the sixty bucks you spent on Madness Returns, or just looking for a few extra achievements, this game is a fantastic way to get both.

Alice looks incredible for its time, and its unique art style has slowed the aging process quite a bit. 3.3 Control
The slow, tank-like combat hasn’t aged well, but controlling Alice is rarely frustrating and the platforming is a lot of fun. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack is better than many scores from current games. The voice work and sound effects also manage to hold up well even eleven years later. 4.0 Play Value
The single-player story is substantial but there’s little reason to return to the game after experiencing it once. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Experience a darker version of Wonderland that’s been corrupted by Alice’s growing insanity.
  • Explore nine beautifully detailed areas, including a twisted forest, underground complex of labyrinthine tunnels, and even a massive chessboard.
  • Haunting soundtrack scored by Chris Vrenna (Nine Inch Nails), guitarist Mark Blasquez, and lead vocalist Jessicka.

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