You know this is unlike any other Alice in Wonderland product when you see Alice decapitating enemies in a shower of gore with a foot-long kitchen knife whilst wearing a blood-stained blue and white dress that butterflies fly out of. This is American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns, the next generation sequel to the 2000 PC game Alice. It’s a game that contains a dark and twisted interpretation of the world of Wonderland, an exciting combat system with a variety of powerful weapons and a platforming aspect that manages to provide a solid system whilst somehow ditching most of the problems found in similar games of the genre. Welcome to Wonderland.
Out are the talking doorknobs and beautiful vistas of the 1951 Disney classic and in are the rivers of blood and the macabre environments. Wonderland in Alice: Madness Returns is a pleasantly disturbing place to spend the nine or ten hours it will take you to complete the game’s six chapters and is unlike anything that you have ever seen before - that is, unless you played the original on the PC. The world is ripe with stunning scenery, inventive level design and the highlight of the title is seeing what exactly the game throws at you next, whether it’s a world made of playing cards or a land consisting of rusting clockwork cogs.
Alice: Madness Returns, surprisingly, follows Alice and her slow descent into lunacy. Following the death of her parents, Alice finds herself in an orphanage where she is assisted by her psychiatrist. Alice is suffering from hallucinations of Wonderland and of her parent’s death, soon finding herself back in Wonderland after falling down yet another rabbit hole. Once there, she meets the Cheshire Cat who tells her that the world of Wonderland has been taken over by an evil force and only Alice can stop it. Whilst the story in Alice: Madness Returns is an interesting one, this is no Heavy Rain. The game’s drive to keep you playing won’t be the tale it weaves and will, instead, be the exciting gameplay that makes you come back for more.
Alice: Madness Returns is a game of three parts and they all fit together seamlessly, delivering a varied experience that can both entertain and frustrate. At times, the title is a platformer that, whilst failing to bring anything new to the table, is fun to play and is, like most of the game, pleasant to look at. Jumping from toadstool to toadstool or mushroom to mushroom, Alice can pirouette and float her way through Wonderland but it never gets any more complex than that; you jump from platform to platform, waiting for the moving ones to align before spinning onto them. Sometimes, to add in variety, the game throws in some targets you must shoot to bring up some new platforms but that’s as exciting as it gets.
It sounds like this element of the game is incredibly boring; but to my surprise, it wasn’t. It was actually a lot of fun but it just disappointed us how shallow this part of the game was and when it’s used so much, it just makes the faults more glaringly obvious. The same goes for the puzzle aspect of the title; it’s fun but not very deep. They’re more of a “flick this switch to open that door which will then allow you to get to that platform where you have to do the same again” and are nothing when compared to puzzles to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow which had some genuine head-scratchers. Thankfully, the game is saved by its fantastic combat system.
On paper, the combat sounds incredibly simple but get into it and it becomes brilliantly complex. Initially, you target an enemy and either fire away with a Pepper Pot machine gun or hit them with a huge kitchen knife until the creature is dead. But, you may have to strike them with the Pepper Pot first then weaken them with the kitchen knife before finishing them off with the huge Hobby Horse. It’s this variety and strategy that makes the combat so enjoyable - the gore helps a lot too. Alice is slicing her way through bad guy after bad guy, causing fountains of the red stuff to fly into the air, showering the ground and the walls in the process.
Unfortunately, the exciting combat system and the brilliantly gruesome world can’t save Alice: Madness Returns from some glaringly annoying issues. As good as the graphics are, the whole game is built around invisible walls. Upon first glance, it appears that Wonderland is there for you to explore but the game is, in fact, incredibly linear; trees and buildings in the distance are nothing but mirages that fool you into thinking that there’s more to what you’re playing. And when Alice has to shrink down to complete certain puzzles, the reliability on invisible walls becomes even more glaring; she can’t fit through gaps in trees or holes that are much, much bigger than even normal-sized Alice. Games like Mafia II used its linearity to keep you focused on the fantastic tale it created but Alice: Madness Returns is a game that would’ve been absolutely brilliant had the game had the whole world been, if only a little, free-roam.
This isn’t the only problem the game suffers from; bugs, glitches and pop-in are regular. Alice can get stuck in walls, get stranded in mid-air and, sometimes, the game can just break completely. On one puzzle, the item we needed to take across the map got knocked out of Alice’s hands and dropped a thousand feet below, making us restart our game and start the whole mission again. Which brings us onto the titles biggest problem; it’s save system. Checkpoints are few and each of the six chapters probably has about three or four moments when the game auto-saves and these missions can range from an hour to just over two. Once, we left our console on all day with the game paused just so we didn’t have to do the last forty-five minutes all over again when we got back.
Alice: Madness Returns is a game where style is very much over substance. American McGee creates a brilliant world that is unlike any other incarnation of Wonderland out there and is an absolute joy to play through. However, the title features some annoying niggles that really spoil the experience as a whole. A broken save system, mediocre platforming and a reliance on invisible walls really make Alice: Madness Returns a tale that you must persevere with. Eventually, it will pay off and you will be rewarded with a world that will suck you in and refuse to spit you back out. But, at the same time, certain aspects of it made me as mad as the Mad Hatter himself, with that being very mad indeed.
Alice: Madness Returns (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Alice: Madness Returns is a game where style is very much over substance. American McGee creates a brilliant world that is unlike any other incarnation of Wonderland out there and is an absolute joy to play through. However, the title features some annoying niggles that really spoil the experience as a whole. A broken save system, mediocre platforming and a reliance on invisible walls really makeAlice: Madness Returns a tale that you must persevere with. Eventually, it will pay off and you will be rewarded with a world that will suck you in and refuse to spit you back out. But, at the same time, certain aspects of it made me as mad as the Mad Hatter himself, with that being very mad indeed.