What’s it all about? A sequel to 2000’s American McGee’s Alice, Alice: Madness Returns sees an older Alice return to a befouled Wonderland; corrupted by the continued psychological problems of our celebrated heroine some eleven years after her first adventure in Wonderland.
Wonderland here, certainly the bits we’ve seen anyway, has an autumnal, industrial feel to it, as if a woods has been torn down to build a car park. All the classic characters are suitably gnarled too, even the Mad Hatter going the way of darkness.
Our hands-on with the game began with a spot of platforming, Alice floating down towards the Queen of Heart’s castle – what’s left of it at least. After a spot of double jumping and a little bit of gliding we were facing our first adversary, a warped and extremely violent card soldier who comes at Alice with a real threat.
In what is something of a strange fit Alice responds with a bloody menace of her own, able to deploy knives, guns and a variety of other devices as she carves a trail through the monstrosities of her own imagination. Watching her mercilessly plunge her knife into the glowing hearts of the Queen’s card army is particularly weird, especially if you’re taking the Disney versions as your point of reference.
From what we played – only a section mind you – the combat had a certain amount of awkwardness to it. It plays a little too much like a poor man’s Bayonetta, lacking the subtle nuance and flexibility in the combat mechanics which made Sega’s heroine such a joy to control. All the ingredients are here, combos, magical items, even an overdrive mode where her attacks get more powerful; but nothing you haven’t seen done better elsewhere.
Once the cards have been dealt with (good pun, no?), Alice is left to navigate the Queen’s overgrown and rotting hedge maze. It’s here we’re introduced to another of her powers, the ability to shrink at will, though presumably only available after a certain task has been completed in an earlier portion of the game. It’s not used for anything particularly clever but she can see invisible platforms when shrunk, essential for collecting those teeth (as in the dream where all your teeth fall out) and other collectibles.
Worth the wait? The jury’s out on this one. Of course without seeing the previewable code in context it’s hard to know exactly how well the plot and momentum improves proceedings but taken in isolation we can’t really see this new Alice furthering the genre in any particularly way. In fact quite the opposite, with the combat and adventuring not measuring up to the likes of God of War III and Bayonetta. Hoping to be proven wrong with this as the source material is clearly inspiring stuff, we’ll wait and see.