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American McGee's Alice Review
2000-12-12 Erik Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4

Back in the 1990s, a band called Fields of the Nephilim tried to get some attention by pretending to be evil, glowy-eyed cowboys. I didn't follow their career, but in the wicked spirit of this season of dark cheer and eerie good-will towards men, I honestly hope the supernatural ranchhand schtick worked out for them. I've used an image of their first album as the logo for this dual review of Gunman Chronicles and Alice mainly because it was the only thing that popped up when I typed "edgy cowpokes" into Alta Vista. If you're thinking that it's quite a stroke of luck that Nephilim's debut album was called "Alice", but you're also wondering why they chose to write the title in a Battlestar Galactica font, I should probably mention that I put that part in there myself, using our new recurring JeffK-esque character, The Battlestar Galactica Font. You can look forward to more of its wacky antics later this year.

The reason I was looking for something that combined the Old West with gloomy edginess is that Gunman Chronicles is a commercial Half-Life mod about space cowboys, Alice is a brooding meditation on jumping puzzles, and I plan to review both of them at once. 

As per usual, we didn't play much Gunman Chronicles. It starts with a tram ride, just like Half Life. We didn't time it, but, subjectively, the ride goes on for about half an hour. I know what you're thinking: The tram ride in Half Life was good, so one that's ten times as long must surely be ten times better! I can't argue with that logic. I even worked the numbers on a graphing calculator. All I can say is that the math does not correspond with our experience. Still, there's more to a modern game than its initial, unskippable tram riding section - assuming you play it for more than thirty minutes. For instance, there's the graphics. From what we saw, Gunman Chronicles art-direction is a cross between Half-Life and big purple splotches. 

But a few purple splotches never killed anybody, other than all the grown ups in that one episode of Star Trek. We stopped playing Gunman Chronicles not because it was ugly or wasn't any fun, but because of the clear incompetence of our space cowboy commanding officers. In the first mission, you get sent down to a planet as part of a military detail.  Here's a screenshot I took just after touchdown:

It's kind of hard to see, but those are my squadron's two dropships in the distance, surrounded by my squadmates. The interesting thing to note here is that the only weapon HQ decided to give me is the one pictured in the upper right corner of the screenshot. That's right - confronted with the prospect of having to repel an alien invasion, the best plan Space Command could dream up was to send me down with a knife.  Granted, it's one of those larger Rambo-style knives that you can get in the martial arts store at the mall - along with a ninja outfit that actually has the word "ninja" written on it - but that didn't make me or especially Chet feel any better about our side's chances of winning the war. To make matters worse, we later discovered that most of the other soldiers had guns, which opens up the whole issue of who knows who, and, on the other hand, favoritism. Maybe it's all part of some complex political subplot.  We never found out.   When faced with insurmountable odds, we take our cue from the black people in Bowery Boys haunted house comedies when they're faced with spooks - we scream "ooooooooooooooooooo" then run the other way. So that was that for that game.

People we trust have told us that Gunman Chronicles gets much better as it goes along. If you're a fan of games that get better towards the end, check it out! We should probably also mention that the game was made by a group of talented underfunded semi-amateur kids from across the globe, some of whom are probably terminally ill. It's not the most professional piece of work we've ever seen, but I noticed over at Gone Gold that - if you include a ten dollar rebate - it's $9.95 at CompUSA this week. For ten bucks, you may as well skip the reviews, buy the goddamn thing and find out for yourself. If enough of you tell us it's good, maybe we'll play it some more.


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