|American McGee's Alice|
|Release date||October 6, 2000 (original)|
June 14, 2011 (remastered)
|Platform(s)||PC, Mac, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One (backwards compatibility), Xbox Series X/S (backwards compatibility)|
|Image gallery (373)|
American McGee's Alice, or simply Alice, is an action-adventure video game developed by Rogue Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts. It was released on October 6, 2000 for PC and on July 20, 2001 for Mac.
Designed by American McGee, hence the game's title, Alice acts as a macabre unauthorized sequel to Lewis Carroll's best-known novels, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and features elements from the shooter, platforming, and horror game genres.
It is the first installment in the Alice series, although a prequel, Alice: Asylum, is currently being proposed, and Asylum will likely be designed in a way in which the player may begin with Asylum. American McGee's Alice was originally released with a casebook detailing backstory of Alice's stay at Rutledge Asylum, which the player may read before beginning the game.
A sequel, Alice: Madness Returns, was released in June 2011 for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was bundled with an enhanced port of American McGee's Alice, featuring widescreen resolution and slightly updated character texture models. The console versions of Madness Returns were bundled with a free port of American McGee's Alice via Xbox Live and the PlayStation Store. The Xbox 360 versions of both games are also playable on Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S via backwards compatibility.
The PC remastered version of American McGee's Alice includes support for newer operating systems and controller support. This updated PC version of the game, however, is not currently available in Steam for unknown reasons. It is only possible to obtain the updated PC release through a Madness Returns bundle called "Alice: Madness Returns - The Complete Collection" on non-Steam digital distribution sites, or unofficial means.
Shortly after Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, at the age of seven, Alice Liddell became orphaned after she witnessed the death of her family in a fire that broke out in her home which was destroyed in the blaze. Suffering from survivor's guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder, Alice began to lose her grasp on reality and was ultimately sent to Rutledge Asylum in London for her insanity, dementia and catatonia. Her doctor, Heironymous "Harry" Q. Wilson, was unable to cure her, even after nearly ten years after being committed. In 1874, Alice slowly began showing signs of recovery.
In August 1874, Alice was brought back into Wonderland, now a twisted and deadly version of itself, due to the horrible rule of the Queen of Hearts and additionally, Alice's own insanity. With the Cheshire Cat as her guide and the help of other creatures from her past adventures, it was Alice's task to kill the Queen, in order to save Wonderland and herself from the corruption. The residents of Wonderland saw Alice as their only chance to get rid of the Queen, due to the stories White Rabbit told of a champion, so she was placed into the role of their savior and began her journey to face the Queen. Alice followed Rabbit but quickly lost him as he shrunk into a tiny hole and ran off without her. Along her search to find him, the Torch Gnomes of the Village of the Doomed told her that the Fortress of Doors held the secret to becoming smaller, and she should seek the Mayor Elder.
Mayor Elder offered to take Alice to the Fortress of Doors if she could return with a key to open doors. She managed to retrieve the object, killing several Card Guards in the process, and the two of them traveled to the Fortress. Inside the Skool within the Fortress, Alice and the Mayor retrieved ingredients and made a shrinking elixir. After drinking the elixir about becoming small, Alice jumped into a portal which took her to the Vale of Tears.
Traveling through the valley looking for Rabbit again, Alice came across the Mock Turtle, unshelled and sobbing his eyes out. Although Turtle had not seen Rabbit, he said he would take Alice to the Caterpillar who knew everything, but first she had to retrieve his shell from the Duchess, who had tried to turn Turtle into soup. Downstream, Alice found Bill McGill, who had been kicked out of his own home by the Duchess, who was hiding out from the Queen.
After Alice defeated the now-murderous Duchess in combat and gave Turtle his shell back, he led her through the underground water tunnels to the Wonderland Woods. Alice finally found Rabbit in this area and the two went together to find Caterpillar. Unfortunately for them, the Mad Hatter was traveling through the woods and stomped on Rabbit, killing him. Blaming herself and her bad luck, Alice broke down into tears briefly but quickly got control of herself again when Cat reminded her of her task.
When she found Caterpillar, he told her that it was her own guilt and insanity that had turned Wonderland into a dark and twisted version of itself, and she was brought back to kill the Queen to save the land and herself. He then created a portal for her, which took her to the Fungiferous Forest. At the forest, Alice killed the Voracious Centipede and took a bite from the Mushroom of Life to return to her normal size.
