Genre: Independently Developed Adventure
Release Date: April 2003
Alice Liddell was “lucky.” She was one of the very few who was pronounced cured and allowed to leave Rutledge Asylum.
Alice was still a child, barely in her teens, when her house caught on fire. She escaped, but had to watch the flames and listen to the screams of her parents and older sister trapped inside. They never made it out.
The experience was too much for Alice and her mind just shut down. Comatose, non-responsive, she was sent to Rutledge Asylum. The treatments of the day did nothing, but Alice had something which very few patients did – a fully formed alternate reality in the form of Wonderland.
Alice retreated to her inner Wonderland which was now deformed and horrible, matching the horror of her memories. Familiar friends were now horrible monsters which had to be destroyed. As each abomination was vanquished Alice's mind was freed from another psychosis. Finally, with the removal of the last foe, her mind was freed to return to reality.
The “cure,” however, was only superficial. Alice was conscious and mostly rational, but she suffered from hallucinations and was tormented by nightmares. She was released form the Asylum and entered Dr. Bumby's care at the Houndsditch Home and Refuge for Wayward Youth. Her sanity was being eaten by the memories still trapped in her mind.
Dr. Bumby's treatment consisted of encouraging his patients to forget their sad past and forge ahead into the bright future. But how do you forget a suppressed memory? Medical science was again unable to help her. There was nothing for it but to return to Wonderland. A diseased and deadlier Wonderland which now had something to hide.
When American McGee's Alice (AM's Alice) came out in 2000 it became one of the three First Person Shooters (FPS) which I enjoyed enough to play through to the end (the other two are Descent and Freelancer). I still consider its introduction to be the best intro to any game ever made. AM's Alice was a hit and stayed on the shelves longer than most games. It took eleven years for American McGee to create its sequel. How does it compare?
Let me start by saying that while both Alices are FPS games they still have strong Adventure leanings. AM's Alice was strong on exploration and had some puzzles in it. There was also a strong storyline. Alice: Madness Returns (Alice MR) continues this style and even strengthens the Adventure elements. It has more worlds to explore, more puzzles and now you have to find fragments of memories in your travels. So the storyline is continuously fed to you. In fact, I was almost ten minutes into the game before I had to fight my first monster.
The game engine has changed. AM's Alice used the Quake 3 Engine while Alice MR uses the Unreal Engine. Movement is the same for both – W, A, S, D with the mouse steering. My system is a few years old and it was able to handle both games quite smoothly, as log as I didn't have anything else running, like a browser. My only complaint was with Alice MR. There are no save game slots, only console style checkpoints.
Alice: “I didn't come here looking for a fight.”
Cheshire Cat: “Oh? Pity, because one is looking for you.”
The combat system has become more complex. AM's Alice had nine weapons for you to find and select. Each weapon could be used either for melee (left mouse button) or ranged (right mouse button). Ranged weapons consumed stamina which slowly regenerated on its own.
Alice MR has separate weapons for melee and range and you can change between them very quickly for combo attacks. For example, you could use the Horse to inflict a lot of damage and stun your opponents, then change to the Blade to quickly slice them up a bit, then back to the Horse to finish them off. Alice MRalso allows for combo moves with a single weapon. Click the mouse two or three times and Alice will perform a two or three slice attack. The new system also allows Alice to dodge and defend, but these require two additional keys and I found it a bit of a struggle. No doubt it is easier with a console controller.
In AM's Alice the game was mostly exploration and combat. In Alice MR you also have to collect teeth (to upgrade weapons), collect memory fragments, collect bottles (to unlock additional content) and shoot down pig snouts (because the Duchess told you to). So there is quite a bit more to keep track of.
The graphic styles have also expanded. Apart form the photorealistic rendering in the introduction, AM's Alice relies on a single style. It is characatured and cartoony. It is her Dreamland. It is quite effective.
Alice MR uses three different graphic styles. When viewing her dreams, the world looks like moving bits of paper from a book (it will remind you of the animations from Monty Python's Flying Circus). London is done just as Alice sees it – gray with the people becoming caricatures of reality.
And then there is Wonderland. In Wonderland the air is clear. The water runs pure. The flowers open up and shine when you approach. Color and beauty are everywhere. At least at the start …
The voice acting in AM's Alice was superb. Everyone knew why they were saying what they did and there was a disturbing undertone of insanity in all the characters. You had the impression that they might be rational now, but could freak out at any moment. Alice and the Cheshire Cat were especially fun to listen to.
Alice MR was able to get the same voice actors for Alice and the Cheshire Cat, but some of the emotional intensity is missing. The characters all seem a little too domesticated. But even if the acting is no longer excellent, it is still Very Good and better than most games out there.
The background music is also superior. Instead of the synthesized chordal progressions you get with most games, we hear the violin and music box. It sets the mood and fits so well with the atmosphere that we frequently don't notice it.
So where does that leave us? AM's Alice was a hit; did Alice MR measure up? Yes, and in many ways exceeded AM's Alice. Alice MR is not a game of endless quests and leveling up. It is a single quest. There is a young girl to save and then the game is over. But there will be a lot to do before you get there and it was very well done. I give Alice: Madness Returns a solid “A” for nailing it.
*NVIDIA GeForce 8400, 9400, 210; ATI Radeon HD 2400, HD 3200, HD 4300 as well as integrated versions of supported chipsets are below minimum system requirements.