Like us all, Alice Liddell has her share of personal problems. The main differences being that most people’s problems don’t manifest themselves in the form of a fantasy world that mirrors and satires reality. Trying to come to terms with the events that lead to the death of her family, Alice enters the weird and often times exceedingly creepy world of Wonderland, once again.
American McGee’s Alice became a cult classic when it originally released and didn’t really get the praise it deserved. It told the story of Alice’s first foray into Wonderland and her battle for her sanity. The game itself was a mix of shooter meets platformer. While at times it seems to be a hack and slash style game ( which the sequel is more of ), the player will learn this is not the case. Running off of the Quake III engine, it is meant to be a shooter and is much more easily played after realizing this. With the technology of the time, American McGee portrayed wonderland like no one else could. This title is bundled with any new copy of Alice Madness Returns and I urge anyone who wants to play the game to play the first one before they play Madness Returns. I say this for several reasons. The first being that the sequel really seems to take for granted that you played the first one. Another reason is that it really helps you get attached to the characters. Guiding Alice through Wonderland once was an incredible journey and to see her revisit it once more, after fighting for her sanity, I really did feel for her. She did her time and it’s like “Here we go again, the poor girl…” The final reason being that the technology used in the game is dated! I really couldn’t see enjoying the first one as much after noticing how well by today’s standards the sequel operates.
This brings us to the return of her madness. The story picks up a year after the first one and shows that Alice, with some help from some not so friendly people, has regained her composure enough to be able to function in the real world. Still a little troubled by the events that took place that killed her family, her doctor tells her to let it go, that there is nothing left to revisit. Unable to stomach that notion, Alice begins to relapse and before she knows it, she’s back in Wonderland. The colorful array of characters she meets begin to reaffirm her beliefs that things back then might not have happened as exactly as she remembers. This begins the players journey back to a wonderfully portrayed land inside Alice’s mind. The environments themselves are brought to life with immense detail. Beautiful landscapes mingle with children’s toys in the brighter areas while ruin, destruction, and some very Lovecraftian horrors detail the darker sides of Wonderland. The designer’s did a fantastic job bringing McGee’s rebuilt wonderland to life!
This journey through Wonderland is not as straight forward as last time. The shooter element is pretty much abandoned for a well balanced combat system that has the player constantly switching from the fast acting Vorpal Blade to the chain-gun like Pepper Grinder. There are going to be times when the player is forced to use a certain weapon because of an enemies characteristics but this doesn’t subtract from the overall enjoyment of the combat in the game. There were many times through the game that I found the amount of combat lacking though. The amount of platforming compared to actual fighting seems very off.
The lands themselves, while beautiful to look at, are extremely large! Instead of having a lot of little levels, the game is broken up into six chapters. Each chapter corresponds to a different section of wonderland inspired by different things. There is a very oriental themed area complete with samurai wasps and another area completely submerged in water featuring cabaret dancing oysters. The level design is probably the games only downfall. The platforming is well done and is mixed well with puzzle elements but will ultimately have you wishing for the end of the level well before you arrive there. I firmly believe that had the chapters been broken into more worlds with multiple areas, this would be a perfect game.
The soundtrack to the game equally immerses the player into Wonderland as much as the visuals do. From calm to creepy, the music will swallow the player into this mind bending adventure. Readers familiar with the Silent Hill series will find many things to like about the soundtrack. Calm and atmospheric, it’s the type of music that will mellow you out while putting you on edge simultaneously. Since the game takes place in the 1800′s, the music also has a sense of the time period. The opening theme to the game sounds just like an old phonograph playing. Perfect for the game and just as background music, this album is an immediate addition to anyone who loves video game soundtracks.
It’s almost cruel to say I got so much enjoyment out of this girl’s suffering but it is the truth. Alice Madness Returns is an excellent game! Her struggle for the truth of what happened to her family is an exciting journey with bits of horror, mystery, suspense, and disbelief. Anyone looking for an immersive experience ( And let’s face it, there’s not a lot of that these days. ) Should definitely pick up Alice Madness Returns. Of course the holidays are here aren’t they? What gamer wouldn’t love the gift of madness?