Reviews: Alice Madness Returns
Far From "All Bark and No Bite"
I never played the original American McGee's Alice, so my interest in this particular title was from the games' premise alone: a dark reimagining of the classic Alice In Wonderland starring a grown-up Alice returning to Wonderland to face her inner and outer demons. I'm a big fan of dark (meaningfully dark, that is) stories, so it seemed to be right up my alley. Having now played through the game's story twice, I think I can safely say that the strengths of Alice: Madness Returns are best emphasized by its biggest flaw: it's too short. The game spans six levels, of which one is a corridor to the last (or, to be precise, only) boss. This might not seem like too little, considering the other levels' lengths, but for a game of this caliber it truly feels like the story needed around two more levels. It's a shame, because the tale of Alice's journey through a defiled Wonderland to find the truth behind the death of her family is really interesting and gripping, filled with clever writing and excellent characterizations of everyone from the heroine herself to the new main villain. It's a story about taking action, but also about knowing which actions to take. Still, even though its good qualities certainly shine through its few hiccups, it shouldn't need to shine through any flaws in the first place. The gameplay is also very neat for such a story-oriented game; I don't at all agree with the common criticism that it would be one of the game's lesser points. Granted, what makes moving a character from point A to point B fun in one game and dull in another is hard to explain (and will, like everything, differ from person to person), so I'll just say that the game is a solid Platform Game with some quite interesting combat to boot. The story might be more impressive, but nevertheless I did have a very good time actually using the controller as well; special mention must go to level 4, in which both story and gameplay intertwine in a tremendously effective way that is not seen often. I may love this game far more than most gamers, but I think it's an experience everybody should give a try at least once. It's a very good title that just barely fails at making a homerun.
A little off, it seemed
In terms of the presentation, the art is wonderful and the graphics are polished, it makes a lovely piece of eye-candy. The environments, full of detail and hidden places to explore are wonderful, the blood and destruction a nice touch to the madness of this world. Even the way Alice walks, jumps and fights are stunning. The way she twirls and floats with butterflies fluttering around her, the way she skillfully destroys enemies while making fighting look like a dance. Music is spot-on, blending into the environment and the piece that completes the picture as haunting and eeriely beautiful. The plot is an added bonus. Alice revisiting old places that have become different, the Mad Hatter on Alice's side, Dormouse and March Hare turning evil, the disturbing intentions of the Walrus, a whole new asian-based world just based off seeing artifacts at her lawyer's house, Queensland gothically deterioating, the halluciations of Alice in the asylum and finally the horrifying truth in the end. The plot manages to come off new and inciting without being contrived, packs a realistic message we can relate to and is still relevant to Wonderland However, that is where the cracks come in. Gameplay is mostly repetitive and unoriginal, even though successfully destroying enemies gets a good reaction at first, they soon become boring as the enemies repeat themselves, merely becoming a hindrance. The platforming is the same, really, pull a switch or lever, place the jackbomb on a pressure plate and get somewhere before time runs out - the developers had lots of elements to work with, but their potential wasn't realized. And, considering platforming is integral in the game, gameplay itself comes off as boring and annoying, nothing particularly interesting. Even though collectibles have a sense of novelty and work as clues and foreshadowing, after a while seem like a cheap trick to keep player interest. Minigames are also few and far between, and degenerate into irritating obstacles to clear. Level designs, even though stunning, do nothing much for gameplay. There is no original take on platforming, just the same old stuff. This is WONDERLAND. It's supposed to be weird, different, eccentric, surprising. But it isn't, not much. The game's presentation is wonderful, gameplay...not much. It's a pretty and haunting piece of work, but the follow-up is disappointing.
I honestly found myself very impressed with EA's long-awaited sequel to American Mc Gee's Alice. While I understand the game's somewhat low ratings, there is also a good number of people who did not experience the first game and so find themselves believing that the newest one lacks in gameplay elements. However, despite its few flaws, the game does its job correctly - expanding upon Alice's mad tale, and giving us a firsthand look at what she went through during her days of insanity. The graphics and the story bring a new kind of atmosphere to the game, showing us exactly what Alice's world in Victorian London was like, and the people she had to deal with during her insanity. The 'real' world looks amazing, as well as the corrupted Wonderland. With the two worlds you get to explore, you feel less like you're playing the game and more like you're actually a part of it, through the eyes of a cynical, sarcastic, and overall badass protagonist. Everything Alice does is entirely physics-based, and her hair, clothes, and movements are handled very realistically. Also, in this game, instead of everything being laid out for you, you play the game like a mystery, slowly uncovering more of Alice's tragic past as the game progresses. We even get to find out what started that fire. Gameplay is very similar to the first game, although there are significantly more enemies, almost to a maddening extent. However, each enemy has a different way of killing it, which takes some of the monotony out of the playtime. One unique thing about the game is that it has some puzzles, but you are not required to do them. The autosave, a new feature, is somewhat lacking. You never touch a button to save; the game does everything, and you only get to save at certain points. It makes it a little irritating to not be able to save anywhere you like anymore. But the fighting is less clumsy than in the first game - it's smooth, the weapons are easier to select, and despite the PC's glitches and awkward mouse control, it's still very enjoyable. Now, I love this game, despite its few frustrations. I do recommend it, especially if you're wanting an expansion of Alice's story after Rutledge. It's dark, angry, disturbing, and incredibly satisfying.