American McGee must be friends with Tim Burton. I decided to drop $8 for a copy of Alice. Heck, I’ve spoken to the producer and a bunch of friends have recommended the game. Took me about 20 hours to play through. The graphics were funthey set the mood of wandering through this land of dark imagination.
The music was good. The menus were excellent, starting with the startup sequence with the EA logo turning into the Cat, accompanied by light laughter turning into twisted laughter. The lighting effects and the candle in the main menu help set the tone, and the other menus were great too. These interface details are often shortchanged in games, but Alice puts them to use setting the mood, with great effect.
The game feels absolutely solid from a technology standpoint. Its based on the Quake 3 engine. Load times are fast and you can save without having to interrupt gameplay. Very, very nice! The smoothness of the game experience, starting with the menus and the interface, is one I wish I could find in a lot of other games, but alas no. Alice is rather unusual in this respect.
But the gameplay got old
The sick and twisted world of Alices imagination is great. Lots of interesting areas thoughtfully designed. The game is fun to look at and play through simply for the aesthetics. However, it was only able to keep me immersed for the first few levels…after that it started to feel a bit formulaic: another interesting looking level with some more bad guys and a jumping puzzle. The storyline with Alice overcoming the trauma of her parents death was over explained, sucking out the mystery. Further, it just started to feel like Quake towards the end. For some reason it just lost the immersion. Maybe it was inevitable because the initial wonder wore off, or maybe it was missing something.
Well, I’m going to go with the missing something option. System Shock 2 and HomeWorld (heck, and Kings Quest) kept me in the game throughout. And System Shock 2 is even formulaic in that it has bad guys to shoot and find the key style puzzles. But the world and the story were so well blended that in SS2 I didnt notice. I was too worried about monkeys. :)
So the question is, what could have been different?
Hindsight is 20/20 right? But that doesnt make me a good game designer. :) Lets see though…I think being a bit more subtle about the storyline would have been nice…make the player feel like they have to work a little to figure it out. Maybe less of an emphasis on combat as things moved along. I guess the game just needed more story and less FPS. The initial levels really grabbed me because I felt like I was wondering through this unpredictable new world. The later levels lost me because it became predictable and the spaces between significant story elements was much longer. The music was good, but it could have been less generic by level. It stopped affecting my mood as things went along, I suspect it wasnt well matched to the gameplay at those points…or that it just wasnt able to create the mood on its own after I had heard the same piece over and over.
And the bosses were so boss like. It felt sorta out of place. I’m not playing Mario here…I guess I was expecting something a little less formula once again. Maybe it would have been better without the bosses at all…take the emphasis away from combat and put it on something else. Maybe a riddle or something. Though I know those are hard because riddles have the effect of segmenting your audience by cultural biases, intellect, and care for riddles. Game design is tough! :p
So, overall though
Hey, it was a fun game. The first few levels were superbreally drew me in and surprised me. There need to be more games with Alices attention to detail in the menus and interface elements. Alice was a fun, creative effort and I’m glad I finally played it!
Updated on October 5th, 2013
Some of the links were broken. I replaced them with working links to pages with the same or similar content as before.