One of the most disturbing video games ever released, American McGee's Alice revolves around the titular character of the Alice in Wonderland series. Released in late 2000 by Electronic Arts, and helmed by id Software alumnus American McGee, a former level designer for the Doom and Quake franchises, in his first role as project lead.Alice Liddell's family members are killed in a fire, of which she is the only survivor. The trauma leaves her mostly catatonic and suicidal, and she is institutionalized in Rutledge Asylum. Years later, her White Rabbit plush toy apparently comes to life and summons Alice to aid a radically altered Wonderland, now under the despotic rule of the Queen of Hearts.Alice must fight her way through the twisted dream world in an attempt to destroy the Queen and restore Wonderland to its former glory, and thus heal her mind. Along the way, she must destroy the Queen's minions, many of which are her former friends and companions. Her guide and primary ally is a twisted, emaciated Cheshire Cat, who can be summoned by the player for hints on how to go or just the occasional cryptic quote.The game itself is an early action adventure, with Alice using a variety of deadly toys to kill the inhabitants trying to destroy her and solving a number of puzzles along the way. The soundtrack is particularly notable, created by Nine Inch Nails member Chris Vrenna with exclusively Victorian instruments and toys.The trailer for the first game can be viewed here.In February 2009, roughly eight or so years after the game was released, EA announced that American McGee got the band back together, so to speak, and the sequel, titled Alice Madness Returns was released on June 14, 2011. The first game ended with Alice escaping her insanity and leaving Rutledge Asylum with a smile. Now, Alice is a downtrodden orphan living in Victorian London under the care of Dr. Bumby. She suffers from hallucinations of Wonderland which make her sense of reality confusing. She eventually tumbles down the rabbit hole and returns to Wonderland, finding once again under threat from another corrupting influence which takes the form of the Infernal Train. Armed with new weapons, Alice must save Wonderland with new and old friends and enemies. However, it appears the house fire may have not been an accident after all.
This game contains examples of:
Achilles Heel: The Mad Hatter is incredibly vulnerable to the Jacks (supposedly because he's so orderly, and the Jacks represent chaos) and you can win the Boss Battle against him more easily if you exploit this weakness.
Adaptation Distillation: Alice's older sister, who was a character in the original book, is never mentioned at all, and no-one resembling a sister appears in pictures of her family that appear from time to time. She does, however, reappear (posthumously) in the sequel and plays a large role in the backstory.
An Ice Person: The Ice Wand lets Alice freeze enemies solid or erect protective walls of ice.
Anti-Frustration Features: Meta-Essence that respawn after a while in the same spot appear only in boss arenas. These are actually necessary for the last couple of fights, where the only weapons you'll be using are the mana-guzzling Eye Staff and Blunderbuss.
Some Bottomless Pits helpfully teleport Alice back onto the platform, rather than leaving her to fall to her death.
Awesome Yet Practical: The Jabberwock's Eye Staff. Takes forever to get, and you have to find the pieces, but it's a laser beam staff that also shoots explosions. For the most part, you probably won't use anything else.
The only downside is that it takes a while to charge, so you can't use it when enemies are spawning right next to you (And the last levels tend to do that a lot.)
Less so is probably the Blunderbuss. If you can skillfully herd an entire room's garrison of mooks into a group and stay well out of the blast radius, you'll be rewarded with a lot of meta-essence to restore Alice to mint condition should you survive the shot. It does have a recoil that knocks Alice on her rump every time she fires it, so using it on ledges and cliffsides can be kind of dangerous.
Ax Crazy: Everyone in the game, really, Alice included, although her ultimate goal is to win her sanity back.
Bizarrchitecture: A lot, but a notable example is the Skool, which is much larger on the inside than outside.
Blade on a Stick: The various mook Cards wield creative pole weapons reflecting their suits, eg: morning stars for the Club soldiers, Tridents for Spades and so on.
Body Horror: The March Hare and the Dormouse. Good God.
The Queen of Hearts' appearance and her true form are horrific.
Not to mention the various deformed children running around, some of whom have the tops of their skulls sawed off.
Breaking Speech: The Jabberwock, The Mad Hatter, and the Queen Of Hearts especially.
Boring, but Practical: The Flamingo club/mallet. Hits harder than the Vorpal Blade, has a ranged projectile that uses only moderate amount of will. The 52 Deck Cards also count mainly for its high hit probability, if not damage. Both are found early in-game.
Clockwork Creature: The automatons are made from random spare clockwork parts and insane children. Oddly enough, the bomb-dropping ladybugs look to be mechanical too. The Mad Hatter turns out to be one of these as well, to go along with the clockwork theme of his level. To top it all off, the March Hare and Dormouse are at least halfway this.
