Alice: Madness Returns (PS3)
Developer: Spicy Horse
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Game Engine: Unreal Engine 3
MRP: Rs 2499
Over a decade ago, American McGee's Alice introduced a twisted re-imagining of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. It adapted the classic novel into a visually brilliant game that stayed true to its bizarre roots. Eleven years hence, McGee's studio Spicy Horse tries to recreate the experience with the sequel Alice: Madness Returns (AMR). Like its predecessor, it blends platforming and third person action, with an emphasis on macabre art style. Just in case you haven't played the original, EA provides a download code for the same.
A stunning recreation of Lewis Carroll's classic.
Down The Rabbit Hole
AMR starts where the original left off. Despite being discharged from the asylum, Alice is still burdened with the trauma of her family's death. She finds herself under the care of a psychiatrist while fighting hallucinations and insanity at an orphanage. Her worsening sanity sends her plunging down the rabbit hole and weaves a grim fantasy of Wonderland
in her psyche. The game unravels as Alice tries to regain her sanity by recovering her lost memories and saving Wonderland in the process.
The game is divided into six chapters housing different worlds. You occasionally find yourself in a non-interactive Victorian London setting that's in stark contrast to Wonderland. The story seems engaging in the beginning, but it loses focus over the course of its lengthy chapters. On a brighter note, the voice acting and dialogues are rather engrossing. This is especially true when you meet the eccentric characters such as the Cheshire Cat
and the Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar
Expect loads of hack and slash action.
AMR' gameplay mainly consists of 3D platforming and hack and slash combat. A heavy dose of jumping and combat makes Alice seem like a love child of Lara Croft
. The game houses rather odd mini games, which vary from a sidescrolling shooter to a Guitar Hero
clone. Additionally, the game throws in a bunch of puzzles from time to time. Most of them are simple switch-based affairs though.
The controls allow Alice to double, triple jump, and float between platforms. AMR's dodgy cameras, repetitive levels, and constant deaths amply demonstrate why platformers have become a dying breed. The camera angles are erratic and barely help you time or judge your jumps. Expect a lot of frustrating deaths. Fortunately, dying due to a bad jump allows you to re-spawn nearby. Boy did I appreciate this on the more complicated levels!
The game employs some gimmicks in the form of steam vents and bouncing pads to disguise the monotony, but most platforming levels are still linear. Then there are the occasional invisible platforms, which can be discovered using Alice's Shrink Sense
(yep, it shrinks her). This gets old quickly as well. The only varying elements are the platforms themselves, which range from floating jelly fish to large playing cards.
That's going to hurt.
Weapons, Enemies, And Combat
The combat is the game's saving grace and uses the familiar enemy lock on feature. Most sequences pan out fluidly without any glitches. Through the game, you will discover four odd but vital weapons. The famed Vorpal Blade
serves as your main weapon, while the Hobby Horse
helps smashing through enemy defences. The Pepper Grinder
and the Teapot Grenade Launcher
are the ranged weapons in Wonderland.
Most of the weapons can be upgraded in exchange for the teeth you collect through the game. Almost each weapon is assigned a button, which makes control and switching a breeze. An efficient implementation of the dodge feature is another major standout. Press the right trigger and Alice elegantly glides away to safety.
Throughout the game you will face a variety of enemies, with each one of them requiring a specific strategy. AMR uses quantity rather than quality to frustrate you. Enemies swarm towards you in large numbers, so you need to be quick with your ranged and melee weapons. This isn't helped by a camera system that focuses and locks onto the wrong enemy.
Clubbed to death.
Great Art, But Poor Graphics
Whatever AMR lacks in gameplay, the game makes it up with art direction. Each world is painstakingly created with dark, gothic undertones. Everything, from the castle made of cards to Alice's costumes, is designed to capture the surrealism of the novel. The settings change dramatically from industrial environments to oriental landscapes. This gives something to look forward to, thereby negating the monotony of the gameplay.
Unfortunately, AMR's Unreal Engine 3
struggles to keep up with the art style at times. This is evident from the blurry textures and pop-ins seen in the game. However, that more an issue of the graphics being dumbed down for the consoles than any real fault of the engine. This doesn't make the game an eyesore, but it's definitely a blemish on an otherwise visually stunning design.
That doesn't look like a fair fight.
AMR delivers with its brilliant art design, but it is weighed down by mundane gameplay and glitchy visuals. Although the chapters seem lengthy and the gameplay repetitive, an eccentric cast and satisfying combat mechanics make up for it. It's hard not to be enthralled by stunning environments, but the monotonous gameplay may be a deal breaker for some.
If you are fan of the series or are looking for a departure from FPS games, Alice: Madness Returns will definitely provide a fun experience. That is if you can look past its flaws.Gameplay/Design: