Alice: Madness Returns. Oh boy does it return with madness. Developed by Spicy Horse, this sequel which takes place right after the original game, ‘American McGee’s Alice’ follows the tale of Alice as she attempts to fix the mangled and demonic place her imagination has become due to the fire that killed her family. The unusual style this Action-Adventure Platformer has creates a very unique vibe by demonstrating extremely creative, yet often rather disturbing visuals and character designs. You would be forgiven for feeling a little uneasy when you fight your first evil fire breathing baby doll. These elements combine together to create a distinctive setting which you will either love or hate. Unfortunately however, the gameplay doesn’t quite match its visuals in quality and enjoyment.
In case you are blissfully unaware, Alice: Madness Returns and its original are both loosely linked with Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’. The story is not a direct copy, however elements of the book are often apparent and readers of the novel or viewers of the 1951 Disney movie will notice some similarities. The Cheshire cat that leads Alice on her quest for example, even if he now has a much more evil facade. The opening cinematic, whilst extremely malevolent and sinister, is remarkably appealing and sets the mood for the rest of the game. The style of narrative used is just as mad and nonsensical as the imagery and is a constant theme throughout. The English accents make for a nice change and the London setting you will find yourself in when not working your way through Wonderland is pleasingly gritty and also provides a nice contrast from the many colours and unfamiliar surroundings of Alice’s imagination. Unfortunately however, the graphics are relatively sub-par. Built off Unreal Engine 3, many textures appear bland, rushed and at times pixelated. Disappointing considering the spectrum of rarity this game portrays. Sound effects and the music used are aptly fitting but do become tiresome and repetitive.
Now that the aesthetics are out of the way, let’s get on to the gameplay. Action-Adventure Platformers are nothing new. There are plenty examples of quality and interesting titles available on the market, whether they be 2D or 3D. Unfortunately Alice: Madness Returns is just another fish in the sea. Expect to see the same old ‘jump on these floating platforms’, ‘locate all of these collectibles’, ‘solve this extremely annoying puzzle’, and plenty of them. Sure the ability to shrink after consuming the shrink potion and to then be able to access areas of the level which are otherwise impossible adds a neat little sense of discovery but this is an all too common occurrence. The game doesn’t really progress in terms of challenges, which can lead to tedium. Oh and don’t expect to be wandering the realms of Wonderland at your own leisure. The game is ironically rather linear given the limitlessness of imagination.
Wonderland is scattered with numerous foes which, with the help of her trusty pepper mill-gun-thing and teapot shaped grenade launcher along with other unusual weapons, Alice must destroy in order to succeed on her quest. Firefights and hand-to-hand combats are very simple yet solid elements with the auto aim becoming a very useful feature. You almost applaud a horde of hideous enemies (and yes, some of them are fittingly things of only pure imagination) charging towards you as you know they will be no match for your arsenal of ‘weapons’.
If you’re a fan of collectibles then you’re in for a treat. Personally, I detest collectibles but I am led to believe that there are enough here to keep you on your toes for much longer than is required by the main objective – possibly even requiring multiple runs through to find them all. That is if you could be bothered chugging your way through Wonderland once more.
As far as optimising is concerned it’s safe to say there are better games available for the PC, but then there are also worse examples. Getting lower fps on medium settings than Bad Company 2 at full settings seems a little odd.
So, what exactly is Alice: Madness Returns? Alice: Madness Returns is a missed opportunity. Its 5 chapters are all too similar in terms of gameplay and interactions and past the level environments, simply do not have enough diversity between them. Compare it to M&Ms. There are many different colours and they sure look pretty, but they all taste exactly the same. Combat is fun and commonplace however the numerous mini puzzles often feel weak and rushed. There is a lot of room for creativity given the setting but the execution feels lacklustre. That being said, if you are a fan of Action-Adventure Platformers and are in the market for a new title then it may be worth checking out. Maybe borrow it from a friend first. That is if any of your friends had bought it in the first place.