Alice: Madness Returns is the sequel to American McGee’s Alice, released back in 2000.
For those who don’t know, American McGee is not only the apparent result of parents mixing up name and nationality on a birth certificate, but is also one of the people behind classics like Doom.
For additional irony, American McGee is now apparently a resident of China.
Madness Returns picks up where the original Alice left off, if the wikipedia article is to be believed. Luckily, the original game costs about $10, so the fact that you need to play the original game to fully understand the latest game isn’t too expensive of a prospect.
In the story, Alice returns to wonderland where a giant train that looks like all the really famous cathedrals in the world glued together is somehow corrupting wonderland and the creatures in it, and causing monsters to appear. Alice must then use a variety of weapons to kill monsters and help restore wonderland to what it was.
At times, Alice pops back into reality somewhere in London, which adds some intrigue. Is she really physically going to wonderland and reappearing somewhere random, or is she actually undergoing some serious mental issue and wandering around a city thinking she is in wonderland?
The game tries to be a psychological horror, but it really fails to deliver any sort of physiological effect or any sort of horror. Sure, it presents a dark and twisted version of wonderland, but wonderland is somewhat dark and twisted to start with, if you carefully look through the veneer of pleasantries. So the addition wasn’t really necessary.
Gameplay is somewhat lacking. It is an action-platformer that takes place in a full three dimensions, but isn’t 3d, so judging distance to the next thing can be rather hard. Luckily, Alice can quadruple jump which tends to remove any semblance of difficulty, apart from platforms that you fall through, can’t land on, or just the times when a floating thing suddenly appears and kills you. It also gets hard when the game refuses to acknowledge the jump key, especially when you only hit it once. Due to the quadruple jump, platforms are really spread out, resulting in most levels feeling really sparse and bare.
The combat is actually petty good. Alice has a health bar made of roses which lose petals, and when all are gone, she restarts from the last checkpoint. When she gets exceedingly low, you can enter ‘Hysteria’ and gain all sorts of combat bonuses that last for a limited time. Weapons are also fun and original. She has a vorpal knife for basic attacks. Then there is the hobby horse, used to deliver high damage,s tun things, or break stuff open. There is a teapot cannon, which flings grenades. Then there is the pepper mill, which is basically a machine gun. She also has the clockwork bomb, which is used to attract enemies or to solve some puzzles. There even is an umbrella, which can be used to deflect attacks and send projectiles back at an enemy.
The problem is, most puzzles are either really simple and merely annoying to try to complete in time, or some area that seems to be puzzling, but really can only be done one way which is explained flat-out. Weapons also feel really insubstantial. Maybe it is the intention, but most of the weapons simply provide no satisfaction or any indication that somehting is being done. The lock on system prefers to lock on to enemies who are unable to be damaged or do not have line of sight. You can enter an ‘aim mode’ which makes shooting some stuff easier, but makes any fight exponentially harder.
If you pre-ordered the game, you also got a free copy of American McGee’s Alice as well as some different weapons and dresses for Alice. As she progresses through the regular game, she changes dresses, some of which provide some sort of bonus or other effect. The pre-order dresses, however, allow things like ‘the flower mode is always active’ which means either health recovers over time, or that you can always see the secret pathways. Then there is the dress which lets you enter Hysteria at any time. The pre-order weapons also have bonuses, like extra health, extra damage, or some other effect that merely serves to make the game easier if you shelled out the full amount for the game before it was released.
Score: 3/5 not bad
Pros: The game is somewhat fun to play. It is not utterly broken or even unplayable.
Cons: all the bonuses can no longer be had. The game is from EA, so don’t expect it to be DLC. Some weird things appear, like signs in London in the game being written in Chinese. Characters are simplistic and frequently forgettable. Boss battles are dealt with by building up suspense and having the boss die in a cutscene with you having done nothing.