Traveling on, Alice came across an oracle who told her she had to defeat the Queen's main defense, the Jabberwock with the Jabberwock's Eye Staff. Having already obtained one piece of the staff, Alice set off to the Pale Realm to get another from the White Chess Pieces. The White King asked Alice for her help to save his queen from the red side and gave her a pawn to help her. Storming the Red Castle, Alice arrived too late and witnessed the White Queen's beheading. However, after defeating the Red King, Alice used her pawn to revive the White Queen. As the White Queen went to battle the red pieces, Hatter appeared and knocked Alice out cold.
When Alice came around, she found herself in Hatter's Domain, and she set off to find him. After she got rid of Hatter's goons, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Hatter arrived and commented on that Alice feared the truth, and returning to Rutledge Asylum, but all of that could be avoided. Although Alice asked for an answer from him, she did not get one and the ground crumbled below her.
Alice quickly got to her feet, and moving further in, she encountered the Dormouse and March Hare, imprisoned and being experimented upon by the insane Hatter. As she could do nothing for them. Alice went deeper into Hatter's lair, and found Gryphon trapped in one of the cages. After learning from him that Hatter arrived at six o'clock everyday to check his experiments, Alice used this information to change the clocks to read six o'clock, which drew him out to her.
After killing Hatter and gaining the second piece of the Eye Staff, Alice allied with Gryphon and they flew together to the Land of Fire and Brimstone. Alice found out that the oracle was actually Caterpillar, and he explained that when Alice answered Rabbit's call, she had began to recover from her madness, and only she can save herself and in turn Wonderland. Soon after, she faced the Jabberwock in battle, and although she did not manage to kill him, she did gain one of his eyes to complete the Eye Staff.
With Gryphon and some rebel troops, Alice stormed Queensland and the Queen's castle. During the battle, Alice witnessed Gryphon take on the Jabberwock alone, and be fatally injured in the process. In revenge, Alice killed the Jabberwock herself. Gryphon told Alice that because she defeated the Jabberwock, she already avenged Gryphon's (impending) death and encouraged Alice to fight the Red Queen. His final dying words to Alice were "Do your best, Alice; you can only do your best; you can always do... best." Alice took a moment to mourn his death and continued with her mission, infiltrating the Queen's castle. Just as she was about to finally face the Queen, the Cheshire Cat tried to tell her that she and the Queen were one and the same, but was brutally beheaded by one of the Queen's tentacles before he could finish, causing Alice to be emotionally distressed.
After a long and deadly battle with the Queen, Alice came out as the winner, and Wonderland became a peaceful world once again, with many of her old friends revived from death. In the real world, as part of the aftermath of her victory, Alice's mental state had improved greatly, and in November 1874, Alice was deemed sane enough to be released from Rutledge. Although she was depressed, Alice was committed to the struggle for her sanity. Alice leaves Rutledge with a mysterious black cat. After Alice released from Rutledge Asylum, one of her former carers, Nurse Pris Witless found Alice a home and a job at the Houndsditch Home for Wayward Youth in London, leading to the events of Madness Returns.
American McGee's Alice controls very similarly to a third person shooter due to its engine; Alice always faces forward the camera direction is in, moves similar to a "tank" and there is a "target reticle" resembling a blue light in the center of the screen.
As Alice goes along her journey through Wonderland, various enemies and beasts will try to attack her, to stop her from reaching the Queen as they see her as a threat. The types of enemies that appear depend on which area of Wonderland Alice is currently visiting. As well as generic enemies, Alice has to face large, more deadly foes in the form of boss battles, which plays a large part into the story.
During the course of the game, Alice collects ten different weapons to fight with, most of which can be found in obvious places where they will be easy to find. Each weapon, excluding the Blunderbuss and the Deadtime Watch (which is more of an item than a weapon), has two different attacks:
- Croquet Mallet
- Deadtime Watch
- Demon Dice
- Ice Wand
- Jabberwock's Eye Staff
- Playing Cards
- Vorpal Blade
There are four difficulty modes: Easy, Medium, Hard and Nightmare. It is impossible to change the difficulty later, so the player must be certain with their choice. For comparison, Alice will die by the first Card Guard in these amounts of hits:
- Easy: about 13
- Medium: about 10
- Hard: about 7
- Nightmare: about 6
Nightmare mode can be extremely challenging, intense and unforgiving, as even the smallest of mistakes will kill Alice. Apart from manual savee/load, there is a "quick save/load" function, although it does not restore Alice's health. This can lead to player frustration if they use quick save while in a tight spot with low healh. It is basically impossible to kill everything in sight on nightmare mode, so it is recommended to flee often.
