Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Alice: Madness Returns

Alice: Madness Returns is a third-person action-adventure game created by American McGee and developed by his studio Spicy Horse and published by Electronic Arts. Based on the popular Alice in Wonderland, this game is a sequel to his game American McGee's Alice which released in the 2000. Fast forward by 11 years, and Madness Returns finds the our troubled heroine struggling against a dark force that is destroying her sanity and her Wonderland. A fire at her home had killed her parents and sister, leaving both her mind and her imagined Wonderland shattered. As she journeys through her own head filled with trauma, she reclaims lost memories and finds the truth behind the fire that killed her family and led to her becoming a resident of Rutledge Insane Asylum.

In the previous game Alice Liddell becomes insane, believing herself responsible for a fire that consumed her home and her family, escaping into a twisted version of Wonderland in her head. Eventually she triumphed over the evil Red Queen and her own madness, but that victory was temporary as she finds herself in the Insanitaruim once again in this installment of the game. Alice is still under medical care, struggling to remember the circumstances that led to her family's horrific end. Her psychiatrist urges her to forget her past, insisting that doing so is the only way to wellness. Yet forgetting proves to be difficult, and soon Alice finds herself once again lost in her imagination, where Wonderland lies in ruin and she must save it to save herself.

American McGee deserves respect for his wonderful imagination and fantastic game design. Inspired by the
Lewis Caroll's children's adventure Through the Looking-Glass, the biggest strength of this game is its version of a dark and twisted Wonderland, which is enveloped in madness. The deteriorating Wonderland has a number of stunning destinations, which show fantastic creativity and very warped (in a good way) imagination. Each of the game's chapters paints a mesmerizing and peculiar set of wonders, based on themes from Carolls' books well blended with touches of horror elements and goth culture. The game starts with a beautiful enchanted forest which eventually takes you to a frozen world (aptly named Tundraful) which further takes you to an underwater land. Later, there are more fabulous and artistic levels such as a beautifully designed Oriental level and one called Cardbrige, a level where you are up in the sky with playing cards scattered around for you to jump on. Overall, the visuals are stunning and I can assure you that no game has ever taken you to places like this game does.

Alice's mind is a dark place indeed, and in this long-awaited sequel, creative and creepy visuals give this action platformer a twisted and surreal vibe, drawing you into a land inhabited by fire-breathing doll babies and squirming leeches.  Each chapter explores a different visual theme, some of them impossible to describe in a few simple words. Alice's clothing changes from chapter to chapter, and her flowery prints and blood-red fabrics subtly match the level art. Wonderland is not the only place you explore, however. At the start of each chapter, you wander about an increasingly morose London. This vision of that city is more grubby and industrial than even Carroll's contemporary Charles Dickens conjured, drained of color and inhabited by impossibly wrinkled old crones and filthy fishermen.

Like its predecessor, Alice: Madness Returns' focus is mainly on its platforming, which the game features in spades. Moving platforms, mushroom platforms you'll bounce off of, platforms you'll glide off of as you descend towards another platform, or riding steam vents that keep Alice afloat. There area a few spots where the game's camera will shift suddenly to an undesirable angle and make you focus on all its glitches.

Despite core gamplay of platforming and combat being solid and even fun, the game pauses at bizarre times to load data sometimes at surprising length, and game play is very repetitive. The game tries to break up the platforming with a number of mini-games with varying levels of success. Some, like stomping around a castle as a giant or navigating a two-dimensional Alice through Japanese scroll art, are refreshing and fun. But even those are repeated multiple times in one level, that first instance of joy soon giving way to wondering aloud why you're doing more of the same for the third time in a chapter. Other mini-games like sliding puzzles, chess puzzles, and childish button-pressing rhythm games are plain annoying.

Alice: Madness Returns is a fun but thoroughly ordinary game that takes place in an extraordinary setting.
In spite of technical faults, I quite enjoyed Alice: Madness Returns, predominantly because of the strange, grotesque and enchanting Wonderland as imagined by your insane protagonist. Fans of the original Alice will find plenty of here to love, and will certainly want to return to Wonderland to work towards a satisfying narrative conclusion.When Madness Returns is at the top of its formula, it is a fascinatingly dark and grotesque psychological tale which is surprisingly quite difficult to play because you keep falling of ledges and mushrooms in mid air. You'll know what I mean when you play it. I'd suggest you to give it a shot if you love fantasy, adventure and psychedelica. Its quite a surreal set up I must say!