American McGee’s Alice – Alice in Horrorland [RETRO-2001]

RETRO – The ex-id Software programmer, American McGee created his version of Alice as if the original story got a sequel from Stephen King. The girl that traveled Wonderland has suffered a horrible tragedy: her entire family died, and as the sole survivor goes crazy with guilt. She then gets sent to a Victorian-era asylum. Alice’s only hope is to dive back into Wonderland to fight her demons, in this grotesque and nightmarish land.


Finally, the assumption that those who like 3D action games are only interested in Tomb Raider clones with sexy women, or Duke Nukem clones are at last seem to be going away! The breakthrough first came with Shiny’s MDK (A sci-fi / parody game), and it’s recently released the sequel.


The developers implanted their unique and often perverse humor into Messiah, in which we control an “innocent” angel that takes over other people’s body, and we get to serve judgment in the most sadistic ways.

It seems that EA games are continuing this type of lineage with Alice: the developers took Wonderland and filled it with nightmarish creatures, plus the scenery has been changed to resemble a hellish landscape that would give Lewis Carroll a heart attack, or maybe he would enjoy it the most.


Today’s bedtime story: Quake and Nine Inch Nails

This uniquely grotesque and original visual world is powered by the Quake 3 engine, and if anyone doubted that this engine cannot show it’s prowess than they’ll be surprised, and should check out this game. The graphic designers did a first class job at this: the characters are lifelike, and the textures are amazingly detailed.

For instances when I took a picture of an in-game scene I noticed that the tiny parts of the carpet were almost could be told apart by the seams. The water textures are also the same regarding the level of detail: it reflects and as transparent as it would be in real life.


Alice looks beautiful, but we won’t remember this game because of the graphics years later. No, what we will remember this game for is the surreal, and otherworldly landscapes. A floating castle, a black and white chessboard world, a level full of mirrors, and giant clock cogs. All of these levels will be a place to fight, jump and survive.

The fantastic levels are accompanied by similar quality music, aka ex-Nine Inch Nails Chris Vrenna provides us with the game’s soundtrack. Vrenna mixed the different grotesque poems, scary clock sounds, and jack in the box sounds that would make the most professional horror movie director cry in terror.


Wonderland Raider?

The gameplay is not much different from the usual Tomb Raider clones: you’ll have fifteen levels to solve puzzles, jump, open gates, destroy locks, and defeat the Queen’s army. The controls are similar to Draken, Heavy Metal Fakk 2 or other mouse plus keyboard controlled Tomb Raider clones. Just like in FAKK 2, the weapons here have a secondary firing mode, which will allow us to do more damage or attack from a greater range. For example with the knife we can only stab and cut, however with the heavy attack, Alice will just throw the knife at an enemy.


Chris Vrenna, the music composer for Alice.

One of the eternal problems of Tomb Raider clones is the aiming, but this issue was luckily solved with a practical method. When Alice is holding a weapon in her hand, a purple dot will appear in the distance which shows the approximate point of impact. If we shoot when the dot is on the enemy, then we will hit our target (unless it runs, jumps, crawls away)


The other new addition is the two footprints that show where we land when jumping to a high place with Alice. Finally, we do not have to worry about falling into the depths like Wilde Coyote, and enjoy this platformer without the usual issues of Tomb Raider clones. Lara should learn a few things from Alice.

It is important that we keep an eye out on the two energy bars at the edge of the screen, as these are: Sanity and Willpower. If Sanity reaches zero, then Alice will die from our point of view. Willpower, however, needs to be constantly recharged as – besides the knife – all weapons use that as ammunition. Using only a knife if we do not watch out for our willpower can result in some quick deaths, as the knife does not provide too much protection.


Willpower is replenished by collecting the “meta-essence” of dead enemies. We need to collect these as soon as possible as their worth diminishes to fifty percent soon, and then completely disappears.
One more thing: If we get stuck, we can summon the Grinning Cat to guide us, with his useless and pointless pieces of advice in the game.

