Alice: Madness Returns

Madness Returns

 

Alice: Madness Returns, the sequel to American McGee’s Alice, is a game that at times will have you wondering who is really cracking up, you or Alice. 10 years ago, American McGee’s Alice was a mad hit on PC and now the follow up is here and unfortunately isn’t going to gain the same kind of praise its predecessor did.

The premise of the story is that 10 years have passed for Alice and now an older more mature Alice is set about the world to try and save her failing mind and at the same time cope with the death of her family which she has been lead to believe was her own fault. The game starts off easy enough, with Alice in the psychiatrist’s chair getting lectured about letting old memories go. From there you, as Alice, leave and head into the dark and dirty streets of 19th century London. It isn’t long before Alice is lead on by a white cat and soon enough it’s back down the rabbit hole and back into Wonderland. The problem is that Wonderland is connected to Alice and since Alice is cracking up inside, so is Wonderland.

This is where Spicy Horse has done a spectacular job with Wonderland as they present it in a beautifully detailed, yet dark and macabre version of its formerly wondrous self, most of the time. This brings me to my first issue with Alice Madness Returns. While the visuals are nothing short of stunning, especially the first chapter when you roam through the steampunk inspired Mad Hatters realm, there are times when the game just seems unpolished. For example one of the objectives in the game is to use the Pepper Grinder (a gun, more later) to shoot giant pig snouts which in turn blow up, the cinematic for the explosion looks like something from the NES days. There are times when you are running around wonderland, only to have the nearby walls seem overly pixilated and square or have them just seem like a hazy blur. It’s one of those annoying little things in a game that while not a deal breaker, is enough to make you a little annoyed knowing that another month or so on the polishing table could have made the game that much better.

Gameplay for Alice is a basic platformer with the standard bit of running here and there, jumping over this gap and figuring out that puzzle. Alice does have a neat floating move that allows her to do a double or triple jump and then float with her dress, allowing you to glide along and reach farther destinations. The only thing I would have liked to change would be the ability to attack will floating or jumping, even if it meant ending the jump. There is also a really cool dodge feature, where Alice transforms into a bunch of butterflies and dodges away from enemies. You start the game off equipped with no weapon but shortly into the game you acquire the famed Vorpal Blade from the original Alice game. The Vorpal Blade is really your main weapon throughout the game and as you collect teeth (yes teeth) from fallen enemies, you can spend them to upgrade it, as well as the other weapons you collect as you go, which include the Pepper Grinder, a sort of pepper shooting machine gun, the Hobby Horse, your heavy block breaking attack weapon, and the Teapot Cannon, basically a grenade launcher. All are fully upgradeable and change visually as you upgrade them. A quick note here about the DLC for the game, should you get it, you will have the highest tier upgrade for all the weapons, and will be pretty much unstoppable with them, even on the hardest setting.

Back to game play. The platforming element of the game is pretty straightforward, and aside from some jumps that you have to be spot on with, is set up for the most part really well and doesn’t ever get overly frustrating. There are a couple times when the odd forced camera angle does some strange things, but it’s easily overlooked. Combat on the other hand is a different animal all together. My biggest bitch about combat is that when you lock onto an enemy you can’t rotate the camera correctly or at all. It makes for some really annoying sequences where you are trying to hit and dodge or run away and you end up going in a really poor direction. You end up having to unlock off the enemy, move away and then spin the camera so you can see what you’re doing. It’s frustrating and something that should have been fixed in development. The only other thing about combat I found annoying was that some of the larger bosses could easily trap you in a corner because of the camera mechanics, other than that, even on Nightmare difficulty; the game was never overly difficult. I ended up playing through the entire game on that setting the first run through and even though some fights I had to figure out the best approach, it was still all very doable.

I’m sure it sounds like I have a lot of bitching and complaining about the game and that I may not have even enjoyed it. That’s far from the truth. I actually really liked playing Alice Madness Returns and it’s because of the immersive story. Like a dark B grade movie that somehow just sucks you in, Alice’s mental issues just latch onto you and you can’t help but want to know more about what happened. Is she really going crazy or is there something more sinister going on in the background. I don’t want to reveal too much but about half way into the game Alice starts to really question things and as the cards all fall into a row she gets her answers, and before the final chapter hits, you as the player will pretty much know what has been going on the entire time. That’s not to say it’s predictable, in a way it is, but the options with which it could go will have you guessing the entire time. My only complaint is to ask, what really happens to Alice at the end. But that’s only because she becomes one of those characters you actually care about and truthfully that makes the game a bit of a success. It may lack the polish and refinement to make it an A list title, but like any fun B grade move, it has the ability to still grab your attention and make you want to see it through to the end.