Note: This review is based on the HTC Vive version of ALICE VR. It is also available for Oculus Rift, OSVR, and is playable on your standard monitor.
Everything seems to be going according to the contingency plan. I've arrived on this planet via a landing ship, and it's my job to collect enough fuel — in this case, Graphene — to get my mothership, the Red Queen, back on course. I am Alice. I was woken from hibernation by the ship's AI, Heart, because of a system failure, and it's been determined that I'm the only one who can save the day.
I've found my way through the labyrinth of moving doors, I've discovered the ancient apple tree, and I'm now driving a buggy across a beautiful desert landscape. Did I mention I met C.A.T., the friendly robotic companion who resembles — you guessed it — a fat cat?
It's not until I accidentally ingest a suspicious green gas that this game actually gets interesting. Luckily, that moment doesn't take too long to arrive, and everything following is best described as a trip.
It's best to not resist
ALICE VR is an experience you're meant to interact with. This isn't a game that will test your speed or accuracy, nor is it a game where you'll find a leaderboard or any type of multiplayer. Its pacing is also rather slow, so if you're in the market for something that really gets the adrenaline going and the sweat glands working, you probably want to move on.
Still around? Good. ALICE VR is loosely based on Lewis Carroll's (extra points for anyone who can drop his real name in the comments section) novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. If you've read the novel, you'll no doubt notice pleasing similarities, but you don't have to be a reader to enjoy this content. There are a ton of puzzles to work through and important decisions to be made before you'll arrive at an ending.
Furthermore, the hallucinogenic gameplay, haunting score, and detailed environments are highly enjoyable and offer some stuff, good or bad, I've not until this point seen in a VR experience.
What exactly am I talking about? The weirdest parts of the game either involve moments when Alice has just freshly inhaled some green gas or when there are gravity-path puzzles that must be navigated.
The latter experience involves neon-lit walkways that sort of resemble a Hot Wheels track, except you're the one actually walking around. In VR, you'll either love or hate this experience, as it completely goes against your brain's natural instincts and also probably breaks the unofficial pact that VR developers have with their audience to not intentionally make us fall on our faces. I might be of a unique opinion, but I thought the whole gravity-path experience was great, as I imagine walking upside down or sideways past the place I just came from would also be disorienting in the real world.
The former experiences — there are quite a few of them — occur when Alice breathes something other than oxygen. It's not easy to explain these chapters of the game, and they're definitely better left to be experienced first-hand, but know that they will mess with your mind. You'll find yourself asking questions like: Did I just walk around this pillar five times without noticing any of the same features? Did that hallway just get way longer? Why is there no floor beneath me and why am I upside-down?
There's a story here somewhere
As you make your way through ALICE VR's story, you begin to uncover some nasty stuff about the planet and why it is devoid of organic, sentient beings. Most of the story is relayed in small snippets found in audio logs, which are one-half of the collectibles in the game — the other half are playing cards. Heart's voice from the mothership also follows you around, but it's almost immediately clear whose side she's on.
C.A.T. also makes an appearance from time to time to offer support, and near the end of the story, you'll encounter the Mad Hatter. The advice you listen to is really up to you, and, depending on your decisions, you'll eventually arrive at a specific ending. I played through the game once in VR and most of the way through on a standard monitor, and I still don't think I understand exactly what the story is about. My fault? Maybe, but the loose way the story is sewn into the game makes me think I'm not the only one who doesn't quite get it. Whether intentional or not, some people might not enjoy the lack of a concrete wrap-up when they've finished the game.
It's sort of obvious from the start that ALICE VR was designed for a regular monitor before being moved to VR. Case in point: you can't actually throw apples or other items with your Vive controller. When you've picked one up, you just click and it goes flying.
There is also a bug at the very start of the game involving the Vive controller — if you press any button while the intro screens roll, expect to see a fatal error pop up. Nothing of the sort occurs if you get click-happy with a mouse.
Despite these relatively minor grievances, ALICE VR delivers a solid five hours of gameplay. There is no teleport function, but you can adjust the speed at which you walk — great for anyone susceptible to motion sickness — and you snap-turn using the Vive controllers' grip buttons.
Carbon Studio has done their best to make players comfortable in their game, but there's no getting around the fact that there are some very intense moments that will probably have less-seasoned VR-users falling down or at least flailing wildly for some type of support.
ALICE VR isn't for everyone. It is relatively slow-paced, it has some very intense moments comfort-wise, and its story isn't exactly solid (but neither was the story it's based around). Despite these issues, ALICE VR should be experienced. It brings together weird, beautiful artwork, a collection of puzzles that mostly offers variety and requires intelligence, and some mind-bending chapters that will make you question your own sanity. At $25, you're looking to spend about $5 per hour if you play through once. That's not a bad price for what you're getting, and this purchase is completely legal.
- Detailed artwork
- Unique puzzles
- Will make you repeatedly question your sanity
- A few bugs
- Intense moments comfort-wise
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