It would be difficult to name Alice as an action adventure game as there are not too many puzzle sections in the title. The gameplay is more reminiscent of the previously mentioned Heavy Metal FAKK 2: a traditional third person shooter, with more dynamic combat.


The Rabbit is late again

Just like the levels and the music, the enemies, and their friends are well designed and original. For example, do you remember the old rabbit from the original story which was always yelling that he is late? How about the Smiling Cat that appeared from nowhere and made a few cynical comments then disappeared slowly until his smile remained?


Well, the memories of the cute characters can be forgotten: the rabbit looks like as if he was skinned, and his front teeth are like of Nosferatu the Vampire, and the cute little cat now looks like an old hippie junkie. And… these two characters will be our best friends!

Just like the cat and the rabbit, our enemies will be of the Alice books, but they will be even more terrifying in this game. We’ll first clash against the Red Queen’s Card Soldiers, later float fire spitting skeletons, bugs, piranhas, giant spiders with female faces, and other monsters that will haunt us through levels. Besides the Queen’s army, we will have to fight against weird animals, and plants, such as the poisonous mushrooms, or the roses that fire sharp needles.

Well since this is a 3D action game we can’t continue without mentioning one of the unavoidable features: Boss Battles. These bosses are grotesque versions of the original novel, many of whom did not like Alice in the first place. There’s The Mad Hatter, who we’ll meet at a tea party. If anyone is interested what happened to the other characters well, you’ll need to reach the Hatter’s realm.

One of the better treats for fans of the novel is the Jabberwocky and the way that it is shown in the game. It is designed as Tenniel drew it (This was the only truly horrifying figure in the novel, so Carroll removed it from the book cover and replaced it with another cover).


Personally, I had the most trouble with the Jabberwocky in the game: it was difficulty to defeat this fire-breathing monster (At this point I regretted starting the game on the highest difficulty). The developers were great at creating their version of Carroll’s creatures, and even their original monsters fit well into the lore: Such as the witch living in the forest, that uses a pepper shaker as a weapon.

The final boss is (I guess it is not a huge spoiler) will be the Queen of Hearts, with two reincarnated version, that are (unfortunately) easier to defeat than the Jabberwocky.


“I have a new friend” (Meeting Lewis Carroll’s 45th child friend)

I guess based on the above line it can be summed up that I like American McGee’s Alice. In the USA the title is “American McGee’s Alice” which is not a small thing for such an unknown person. The developers of different Tomb Raider clones should realize that the ATMOSPHERE is the most important part of these games. Although boredom is a type of atmosphere…


Well, this is not the case with Alice: It is a perfect work not just regarding technical aspects, but it is a grotesque game with visionary scenery blended into one of the most original action games ever. Some might be offended that a children’s story might be made into a horror game. Well for them I recommend them reading both novels, and then watching the Walt Disney animated Alice.

Then they should finally play the game, and ask themselves which stands closer to the original work. If Carroll was alive, I think he would vote for McGee’s version.

-BadSector- (2001)


+ Fantastic atmosphere
+ An exceptionally creepy visual world(2001)
+ Chris Vrenna soundtrack


– Some annoying jumping sections
– Sometimes it’s just hack’n’slash
– Short

Editor: Electronic Arts

Developer: Electronic Arts

Genres: action, adventure

Megjelenés: February 2001,

American McGee's Alice

Gameplay - 8.6
Graphics/visual world (2001) - 9.4
Story - 8.8
Music/audio - 10
Ambience - 9.8



Lewis Carrol was one of the few who knew how to write about children’s imagination, but I don’t think even he would have dared to bring the nightmares of a little girl to life. His very own Alice: the child hero of this game lived happily ever after… until she went crazy.

User Rating: 4.45 ( 1 votes)

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

One comment

  1. Mező Ádám says:

    you forgot the awesome battle system,interesting enemies, creative battle situations which are some times too hard,and repetitive

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