Alice: Madness Returns, from Spicy Horse Studio, takes us back American McGee's twisted world of Wonderland.
On the table in front of you is a bottle marked "Drink Me." Will you?
Alice: Madness Returns picks up eleven years after the first game, American McGee's Alice. Alice, while stable, isn't fully cured of her insanity. She is now in Victorian London under the care of a psychiatrist Dr. Bumby. He uses hypnosis to try and help Alice remove memories that are keeping her from living a normal life. A side effect of this treatment is that it stirs up lost memories which threaten to push Alice back into insanity.
After a session where Dr. Bumby attempts to have Alice take her mind to Wonderland she sees that it has become corrupt. This breaks down the barriers in her mind and she starts to have mental episodes as she walks around London. During these episodes Alice finds herself back in Wonderland where things have gotten worse since she lasted visited. The Cheshire Cat explains that Alice needs to fix Wonderland or everything will be lost. As she explores she finds more lost memories that start to show her that the death of her parents and sister in the house fire all those years ago may have not been accidental at all.
I will not spoil the story any further. Suffice to say it does have some interesting twists.
Controls and Gameplay
Alice: Madness Returns is an action adventure platforming game. The controls are tight and well done. I found as I played through that there never seemed a problem of misjudging jumps from one platform to another, even to hidden or invisible ones. The combat is balanced well, I had no frustrations here.
Graphics and Sound
While the stylistic graphics of Alice: Madness Returns looked great, there were some problems, texture pop-in was terrible. At first I thought it might be on purpose, to show how Alice's troubled mind perceives the real world, but once I started getting deep in Wonderland it began happing in there too. There were some collision detection problems as well and one time my pepper grinder weapon was suddenly stuck on my hip. It just kind of bobbled there as I walked around. All of these were distracting enough, when they persisted, they would pull you out of the story. Not to mention the classic "invisible wall" to keep you in the gameplay area, even though the areas appear clearly open.
When the textures do fully load though it is a visual treat of very twisted, yet macabre vision of Wonderland.
The soundtrack does a wonderful job of setting the tone of madness by moving from the off kilter of a twisted music box to intense and energetic when enemies are around. The voice acting is excellent also with almost all of the original cast from the first game reprising their roles.
Curiouser and curiouser. Alice: Madness Returns presents a story that makes you want to travel further down that rabbit hole to see what is going on. While the graphics did distract, sometimes with their problems, other times with their curious warping of reality, I still found myself wanting to continue on to see just what was around the corner. Or just to see what the Cheshire Cat was alluding to in riddle.
And if the story didn't clue you into the madness all around, the items you collect throughout the game will. Coins and rings? Not here. In addition to Alice's lost memories, you collect teeth as money, pig snouts to unlock hidden paths, and roses for health.
Make no mistake though, this is not a Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. It falls in that category of disturbing, but intriguing. Any confusion as to the maturity of the game can be cleared up in the game's depiction of slums of London. Pimps, working girls, and corrupt police, are just a small taste. Wonderland itself can be pretty darn bloody.
Even though the graphics have problems I truly enjoy the adventure and story that has been set before me. As an added bonus, the console versions of the game come with a one-time use code to download the original, American McGee's Alice that has been upgraded to HD quality. So in effect you are getting two games for the price of one.
So the graphics give the score a ding, but the overall experience bring Alice: Madness Returns up to a 4 out of 5.
Alice: Madness Returns is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Violence.
Alice: Madness Returns is available now for Windows PC, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3
For more information see EA's web site.