The Madness has returned
11 years later, American McGee's Alice running on the Quake 3 engine has been bundled in with the new game, Madness Returns, as long as you buy the original of course and make sure to use the code to activate the previous game. It's an interesting way to ensure people do get a non pre-owned copy of the game. Alice was a revolutionary game at the time, since it used the Quake 3 engine (primarily for first person shooters) to create a darkly-trippy platformer.Story
Without spoiling too much of the central plotline, Madness Returns takes place when Alice is a teenager. Having dealt with the events of the first game, she's now under the care of a psychiatrist... suffice it to say... her mind is as cracked as ever. Things in Wonderland have become worse and Alice has to deal with the increased dementia. The darkly gothic overtones are back and honestly, this is far more in keeping with Lewis Carrols literary masterpiece than the Tim Burton film.Gameplay
Part unforgiving brutal hack and slash, and part forgiving platformer, Alice: Madness Returns treads that fine line between both quite well. The combat is definitely something that requires a lot of concentration and attention, with counters, blocks, dodges and multiple weapons required to deal with many of the games bad guys. It doesn't do to just button mash in Madness Returns, you have to make sure you know what you're fighting and what the best weapon needs to be at any time. For example, you'll encounter some very pesky teapots that can fire ranged attacks, are armoured against Alice's trusty Vorpal blade (right from the story about the Jabberwock) and require a little bit of ingenuity to dispatch.
It's this very nifty design to the combat that makes each encounter a memorable, if a little frustrating one. The game rewards persistence and eventually you find that you can get to grips with the various skills required to engage in combat and defeat your foes. Alice is a nimble minx in that regard, our precocious teenage heroine having access to the Vorpal knife (blade) and a variety of other weapons, exploding bunny rabbit bombs that can also be used to solve many of the game's weight related puzzles and her pepper-grinder, which is basically a peppery-machine gun.
The lock-on system works really well, it's nice and fluid and you can snap from target to target quickly, dodging is also implemented very well as is blocking and countering. This is a good thing because as mentioned previously, the combat is brutal and satisfying against a menagerie of twisted creations from Alice's own fractured mind. The only thing that could have done with a little tweaking was weapon swapping speeds, they seemed a little too slow for such a fast paced combat system. This really shows when you have more than one type of ranged weapon and you need to use the D-pad to swap. I have to mention Alice's dodge though, it has a glorious slow-motion and after-effect that makes it one of the prettiest dodge moves in a game to date.
Madness Returns treats platforming a little more generously, with a checkpoint system that doesn't punish failure as much as the combat does. It will usually roll you back a misjudged leap or a failed segment, rather than starting you right at the beginning of an area or puzzle. Alice can double and triple jump, as well as float in a little airy manner. That's a good way to describe the platforming too, since Alice spends most of her time in the air floating effortlessly from one place to the next in these sections. There's no ledge grab though, so make sure you get that jump-timing down.
Alice can also shrink at will, this is useful for exploration and getting past certain size related puzzles. It also allows her to see hidden platforms and clues in the environment, her mobility is limited in her shrunken form though so you can't jump around or do anything else. This form really allows her to get extra teeth, teeth being the currency of Wonderland that she can use to upgrade her many weapons and so on.
You can also find health-replenishing roses and a few other hidden secrets this way.
The game seems to run to about fifteen hours of play, but lingers in a lot of the areas a little too long. I found myself wanting to move on before the game would let me, since I felt I'd seen a lot of what the previous area had to offer. Yet with such an engaging platformer and combat system, it wasn't too much of a problem. Thankfully the rhythm mini-games are entirely optional and that's a blessing, sort of like being able to turn off the QTE's in Witcher 2.
There are also no control issues to speak of, especially when in combat next to a narrow ledge, the game prevents you tumbling to your doom thankfully.