Review: Alice: Madness Returns
American McGee’s Alice is a rare gem on the PC. It’s not really the best example of platform gaming or shooting, but it was fun and took a familiar fairy tale into a dark and twisted Wonderland that was unforgettable. When a sequel was announced, it caught me off guard. I really didn’t see a big fan base for the series, outside of the cult following. Either way, I was excited and couldn’t wait to travel down the rabbit hole again. As the title suggest, the madness does return.
Alice: Madness Returns is an action adventure title based on the classic Alice in Wonderland story. To catch you up on the story, Alice’s family has been burned in their house, and Alice has to battle if she killed her family. This is the premise behind the original as well. The beautiful thing about this game is that if you never played the original, it’s included with a new purchase of the game as downloadable content. The original is still fun but you might not get as much fun out of it unless you played it originally due to the heavy reliance of nostalgia. But this isn’t a review on the excellent original so let’s move on.
If you are hoping for a true sequel to the original, you’ve got it. Madness Returns is a great take on the series and hopefully EA Games will continue with the series. Maybe not every year, but every console generation would be nice. They’ve fixed up the combat to be more like a modern action game (think Darksiders or God of War). Don’t think this is just a clone. While the combat may be similar to the game, almost every enemy has a different weapon you’ll need to attack it with. I was constantly switching between weapons throughout the game, which I enjoyed since most games I manage to finish with maybe two favorite weapons I liked. The enemies are impressive looking, and fit well with the twisted theme of the game. They’re also spaced out enough between the exploring and platforming that you hardly feel stress from being overwhelmed. It’s almost a perfect blend of fighting and platforming.
The gameplay is really solid and features around six weapons. Some of my favorite weapons are missing from the game (devil dice and the playing cards) but the weapons in the game are all fun to play with. You’ll cycle between the classic blade, a bomb (also used for puzzles), horse-sledge hammer, a pepper sprayer, and boiling hot tea. Each weapon is used to attack each enemy and they’re all needed throughout. Sometimes, using several different weapons for one enemy. The combat is repetitive, but again, you’re not constantly fighting and they do manage to introduce new enemies to keep the feeling new. But during all of this, one thing that really disappointed me was the lack of bosses. There is a final boss, but you’re never ending chapters by fighting an insane boss. And as for the one boss you do fight, it’s really weak and unimpressive. There’s an achievement/trophy to not take any damage by “it”. This is very easily obtainable, even in nightmare mode. Overall, the game is never so difficult that you’ll feel too challenged. For that, I have to give a disappointed grunt. I did die a lot, but most of it was just from stupid mistakes.
Another thing you’ll have access to is an ability that allows you to shrink on the fly. Shrinking allows you to spot hidden platforms or messages, but also allows you to travel through cracks in the wall to access areas for collectables or teeth.
The few issues I did have with the gameplay comes from a couple areas. The camera during some of the platforming doesn’t follow that well, and I often fell of the map or jumped right into a trap. Luckily, the game doesn’t punish you for falling of the map with a load screen. You’ll see a flash of butterflies and then you’re back at the nearest solid area to try it again with no damage taken. However, when you do take damage and then finally die, you’re punished sometimes with a respawn all the way back to a spot at the beginning of the chapter. This isn’t something that happens all the time, but it was quite annoying due to me also trying to collect everything in the game. When you die, you also have to go back and track down all of the collectables while going back to where you previously died.
As far as story goes, the entire game is dark and twisted (as I mentioned). The deeper you go through the chapters, the more insane the game plays out. Throughout each chapter is also collectables, which is absent from the original game. In all honesty, this game would have benefited with so many repetitive collectables. You’ll collect “memories”, which are vital to the back story, teeth (for upgrades), and bottles (costumes). All of these, maybe outside of the teeth, just feel out of place. However, I think it would have benefited the game to have different things to pick up, but only slightly. One of the reasons for these seem to be to give you a reason to replay the game. Either way, they’re not the most fun thing to search for while trying to get into the game. After I beat the game, I planned on going back to collect all of the pig snouts I didn’t shoot and finish cleaning up the game by collecting everything. The game is split up into chapters with sub-chapters you can replay. The game shows you how many items you missed throughout, but it would have made it easier to see which sub-chapter I missed a snout into instead of forcing me through the entire chapter again.
Voice acting is from the original cast of characters, and spot on. However, some of the voice acting is just not that good or sounds so similar to the other characters, you might be confused on a memory piece if it’s Alice talking in the memory or another female. But overall, I was satisfied with the voice acting. I’m not too big on condemning voice acting. (See Duke Nukem Forever review). The music is outstanding and much like the original, very gothic. Sound effects are spot on, but I did notice a few times where the sounds were not playing correctly. It was very rare.
Graphically, the game is beautiful. It’s full of bright colors sometimes, and rustic Quake themes at others. The character models are cool looking and feel very true to how I’d imagine the next Alice to play out. There’s a few random hick-ups throughout, but nothing to write home about. Actually, the most impressive thing in the game is Alice’s hair. Seems minute, yes, but the moment you see how fluid her hair is, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The game uses the Unreal engine, so if you’re a fan of how most Unreal games look, then you’ll be fine with this game. Frame rate fans should rejoice, as the game hardly ever had a dip and none that actually effects the gameplay.
Overall, this game is hard to recommend for a purchase unless you plan on keeping the game to play again. Once you beat it, even with the collectables, you’re done. There’s some downloadable content that might come out eventually, other than what I consider to be cheat weapons and costumes, but only time will tell. However, if you’re a fan of the original and plan on replaying through the game for pure fun and story, purchase this. It’s a terrific game with nothing wrong with it outside of a few minor complaints.
TL;DR: Buy if you’re a fan; rent if you’re curious.
Reviewed on the PlayStation 3.