Sanity and Will
There are two meters that represent Alice's vital statistics:
- The left red bar called "Sanity" is Alice's (mental) health bar. When Alice suffers damage, she loses her sanity. When the bar is empty, Alice loses all of her sanity and collapses, resulting in "game over."
- The right blue bar called "Strength of Will" represents the ammunition or fuel for the weapons. Weapons use up Strength of Will to perform attacks, and when the bar is empty or the player attempts to use a weapon that requires more Will than the bar contains, Alice will automatically switch to the Vorpal Blade, the weakest and only weapon that does not consume Will (aside from the Croquet Mallet's primary attack).
Meta-Essence can restore Alice's Sanity and Will when collected.
Throughout the game, Alice can find various power-up items that will change her form and grant her special strength and abilities. However, while powerful, they last for a limited amount of time after touching them:
- Grasshopper Tea – Allows Alice to run faster and jump higher.
- Looking Glass – Turns Alice invisible so she can bypass enemies or pull sneak attacks.
- Rage Box – Alice becomes stronger and can deal more damage.
- Main article: American McGee's Alice Original Soundtrack
The soundtrack to Alice was released on October 16, 2001 by Six Degrees Records, titled American McGee's Alice Original Music Score. It features twenty original compositions by Chris Vrenna, including a previously unreleased theme and a remix of Flying on the Wings of Steam.
Several pieces were not on this soundtrack and can be found on the American McGee's Alice Unreleased Original Soundtrack.
McGee heard "wonder" in a song on the radio (he later clarified it was "Trip Like I Do" by The Crystal Method), which reminded him of Wonderland and inspired him to create a dark re-imagining of Alice, so if McGee never happened to hear the song that day, then his entire Alice franchise may not have been made.
McGee mentions he became bored of developing generic space games and wanted to create something unique, as opposed to "recreating the movie Aliens over and over again", inspiring him to create a sense of uniqueness for the game.
McGee stated on his forum that Alice cost over $3,000,000 USD to produce. This says a lot about the quality in video game development and production costs at the time compared to today, since the game can often feel and play like a fan mod.
The game uses a modified build of the id Tech 3 engine; Ritual Entertainment's version, which was used for Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2. McGee had worked on many id Tech-based games prior to Alice, such as the Doom and Quake series.
During the recording of the game's screaming sounds, because the team did not have a proper sound booth, someone in a nearby office thought someone was being tortured and called police.
McGee was responsible for the game's lava levels because he thinks lava is cool.
The game took a year and a half to create. McGee mentioned the game was the result of serious crunch near the end and it was only around the final three months the game came together after a year of development; this resulted in some employees sleeping on the floor and working 20 hours a day, seven days a week.
McGee wanted a PlayStation 2 port of the game, as he always wanted it to be a console game, feeling the PC version was primarily meant to show EA that they were capable of making the game. However, EA did not go through with it and Rogue Entertainment was disbanded, to McGee's dismay.
American McGee's Alice received mostly positive reviews from critics, and the graphics and music were well-praised for its time. Some of the positive reviews were Metacritic's 85/100 review score, GameSpot's 7.3/10, and IGN's 9.4/10. The game was a success and is considered a cult classic.
Common criticism included clunky, awkward, and slippery controls. Alice has little "weight" to her and if she is attacked by a monster while jumping, it is common for her to be flung off the level and into pits, leading to lots of deaths. Some players also felt the combat was loose, unsatisfying, frustrating, and tedious at times. The game was also criticized for a lack of unlockables and replayability, with McGee himself stating it is very much a "one and done" game.
In his playthrough of the game, American McGee criticized some strange design elements:
- Alice is supposed to dive into the water to reach the next area, although it merely looks like a puddle.
- Difficult and hard to navigate platforming areas.
- A spawn spot which only gives the player a second to react before they die.
- Letting the player continue the game without getting an important weapon which is technically optional (the Ice Wand).
- Fake doors.
Portrayal of Alice, mental health and illness
American McGee's Alice has been noted and commended by many critics for its representation and portrayal of mental health issues in the video game medium. It could be thought that the game was one of the few video games at the time to respectfully portray victims of poor mental health without portraying them in a negative way, such as "psychopathic crazy murderers who want to kill everyone" which are considered harmful stereotypes. American McGee's Alice does not portray Alice's mental illness as a joke, taking it seriously from start to finish. The Insane Children are also not enemies and do not attack Alice.
