|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC|
|Dev: Spicy Horse|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: June 14, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence|
by Adam Dodd
Very few sequels are over a decade in the making, but Alice: Madness Returns, the long-awaited sequel to the 2000 classic American McGee's Alice, is just that sort of title. As its much-anticipated June release date draws ever closer, now is the perfect time to get caught up on everything you need to know about this maddening return down the rabbit hole. A lot has happened since the first game blew our minds, so it's perfectly understandable if you don't quite remember every detail from this twisted and beautiful world of Cheshire Cats and Mad Hatters.
The first game reintroduced us to Alice. After losing her family in a fire, she slowly lost touch with reality and was eventually institutionalized in the Rutledge Asylum. After ten years of falling deeper and deeper into madness, Alice was thrown back into a strange new Wonderland that's been warped by her growing insanity.
Alice: Madness Returns takes place eleven years after the events in the first game, and Alice has since been released from the asylum. She now resides in Victorian London, but her parents' tragic deaths still haunt her mind. Repressed memories begin to reveal themselves, and Alice realizes her family's deaths might not have been an accident at all. The weight of these new memories begins to tear apart what little sanity she's managed to build over the last decade of rehabilitation, and, as a result, she starts having hallucinations. When they reach a boiling point, Alice decides it's time to return to Wonderland, which has once again been twisted by her broken mind.
Alice's goal is the same as last time: save the residents of Wonderland from the growing evil that threatens to consume them, all the while working to rebuild her fragile mind. Much like its predecessor, Madness Returns will have a unique combination of action/horror elements, puzzle solving, and platforming. The game is in the third person, with the camera behind and slightly above Alice, giving players a substantial view of the surroundings and any nearby enemies.
Madness Returns is filled with a myriad of creatures that want nothing more than to ruin your day. There are the Card Guards, who aren't much more than fodder during a fight. When confronted by a group of these reckless guards, Alice is more than capable of shredding them to pieces without a problem. Unfortunately, you'll rarely go against such easy prey, as the Queen has far more intimidating soldiers, like the Armored Card Guards, at her disposal. These guys are similar to their unarmored brethren, but they can actually hold their own in a fight. They're also armed with powerful staves that are difficult to dodge.
If those foes don't make you break a sweat, don't worry; the Queen has a few more cards up her sleeve. (Pardon the pun). One of her deadliest henchmen is called The Executioner, and he's an opponent you shouldn't underestimate. This guy is big, dumb, and easily angered, bringing with him a rather sharp scythe that's perfect for bisecting overconfident girls. The Executioner is only one of several bosses you'll be forced to fight, and designer American McGee (yes, that's his real name) has stated that each boss will be a puzzle. So don't expect to be able to button-mash your way through a fight; these will require skill, timing, and an assortment of other abilities.
There will be a decent amount of puzzle-solving and platforming in this dark Wonderland. Make sure your mind and hands are limbered up for the things that are thrown your way, including platforms that can only be seen when Alice shrinks herself. Teeth are scattered about the levels and dropped by fallen foes, and these act as the game's currency, allowing you to purchase new upgrades for Alice's weapons.
The stunning art style from the first game returns, and it's looking even more gorgeous and detailed than it ever has. Everything is heavily stylized with vibrant colors and exaggerated features that make it look reminiscent of 2009's Brutal Legend. This unique style extends from the environments you'll spend time exploring to the incredibly original selection of weapons and even to the enemies themselves. Since Wonderland has changed alongside Alice, it's not going to be a familiar place, even if you've played the original. Despite its name, Wonderland is filled to the brim with danger.
Alice isn't going into the fight unarmed. This time she's getting an even more over-the-top selection of armaments that can be upgraded as you progress through the story. Alice's weapon selection includes the Vorpal Blade, Hobby Horse, Pepper Grinder, and Teapot Cannon. The Vorpal Blade, a single-handed blade that she can use to quickly slash at oncoming foes, acts as Alice's basic weapon. The Hobby Horse is essentially a war hammer, moving more slowly but dealing greater damage. For long-ranged tactics there's the Pepper Grinder, basically a machine gun, and the Teapot Cannon, which acts as Alice's grenade launcher.
Sure, it's been a very long time, and for the less patient among us the wait has been borderline painful. But now, Alice: Madness Returns is but a handful of weeks away, and from what we've seen of the game so far it looks to be shaping up quite nicely. The first Alice game has since become a classic (and will come free with new copies of Madness Returns), setting the bar pretty high for this sequel. But Spicy Horse has proven to be adept at creating beautifully bizarre worlds, stellar creature design, and engaging stories. I only hope this one is as depraved as the original was, because I'm ready to let loose and jump right back down the rabbit hole to join Alice on yet another unforgettable adventure.
CCC Contributing Writer