Are you ready for Wonderland?
Alice: Madness Returns is the sequel to the classic American Mcgee’s Alice from October 2000 and is set 11 years after the events of the first game. Alice was released from Rutledge’s Insane Asylum from the original game and now lives in Victoria, London at Houndsditch Home for Wayward Youth, under the care of a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist tends to Alice’s awful and haunting memories of her parents death in a fire. Alice seems moderately stable for a while but soon begins to experience repressed memories of that fateful day. As she is slowly haunted by hallucinations and emotional struggles, she returns to Wonderland.
The game finds Alice sitting with a psychiatrist after one of Alice’s sessions, images and visions of the fire and her parent’s death constantly at the forefront of her tortured mind. She constantly wrestles with the notion that she must discover more of what happened that day. After a session with the psychiatrist, we find Alice wandering through Houndsditch Home through a selection of corridors. Standing in the hallways and in the darkness are other children playing. Alice walks around very wary. Using the R3 button, players can enter first person mode to view the surrounding area. Left stick is used to move around and the right stick is used to adjust the view. As Alice explores the home, she sees drawings on the wall and children playing hopscotch on the floor. The game is dark and gritty as I move around discovering various newspapers and a group of children playing cards. It’s all slightly unnerving and feels displaced as I wander outside. Out on the London cobbled stone road called Pichin Lane, I discover a group of people standing on the corner of the street, all of whom have something to grumble about. A violinist plays quietly on the corner and I turn down the back alley streets of London. Alice wanders around White Chapel Market, where the locals are selling fine meats and vegetables on their stalls. Alice observes everything, but her attention is distracted by a white cat who pops out and startles Alice. She’s intrigued, but soon enough the white cat disappears down a narrow backstreet.
Alice pursues the cat but the chase comes to a dead end. The cat looks back and soon enough Alice is surrounded by enemies. The cut-scene sees Alice falling into a vortex filled with dolls heads, ticking clocks and giant dominoes in the sky as she makes her descent. Slowly but surely she stops falling and awakens to find herself in Wonderland. Wonderland is a technicolored paradise filled with wondrous beauty. It’s here that she’s greeted by a somewhat disturbing looking Cheshire cat, who gives her a scare and then some friendly warnings.
Walking around Wonderland you feel a sense of foreboding, even though everything looks beautiful, you kind of think it’s just too good to be true. Looking around the environment, you catch a glimpse of giant dice and dominoes and a flowing cascade of waterfalls and fountains. Up above you, you soon begin to understand this is no ordinary place as cows with wings fly above your head. The game gives you the incentive to explore, as you begin to recover memories from Alice’s life.
An early tutorial shows you how to jump using the X button and double tapping allows Alice to twirl in the air. This is often needed for large open areas, where a simple jump won’t suffice. Wonderland is filled with plants and giant red toadstools. Once you step onto these, they spring you into the air. The environment is pretty amazing as each corner Alice turns, brings new adventure and magnificent scenery. Making my way through the level, I came across a giant purple bottle hovering in the sky, which poured bright purple liquid to the stream below. Alice is capable of shrinking by pressing the L2 button to shrink and while she is shrunken she gains shrink sense which allows her to wander through keyholes and other areas.
After bouncing my way up on giant toadstools and twirling my way across a series of ledges, I’m confronted by a giant slide which spirals downwards. I slide along collecting teeth, some of them ordinary while others were gold. At the same time you’ll have to avoid bashing into the giant snail shells that just so happen to be quite contentedly sitting in your way. Eventually you’ll reach the bottom where you’ll find a giant flowing red river, it looks eerie, and actually looks like maybe several people have been murdered in it.
Alice has many different kinds of action. The L1 button allows Alice to focus her attention on something important while wandering around and Alice can use her Vorpal Blade to inflict the swiftest damage on a single target enemy at close range. Alice can also float as players can press and hold the X button to initiate the float move when she needs to get across certain areas. During battle, I had the chance to use a pepper grinder that allows you to shoot at a pig snout. Once the snout is full of pepper, it goes onto reveal paths and collectibles.
Alice: Madness returns does a great job of depicting the mind of some riddled with insanity. The game has some really freakish enemies in it, so don’t be too surprised to find enemies dressed with teacups on their heads or other such craziness. As an action adventure game, Alice certainly appears to offer and enjoyable and memorable, if slightly disturbing, story, and the game-play worked really well in the levels that I played.
Alice: Madness Returns is out this Friday for Xbox360, PS3 and PC. Be prepared to visit a twisted version of Wonderland that could only have been imagined by an equally twisted mind.