Alice: Madness Returns
Much like American McGee's Alice, Alice: Madness Returns once again lets you explore a darker and more twisted version of Lewis Carol's classic tale, complete with all the grotesque creatures and oddities of the original game but not necessarily how you remember them. It certainly has the same charm as the much loved original but after such a huge gap can lightening strike twice for this insane adventure?
Since the last game, Wonderland has gone through a few changes, making it a completely different place to explore. The land is more corrupt with creatures and obstacles, and many of the characters are in turmoil. As you switch between the fantasy world of Wonderland and Alice's perceived reality, you'll witness some truly odd characters and situations as Alice battles to regain her sanity. It's a hugely imaginative world that truly impresses when it comes to both creativity and variety, with each environment being significantly different from the last. The interludes of story sections outside of Wonderland take an interesting and delightfully deranged look at the Victorian era through Alice's tainted eyes and when in Wonderland you'll traverse through lush forests, metallic industrial zones, floating structures and more. The variety is excellent and the locations provide a strong compulsion to continue playing; the creativity is such a spectacle you're left wondering what strange creatures and environments are waiting for you just round the corner. Unfortunately the same variety can't be said for the gameplay.
Alice: Madness Returns' third-person action takes the form of hack 'n slash combat and a heavy emphasis on puzzle platforming. The platforming is the standard affair of timed and precise platform hopping and the odd necessity to shrink to fit through small keyholes, and the combat has you shoot or strike enemies with a variety of appropriately unusual weapons. The puzzles that breakup the experience, however, severely lack the variety the environments excel at. Consisting of button, lever and valve manipulation to open up new paths, with the odd mini game thrown in, the puzzles get repetitive fast. It becomes apparent early on that Alice: Madness Returns has a strict formula for progression, and you can expect to repeat the same puzzles time and time again to different backgrounds. Occasionally something new will pop up, offering a fresher experience, and there's no denying that some of the more imaginative sections are good fun, but those too will then be repeated far too often, offering only a fleeting break to the tedium. Additionally, Alice: Madness Returns suffers from a severe pacing problem. You'll spend far too much time within each area, further emphasising the repetition. It's a real shame, as the premise shows great potential, but the execution lets it down.
In keeping with the imaginative setting are the strange and wonderful creatures Alice must battle. The enemies are just a varied as the locations and show extremely creative design, and combating them works fairly well as you switch between different attacks on the fly to deal with any and all threats, although multiple targets can get a bit overwhelming with the auto targeting having a mind of its own. The characters, enemies and locations all show-off solid design, not only are they creative but a great aesthetic truly brings them to life. Changes to Alice's dress depending on the location as well as a varied palette of colours helps the world shine, despite otherwise unimpressive graphics with bland textures and objects popping into existence; although Alice's hair is some of the best I've seen in a while.
Alice: Madness Returns certainly builds a surreal and interesting world to explore and the responsive controls are fluid enough to enjoy the exploration. However, the odd bug can occur that prevents progress in an area as well as there being plenty of invisible walls in the environment and around objects. For the most part though, Alice: Madness Returns' bazaar setting and imaginative design does a great job of immersing you, and whilst the repetition can grate slightly, it's still a unique experience that is well worth your time.