Composite Character/Common Knowledge: The game combines the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts into the same person, in line with a popular misconception. Somewhat justified in this case, since the shattering of Wonderland has drastically altered many of the inhabitants.
Development Hell: Not for the game itself, but for the movie adaptation, which has gone on for years. It was questioned if an animated film based on the game would happen (regardless of people mistaking it for Disney's Alice). However a fan made trailer of Alice Returns uses stop-motion (similar to veins of the likeness of Tim Burton), this so far is the closest thing that can happen for AM Alice for animation.
Dummied Out: The HD console edition brightened up textures but removed quick save/load, the ability to hotkey weapons and the ability to call the Cheshire Cat whenever you wanted.
The original has many unused lines (some were recycled into the sequel) and a few working NPCs that don't show up in the game: the Fish Footmen and Frog Footmen, which draw wooden swords and summon Card Guards, and the bizarre Fungi; physically a small legless creature strapped to another buoyant animal, which follows the player but doesn't attack.
Earn Your Happy Ending: While earning the ending holds true for all video games, Alice literally has to earn her sanity back by battling the Queen Of Hearts.
Exposition Fairy / Stop Helping Me!: The Cheshire Cat. Less annoying than other examples since you actually have to summon his help but, the character's eponymous quirks being what they are, his "help" is often enigmatic to the point of uselessness.
Follow the Leader: The entire plot is about an institutionalized Alice returning to a darker, trippier, overthrown Wonderland, which is very similar to Dorothy's adventures in the '80s film Return to Oz. Despite that fact, it managed to be popular with the public (unlike the movie). Also more awesome.
Gusty Glade: Inverted in one area of the Hatter's Domain, where you can get sucked into machinery drawing in air. Played straight inside Queensland where visible gusts can blow you off while riding steam vents.
Idle Animation - Looking down the barrel of the blunderbuss, prying open a jackbomb, burying a card in her own skull, playing with knives ... Alice is dangerous when she's bored.
A lot of the enemies have them as well, such as the Boojum removing and holding up its head to get a better view of the area.
I'm a Humanitarian: The Dutchess. She's implied to be a cannibal right from the first time someone mentions her, and it proves to be true: right before the Boss Battle starts, she comments on how delectible Alice looks. Plus, her most dangerous - and most disturbing - attack consists of liftning Alice up and biting her on the head. (She can only do this if Alice comes within close range, which is not a good idea with this Boss, or most Bosses in general.)
Improbable Weapon User: Alice's "toys" are mighty lethal. Decks of cards, flamingo-shaped croquet mallets, explosive Jack-in-the-boxes, dice which summon demons... the list goes on.
In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Possibly justified, since American McGee's Alice is very different from Lewis Carroll's, but even so it has been said of the game that if you're going to put your own name in the title, it's better if people actually know who you are. The game had amazing graphics for its time, and it was heavily publicized that it was built on the then-cutting edge Quake III Arena engine. American McGee had been a designer for id Software and worked on the earlier Quake games, as well as its predecessor franchise Doom. A good portion of the target audience - 3D action gamers - were well aware of who he was.
American McGee was actually not a fan of having his name in the title - he wanted to call the game just Alice. According to him, it was the publishers who wanted to put his name in the title, since "made by one of the masterminds behind Doom" would carry more weight with gamers than "a dark version of Alice in Wonderland". He got his wish with the second game, which is not called American McGee's Alice: Madness Returns. It still has "An American McGee Game" in smaller letters at the bottom of the case.
Indy Escape: A large mechanical beetle drops a massive marble down into the hole Alice is in. She outruns it past an icy floor in which the marble crashes through. Comes back later to chase her after she gets the Ice Wand and be on her way.
Infinity Plus One Guns - Blunderbuss and Jabberwock's Eye Staff. Blunderbuss simply annihilates everything non-boss in a pretty wide area while draining your full Will bar. Eye Staff is more gradual in its use, but just as deadly.
To some, have such a long firing delay(Eyestaff) or completely exhausting what is essentially ammunition in one shot(Blunderbuss) brings it straight into Awesome, but Impractical territory.
Mysterious Backer: Humpty Dumpty. When Alice speaks to him, he doesn't tell her anything useful... Or does he? It's not what he says, but what he does. If the player goes in the direction where he points to, Alice will find the blunderbuss, the most powerful weapon in the game, which is easy to miss otherwise.
Mythology Gag: The White Chess Castle features a few illustrations from the original Alice books, along with a portrait of Lewis Carroll.
Nested Mouths: The Queen of Hearts monster has the Mad Hatter's face inside her mouth, with Alice's face inside his. See this in this video.
