American McGee might not necessarily be a household name with consoles gamers, but those who have followed PC gaming since the 90s should really know his name. Originally an id Software designer/programmer working on the likes of Doom, Doom II, Quake and Quake II, before heading over to EA to create his Alice franchise, McGee has been around longer than some gamers have been out of the womb. That was over 10 years ago and with consoles now very much at the centre of gaming, American McGee and his Alice franchise are set to try and evoke that audience as well in Alice: Madness Returns.
Taking place 11 years after the original, Alice: Madness Returns sees Alice return to Wonderland in a bid to gain peace and security after her real-life world is haunted by the tragic death of her parents. With Alice’s mind in a dark place though, Wonderland has become tainted by Alice’s torment and now she must pull herself together to rescue Wonderland and herself by taking on the evil forces that flood through its wonderfully crafted environments.
If there’s one thing that Alice: Madness Returns has going for it though, it’s its original takes on traditional weapons and ideas; all of which fit into universe perfectly. So whether that’s her rocking horse that doubles up as a large cumbersome mallet of sorts or the wind-up bunny rabbits that Alice uses as a proximity/time-bomb of sorts; there are some unique and wonderful takes on what we consider the norm.
At its roots, Alice: Madness Returns is a fairly traditional hack-and-slash title with puzzle elements. It’s nothing more, nothing less, but it’ll be the charm of the world that surely will draw people in, rather than the actual gameplay itself – which looked fairly basic. So wandering through warped hedge mazes and surreally dark halls gives the world a sort of unique feel, as do the enemies that populate its lands; ranging from beasts made of black matter with dolls heads eerily staring your way or the traditional Wonderland card-men guards who are a tad darker and brutal than you’d usually expect from Lewis Carroll’s original works… but that’s the point.
Although the combat doesn’t look particularly deep, it’s the little touches that gives Alice: Madness Returns a sort of charm. So her dash leaves a trail of butterflies in her wake and when she blocks, she does so with Alice’s trademark umbrella. And for those that played the original, yes, the small Vorpal Blade returns, meaning that you can change weapons and combat styles on the fly. Meaning you can go from quick attacks with the Vorpal Blade, to heavy, slow attacks with the rocking horse, before maybe switching to the organ grinder chain gun or the toxic grenade launcher to take down targets from afar. Like I said, it’s the original takes that carry an inherent likeability.
In the relatively small walkthrough in Queen’s Land – baddumtish – which many of you may recognise briefly from the original, we only managed to capture a small glance at the puzzle elements and platforming, which is a shame, because I feel like this could be the game’s pull.
After traversing the huge stone halls that are decorated with red carpets and tattered drapes, Alice proceeds to stumble upon a rather large cavernous area with huge drops galore. With seemingly no way across the huge chasms, Alice interacts with a plant that gives her the ability to shrink in size and see invisible platforms that can see Alice across to safety. By shrinking and seeing the world in a new light, Alice can see some transparent and tinted platforms – some of which are moving – and then it’s a matter of platform jumping and timing to get across to the outside section of the level – AKA the combat heavy areas in this instance. If you manage to miss a platform, the double jump can be handy at giving you a second chance, with Alice kicking out butterflies here once again in her wake.
Like I said though, with such a small vertical slice of gameplay, revolving mostly around the third person hack-and-slash combat, it’s hard to judge what direction Alice: Madness Returns is going in. From an art direction and ideas standpoint though, Spicy Horse and American McGee seem to be capturing a surreal and dark side of Wonderland and that alone has piqued our interest.
Alice: Madness Returns is heading your way on June 14th and June 17th in North America and Europe respectively.