Review Xbox 360: Alice: Madness Returns

Alice has lost it but not as much as the game has itself. Set in a twisted and dark Victorian age where Alice’s family have unfortunately been burnt to a cinder when the family home was engulfed in flames leaving only shattered memories for Alice to proceed through to gain her sanity once again. Continuing from the last title “American McGee’s Alice” Alice is hallucinating about the pending evil that is devouring her mind and Wonderland, sounds similar to the previous story line but it comes across weaker in places as it’s just not mad enough to get that surreal feeling into the experience.

Alice is undergoing psychiatric sessions in a dilapidated insane asylum, paid for by her dwindling inheritance. The settings themselves are something to stop and enjoy as the rest of the game seems very linear and quite disappointing but these settings do paint a picture of the alternate worlds set inside this crooked tale of despair which you will flicker to and from as Alice tries to get a grip on the situation. As you wander around the game most of the A.I’s dialogue in the Victorian streets is worth taking in, the kids are incredibly cruel as it is set in a time where they pretended to have toys and basically went without and became hard and cold because of it. You bump into a strange old lady after having a dodgy encounter with Alice’s subconscious which often messes with her throughout. Here Alice falls into Wonderland and you begin to explore this mirrored world of semi-freaky, slightly insane settings and characters, which at first is a sight for sore eyes but quickly turns into mundane hell for the gamer.

The game is mostly action and platform based, both seem unbalanced. The combat is easy to grasp but gets complicated when you have more than three different types of foe to fight, though it’s still manageable if you get better at it. The levels themselves are visually interesting, not the best graphics you’ll see but there are plenty of strange objects and environments to get through. Each level has some kind of theme linking-in with the titles story line and creates a slight atmosphere of creepiness, crookedness and general twisted tales and images to enjoy. The levels are not built to be rushed through, you’ll just end up falling off edges and cliffs along with missing hidden collectables like Alice’s shattered memories and Pig Snouts that reward you will golden teeth (white teeth you pick up around the game often) which you need for upgrades.

The weapons you acquire like the Vorpal Blade and the Pepper Grinder can be upgraded with the teeth you collect so you can inflict more damage and the weapons do also change visually, giving a little bit of a reward to the gamer when doing so. The timing of attacks can be interesting if a bit hit and miss, some weapons work better with others while the rest of the time you’ll just be using the one weapon constantly but because the foes have different weakness it does help to bring the whole fighting experience together so you don’t notice the gaps so much. There are defence techniques to use and acquire like the umbrella that can reflect attacks if timed right and the dodge you will have anyway at the beginning of the game. When you use the dodge (Right Bumper) Alice will burst into a flurry of blue butterflies and appear just a little further away depending if you are locked on to the target, it is very useful as you can get surrounded very quickly as the A.I. don’t lay off you at all.

The control scheme doesn’t really cause any problems as you are gradually guided though the different weapons and configurations and there’s time to practice before the bigger and harder parts of the game but the camera angle can swing too quickly at times and the scenery can end up blocking your view leaving you open to attacks, annoyingly. Parts of the game where you need the camera angle on your side, not against you can cause extreme frustration due to having to change your view point to see before you jump or midway through a jump, you will fall repeatedly on alot of these platform sections which does drag the experience down an incredible amount as it is, sadly, a constant issue and faff. There are also other smaller elements to consider that appear further into the game; Clockworks Bombs can be used to weigh down switches that open up other paths but the camera angle issues means you have to be a dab hand at moving the camera and jumping at the same time, if not you will be bombarded with frustration.

The puzzle sections of the game don’t need any brain power, it’s just a matter of completing the objective by entering smaller rooms or collecting objects, no sit, view, think, move, think, ect which makes these parts of the game very opaque and flat. However there are sections scattered here and there which seem to bring these elements together a whole lot better by adding the odd mini game and adds smaller sections of pits and creates more open areas where you can often find other kinds of life around you and the larger A.I. characters which are incorporated into the story line.

The Cheshire cat makes a welcome return and seems to perk you up a little when you’re prompted to speak to him using the select button and other characters like the Mad Hatter make a return also. The dialogue throughout is well crafted bringing in older elements from the Victorian era with harsh truths Alice has to face. This adds the much needed character to the game which keeps Alice: Madness Returns from drowning in its own dreariness it creates due to too many gaps in the gameplay and puzzle elements being weak and lifeless. Cut-scenes are sometimes interesting as they’re portrayed differently compared to the madness of the levels, more of these would have given the game a bit more depth or interest but it sadly just falls short of its purpose.

Overall it seems very linear, predictable and weak in places but there are good clumps of gameplay to be had here and there, you will just need to keep playing through the more faulty sections to get to them. The themes help to create a world for you to place all these strange happenings into and helps keep what character and dark charm the game has to offer but only just. It is a 50/50 gamble title depending on your skill level; you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it.

Score: 4.5/10

Developer Spicy Horse
Publisher EA Games