No Sell: In the Boss Battle against the Centipede, he's immune to every weapon Alice has at her disposal except the Ice Wand, and even then, his only vulnerable spot is part of his chest that you can only target at certain times during the fight.
Orcus on His Throne: Although the Queen of Hearts' shadow falls over the whole game, she really doesn't do much at all until Alice actually reaches her. This is further emphasized by the fact that the first Boss Battle against what seems to be the Queen is actually a fight against a decoy, and the real Queen does not bother with Alice until the fake is defeated.
Our Demons Are Different: Alice can summon them with her dice. The lesser and greater demons are your standard horned, winged fair, but the middle ones are bizarre worm creatures that throw fireballs. The Land of Fire and Brimstone also introduces Fire Imps that rush at Alice with pitch forks.
Popcultural Osmosis: Some of the elements claimed to be from the original story are actually lifted straight from the Disney adaption, such as her parachute dress and only specific food altering Alice's body shape, and only in specific proportions. In the books every food eaten in Wonderland (except for a bit of tea she has with the Mad Hatter) altered the shape of her body, and not always in proportion. Odd they would leave this out, as it gave them perfect opportunity to use what was played as Rule of Funny in the books as Body Horror instead...
Ray Gun: In the form of a staff. Complementary explosive projectiles for a finisher as well.
Room Full of Crazy: Though it's more like an asylum full of crazy; look at the walls in the Hatter level and you can faintly see he's been scribbling on them. (And there's the bloody "You're Next" warnings to boot.)
Rule of Symbolism: LOTS. Most major characters that Alice encouters and many of the locations represent someone or something that caused her madness or something she encountered after being driven insane. Some examples include the Vorpal Blade, which is the spoon used to feed her at the asylum (which she had tried to use as a weapon in one brief time that she was conscious) and the Land of Fire and Brimstone, which symbolizes the fire that destroyed her house. Boss enemies and some monsters represent employees and patients at the asylum or figures from her past.
Sanity Meter: You get more sane by drinking the essence of your kills! Try explaining this to your therapist after you finish the game. (Well, if what she's killing is a representation of her mental illness, then it makes a twisted... sort of... sense...)
Word Of God said that this was used because it was better and far more interesting plot-wise than using a standard health meter and having Alice restore her health with medicine and bandages like the hero does in most games like this. (And frankly, having such stuff lying around Wonderland would make even less sense.)
Save Scumming: One way to ensure you don't redo frustrating sections of platforming or to-and-fro tedium just because of a mis-step later on.
Spot of Tea: As in the novel, Hatter is obsessed with tea. So much so that if the clock strikes twelve during the boss battle with him he will immediately run off for his teatime.
Springy Spores: Plenty in the shrunken levels. Only one specific type of mushroom is springy, though.
Strapped to an Operating Table: At one point, Alice wakes up in an operating theater ... turned on its side. Additionally, the March Hare and Dormouse can be found on operating tables, horribly experimented on. There's nothing you can do to help them.
Super Mode: In the first game, Alice can occasionally find the Rage Box that when touched sprays ... something in her face which painfully transforms her into a demon. This Power-Up causes Alice to do more damage to her enemies and causes her to take less damage from their attacks for the duration.
There are also other items, like a rare grasshopper teapot that turns Alice into a super agile bug-girl, and even rarer dark looking-glass that turns Alice invisible.
The Computer Is A Lying Bastard: Some of the Cheshire Cat's clues are cryptic to the point of being false. For example, he implies the Jacks are dangerous to Alice if she uses them without enemies around, like the Dice, when in fact they're perfectly harmless.
Truth in Television: Sort of. The manual describes what you'd think were imagined and torturous treatments for various patients in the asylum, from pricking fingers, to bullying, to experimentation. A patient dies and the Doctor comments on it rather casually. But lunatics in Victorian England were third-class citizens and it all happened with nobody batting an eyelid.
The Jabberwock: You selfish, misbegotten and unnatural child! YOU smelled the smoke! But you were in dreamland taking tea with your friends, you couldn't be bothered! Your room was protected and spared while your family upstairs roasted in an inferno of incredible horror!
Womb Level: The Queen Of Hearts' castle. Creepily organic, it's like you're working your body up through some intestines, through a ribcage, and up a cerebral column into the 'brain'. In fact most of the features of that section resemble a body part.
Which raises the question 'where did you enter?' Oh, just through a snug, hard-to-spot crevice in a wall...
Oh, and the Queen Of Hearts, a writhing mass of tentacles herself, has tentacles sticking out in most of the levels (they often serve as visible Invisible Walls since you simply CANNOT climb onto them)
The main core of her keep seems to be mostly made of ivory...