We’re All Mad Here: A Review of Sorts

Here comes another review, spoilers potentially ahead so exercise caution.

This week I finished Alice: Madness Returns.

For those who need a brief background, it is the sequel to 2000’s ‘American McGee: Alice’. In this version of Alice in Wonderland. Alice Liddel is the sole survivor of a terrible fire that killed her family. This game is set 1 year after the events of the first game which ended with Alice being ‘cured’ enough to leave Rutlege after she saved her Wonderland. One year on she is under the ‘care’ of Doctor Angus Bumby.

So with that out of the way.

In this game, Alice enters Wonderland again. At first, everything seems as it should be. Wonderland looks like you’d expect it to look, giant mushrooms, bright colours, plants and it generally seems ‘happy’. But as you progress you slowly start to get hints that things are not right. Wonderland is threatened once more, this time by a horrible contraption called ‘The Infernal Train’ and it is up to Alice to stop it and on her way recollect her shattered memories.

I found this game created atmosphere perfectly. Especially as you switch between the wonderous and often terrifying places in Wonderland and then the dark, grimy and equally terrifying streets of Victorian London. Each level is gorgeously made and combined with music it creates the right setting. For the first time in a while I played a game that actually in several levels made me feel physically uneasy, the inner levels of ‘Queensland’ and ‘The Dollhouse’ to name two. I think my favourite level had to be the ‘Mysterious East’ which was truly breathtaking especially when in some sections it switched to a beautifully done 2D platformer done in a watercolour style.  From a graphical standpoint this game was outstanding, even if the animation in some of the CG cutscenes wasn’t quite up to par, however a lot of the ‘plot critical’ ones are done in a 2D style reminiscent of the original Alice illustrations which made the animation/general art nut in me pretty happy. Alice when moving in Wonderland has dynamic hair and clothing which is another impressive feature and each level has its own dress each one is cleverly designed, my favourites being the dress in the ‘Deluded Depths’ and the one from ‘Queensland’

However, I felt the gameplay was a bit of a downfall. At it’s core this game is a 3d Platformer with a lot of jumping, switch puzzles. Enemies in this game fall into the ‘mob’ variety and whilst a few are a challenge after a while it gets a bit repetitive. Saying this, the concepts for the enemies such as the ‘EyePot’ and their general design is impressive. Weapons are pretty interesting too, you have four, two melee and two ranged, with the infamous Vorpal Blade being the main. Throughout the game you can upgrade these weapons to make them quite powerful, the best one for this seemed to be the Hobby Horse. This game several times seems to ‘big up’ an apparent boss fight only to have it destroyed in the last few minutes and the only true bossfight seems to be more of an annoyance than a challenge. This game has several puzzles throughout which can be skipped (I admit, I did that a few times mainly so I could carry on the story).

Plot wise, this game kept me pretty hooked. Throughout the game there are ‘memories’ to find from the various real life characters in Alice’s past and present. Although searching for them can take a bit of time each little piece helps to understand Alice’s story. And there’s a good sense of satisfaction at the end of each chapter when you know you’ve found another key to finding out what really happened on that night. This game though had a rather dark thread of reality running through it. Although set in a totally fabricated London and Wonderland there’s just this… vibe that reflects the attitude that Victorian’s had toward the mentally ill. And of course, the fact this corrupted, twisted Wonderland is the product of a damaged girl’s mind is also worrying. That and what the true nature of Hounsditch and Bumby’s plans reflects on a rather disturbing and prevalent issue even today. The ending of this game is left opened to interpretation which just adds further mystery to the game.

All in all, I would recommend this game. It’s a beautifully made game with an engaging plot which makes up for the repetitiveness of the gameplay in places.

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