Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Alice: Madness Returns | Review

Back in the year 2000, when everyone was scared and murmuring about Y2K, there was a gem of a PC title released titled "American McGee's Alice".  A third-person action platformer set in a very twisted version of Wonderland taking place years after Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  Fast forward 11 years, when everyone is scared about the Apocalypse, and we finally have a sequel, this time, the name has been simplified.  Alice: Madness Returns.  Clearly, this is an Alice in Wonderland game, but gone is the reference to American McGee.  That's probably a good thing.  Not to discount him in any way, however the average gamer probably has no idea who he is; however it was his studio, Spicy Horse (interestingly enough based in Shanghai) who has brought us the follow-up we're talking about today.

Starting up the title, I'm immediately reminded of the striking visual style that which the game is known.  It's very old-timey Victorian, mixed with a steam-punk-meets Tim Burton style when you actually enter Wonderland.  This isn't the kid-friendly version you'll want to share with your children with.  This is the dark, seedier interpretation of Wonderland, complete with an evil anorexic looking Cheshire Cat, demented evil, and unspeakable madness driving it all.  The game picks up right after the first left off (which you can download and play for free if you purchased a new copy, otherwise, it's just $10 [800MS points] to play the original title, that was only for PC's before), and you've been placed under the care of a psychiatrist at a local orphanage.  Upon one of your daily walks, you encounter a white cat, and not a rabbit, but you, being the traumatized young woman you are, feel it's a good idea to follow this white cat.  This turns out to not be such a good idea...but then we wouldn't have a game to play.

Soon you're thrust back into Wonderland, picking up the familiar Vorpal Blade, and gaining the ability to shrink on command (a handy tool, I might add, and one you'll find yourself using alot to locate hidden key-rooms, and other various secrets).

Gameplay is a mix of third-person action, third-person platforming, and puzzle solving.  In later chapters, there's even a mini-game in which you play a side-scrolling shooter, in which you have to shoot cannons or drop mines to battle under-water sharks and other enemies.  As you progress, you pick up teeth, which act as the in-game currency, allowing you to upgrade your weapons to higher levels.  You begin with the Vorpal Blade, but you'll soon be firing long-range with the Pepper-Grinder, and then others will show such as an umbrella and a toy horse, each having a unique purpose and one that plays out often during the chapters you acquire them.

The mission structure (as it's called) is pretty straight-forward.  You're trying to stop the spread of madness, and in turn you're looking for a train, and to get there, you're interacting with classic characters, the aforementioned Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Duchess, and even the Red Queen.  Each chapter has you interacting with a different part of Wonderland, and the environments vary greatly.

Graphics are using the Unreal Engine 3, like most titles this generation, however, it's a little rough around the edges.  There's noticeable pop-in, and texture fill, as the game loads.  We haven't tried installing the game to see if that improves at all.  Though it's hardly a dealbreaker, it does feel a little more first-gen for the Unreal Engine 3, rather than where we should be 6 years into the code.  Don't get me wrong, the graphics are great, there are just a little rough tech edges.

Controls also felt, at least to me, and at first, a little rough.  They're not as smooth as we've all become accustomed to over the years, however, after about 30 minutes or playing, it all felt natural, like your hand muscles just come crawling back to the good old days.

Audio is pretty nice, with a great soundtrack, overall decent voice work, and ambient environmental effects that really draw you into the madness.

Mashbuttons.com gives Alice Madness Returns a 7.5 out of 10.  The game is actually pretty awesome, and has with it, great style, and a unique re-telling/interpretation of the familiar Alice formula.  Minor tech/graphics issue really bar this title from being over an 8.0, however the inclusion of the original as a downloadable option is a real treat. 

Alice: Madness Returns is now available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC

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