American McGee's Alice allows players to walk in the shoes and explore the demented mind of a fragile and vulnerable catatonia victim and sufferer, showing that the mentally ill could be intelligent and creative, and that those who suffer from mental illness also have their own mental battles to fight. The game also does not glamorize mental illness or promote it, showing the horrors of dealing with mental illness through its hostile world. In a trailer for the game, Alice mentions she does not want "go among mad people", a quote from the original novel.
Alice is portrayed as lonely, sad, miserable, depressed, damaged, traumatized, tortured, emotionally and mentally unstable and suicidal protagonist. Alice is constantly haunted by the memories of the fire that claimed the lives of her parents (and her sister mentioned in the sequel), causing her to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt as a result, which can manifest into extreme self-loathing and suicidal tendencies. During the game, Alice reveals she is not afraid of death because she has wished for it at times, and questions the point in living if she is only going to hurt others. It is implied Alice cut her wrists in an attempt at suicide. Despite this, Alice is also treated with sympathy, dignity, and respect.
American McGee's Alice also received praise for its portrayal of Alice as a female protagonist in the video game medium. It was released in a time when more in the industry were concerned that having a female protagonist would detract from sales and it was viewed more as a risky gamble. It is clear Alice is the main protagonist and not a woman who shares a video game with a male counterpart such as the first two Resident Evil games. Cheshire Cat is a secondary character as he actually appears in the game for less than 1% of it.
Alice is also not sexualized or objectified in any official material or commercials, conveying she is not meant to be ogled at. In the 1990s and early 2000s, if a woman was a protagonist for a video game, such as Lara Croft or Joanna Dark, their sexuality would often be included in the game's marketing in some way, such as artwork of Lara being groped by Duke Nukem or Joanna getting dressed in a commercial. Alice lacks a large bust, and although she has a thin waist, it is borderline anorexia due to being abused in the asylum as a result of malnourishment.
Due to its release in 2000, Alice could be seen as a major example of a shift in values and attitudes towards women in video games that would develop through the rest of the 21st century. Alice is also a very humanized character with a personality, emotions, fears, vulnerability, etc.
- Main article: Beta Content
While Alice: Madness Returns has a trailer purely for Beta content, American McGee's Alice does not. Beta material is found through old screenshots before release.
There is also a trailer which shows the final trailer before release, along with beta music and uncompleted scenes that are simply story boards. These were also released on the original site.
- In some regions, the cover of the game that shows Alice holding the Vorpal Blade with blood splattered on her dress was deemed too violent on store shelves. Alternate versions of the cover include her holding the Playing Cards or Ice Wand instead, with the blood removed.
- In Japan, the game is known as Alice in Nightmare (アリス イン ナイトメア Arisu in naitomea), a parody of Alice in Wonderland.
- American McGee was once approached by a woman at an event for the game, who told him the game offended the Lewis Carroll Society in London and that the game is an insult to the original novels, despite Rogue Entertainment's heavy research into them while creating the game.
- American McGee is both proud and embarrassed to have his name in the title. Embarrassed because so many other people besides him contributed to American McGee's Alice, yet proud because he feels it is wonderful having his name attached to the project. He also mentions it was partially for marketing and even tried to fight against it.
- American McGee believes that if Lewis Carroll ever saw American McGee's Alice, he would "probably freak and run out of the room." Then when someone explained to him that computers "weren't the work of Satan... imagine he might be pleased."
- In the White Castle located in the Pale Realm during the level "Castling", there is a portrait of Lewis Carroll. American McGee regrets this, loathing that Lewis Carroll is in the game when he feels Carroll should not exist or be seen in the game's canon.
- American McGee stated he "wouldn't mind" if Alice received a graphical update on-par with Madness Returns.
- In the Beta trailer for Alice, the background music is actually a reprise of several songs spliced together from Sleepy Hollow and Edward Scissorhands, both composed by Danny Elfman.
- American McGee attempted to get a live-action version of the game created, but had difficulties doing so. Sarah Michelle Gellar was once on the project. In 2018, he mentioned that any development company interested in creating an Alice movie (such as Laika who made Coraline and ParaNorman) should contact him. For more information, see American McGee#Alice film.