Alice: Madness Returns is the sequel to the cult hit American McGee’s Alice, EA’s first ever M-rated title. In it Alice attempts to uncover the mystery of her parents’ death in a house fire 10 years ago. After the fire Alice was institutionalized, wracked with survivor’s guilt she begins to have horrifying visions and visits Wonderland to escape from her own life. The once magical and enchanting fairy tale landscape has been warped by her twisted psyche, but reveals clues in her blocked memories about Alice’s parents’ untimely and suspicious death.
Hit the jump for my experience with a preview of the game, some more screenshots and a trailer.
The player moves back and forth between the horrified Wonderland and the dimmer, grittier real world set in Victorian London with the Cheshire Cat as a guide. London scenes mostly serve as exposition and the real gameplay meat is found in Wonderland where Alice collects a myriad of devices for defeating enemies. Each item is a real world object that’s become weaponized by Wonderland’s altered reality; an umbrella can deflect grenades while a common music box becomes a machine gun. Each enemy has their own way of defeating them becoming like small puzzles scattered throughout the stage. Alice herself is given some powers like the ability to dodge attacks by transforming into a cloud of butterflies. In the Wonderland she ostensibly becomes an idealized superhuman version of herself in contrast to the grim, psychologically damaged real world Alice.
The action is fluid and looks very fun -I didn’t actually get to play it, just watch-, but I’m told the game will have a large puzzle element. Character models and environments are gorgeous. Alice herself almost has a cel-shaded look to give her that kind of innocent babydoll feel and has what the game’s Executive Producer described to be the “best hair in a video game ever” and he might be right. But everything around her is terrifying; playing card guards are stitched together monstrosities and the world gets darker and more contorted as the player delves deeper into Alice’s psyche. Even Alice’s design also changes to reflect the environment; like in the Queen’s garden her dress adapts a heart theme. As you progress Alice will collect different items and knick-knacks representing her lost memories. Her father’s glasses for example give us a clue to the game’s deeper plot.
I only got about ten minutes to watch the game be played and talk to the EP, but it really looks fantastic. As I said, there was no hands-on so I can’t really talk about how the combat felt, but it looks fun and like the different weapons and puzzles can carry a whole game. You can see some of it in the new trailer at the end of this post as well as the old trailer and some more screenshots. Frankly the action isn’t that important to me, I just want to sink my teeth into this juicy story.
Alice: Madness Returns is filled with in-jokes and references to the first game, but is a stand-alone entry in the series. There’s no need to have played the first title, and it’s a good thing considering how difficult it can be for some of us to track down. An original copy of the PC game can run between $60 to $500. I’ve never had the chance to play it, but I’ve heard nothing but good things and the game has certainly developed a strong cult following. Strong enough to get a sequel made ten years later anyway.