To say that the gaming industry is caught in the grips of sequel-itis would be an understatement. Fewer and fewer original products are released all the time, instead replaced by the yearly iteration of the franchise du jour, be it Halo, Call Of Duty, Medal Of Honor, or any other million-dollar earning series you’d care to name. The industry can hardly be blamed for this behavior, if even a subpar movie sequel like Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides can gross close to a billion dollars worldwide, then it’s obvious that audiences will also gladly open their wallets to any game featuring familiar characters or settings. Brand recognition is a powerful force.
While it’s a shame that originality as been kicked to the curb, it’s hard to argue with a guaranteed smash hit. Applying a new coat of paint to your franchise each year is a much safer bet than spending your time and money coming up with a brand new IP.
Alice: Madness Returns is a bizarre example of this discipline. Released in 2000, American McGee’s Alice, while a critical darling and mild financial hit, didn’t exactly have hordes of gamers clamoring for a follow-up entry. In fact, if it wasn’t for the current onslaught of sequels being dumped on the market every month, it could be argued that Alice never would have received a second chapter. Eleven years is a heck of a long time in the industry. Is Alice, all grown up to be a ravishing heroine, capable of anchoring a stellar game, or is she still the same emotionally disturbed chick we were introduced to over a decade ago?
Let’s find out, faithful readers and other assorted carbon-based life forms, if a sequel nobody asked for can hang out with the big dogs… or if this tumble down the rabbit hole is destined to end in broken bones. This is’s review of , available for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. For review purposes, the PC version was used.
Alice: Madness Returns – The Story
Put aside all thoughts of Walt Disney’s Alice In Wonderland; there’s nothing cartoony about Alice: Madness Returns’ world. At first taking place in turn of the century London, the game starts off with the titular heroine undergoing a bit of good, old-fashioned brainwashing in the offices of suspicious shrink Angus Bumby, his house located, appropriately enough, just a few streets away from the city’s Whitechapel district, site of the Jack The Ripper murders. Alice’s prior trips to Wonderland have left her unhinged, memory suppression her only recourse to avoid being sent to the local loony bin.
The Alice of Madness Returns isn’t an innocent, blonde schoolgirl fond of chasing rabbits into foreboding caverns. Rather, she’s a macabre, raven-haired young woman, fond of dark thoughts, even darker dresses tied with skull-shaped bows and a penchant for stabbing random fools that try to mess with her.
There’s nothing cute about the people Alice shares a world with, every human character aside from the girl herself is portrayed in a grossly misshapen art style. NPCs all have gross, disproportionate features, are mostly all obese and ugly to look upon. Oddly, despite her dark demeanor, Alice is the only person in the game that is drawn in a normal-looking manner, giving her the appearance of being the only actual sane person in an insane world. This is a recurring theme throughout the game, you’ll often wonder if Alice’s Wonderland wanderings are the result of her mind creating a fantasy kingdom for her to escape the dull, lifeless “real” world, or if the poor girl really is completely looney tunes.
It isn’t long before Alice finds herself following yet another member of the animal kingdom down a dark alley, a white cat this time. Following an encounter with some Jabberwock creatures and before you can say “abracadabra,” Alice is once again magically transported to Wonderland. While combat and exploration are your main objectives while inside Lewis Carroll’s world, this is also a psychological journey, as Alice will pick up broken shards of her memories, in the form of floating silver collectibles, throughout her trip.
Overall, Madness Returns is a dark, depressing tale. But in a good way. The line between Alice’s two worlds quickly becomes blurred and you’ll often wonder if your actions in Wonderland are actually occurring in London. Are you really killing another abomination with your trusty Vorpal Blade? Or is the completely bonkers Alice going on some sort of murder spree in the real world?
The story does offer up some answers by its bloody conclusion, but what picture you decide to draw with the facts in evidence is entirely up to you. Judged solely on the merits of its tale, Alice: Madness Returns is a very good game, one that will keep you coming back for answers — even if the action falls a bit short of the game’s story-telling ambitions.
Read about the gameplay, graphics, and verdict of Alice: Madness Returns on the next page…
- Yell! Rating (x/5 Skulls):
- Published by:
- Electronic Arts
- Developed by:
- Spicy Horse
- Year Released:
- 14 June 2011 (US)
- Also Available On:
- PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Official URL:
- Alice: Madness Returns