McGee has been involved in some of the most formative games of a generation, splicing fantastical sci-fi journeys with trial, tribulation and introspection– and increasingly, with a striking gothic overtone. My personal experiences with American McGee have been pretty slight, limited to the original Xbox title of Scrapland, an interesting but ultimately flawed third person adventure – it’s main problem being the disconnect between the bleak subject matter and the simplistic gameplay, skewed to suit a tween audience who might’ve found Sierra’s Robots a tad childish.
Trawling Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass for inspiration, McGee plays with the buried elements of the Alice in Wonderland environment - as well as Carroll's more personal experiences and his love of huffing opiates. The emphasis on a dreamlike experience influenced by the human condition sets the scene for Alice: Madness Returns. Alice seeks refuge in Wonderland from her memories, as her psychotherapist Dr. Bumby's brings her face to face with her demons – setting off a chain of events which threatens to destroy both Wonderland and Alice’s mind.
McGee’s nightmarish version of a Wonderland is emphatic. The brief canter through Victorian London streets quickly returns Alice to a compelling new world, guided by The Cheshire Cat. Carrolls’s key characters all return, albeit in a newly corrupted manner under the masterful art direction of McGee's Spicy Horse studio. Alice’s main abilities involve familiar motifs to anyone au fait with third person platform actioner. Battle involves a series of melee weapons, with the core weapons being The Vorpal Blade and the ranged Pepper Grinder (functioning as a kitchen-issue machine gun), upgradable throughout. The ability to switch between weapons during evasive movement is lightening quick, allowing for easily-chained attacks around enemies and bosses, and is surprisingly intuitive – and immediately accessible on first play.
Alice: Madness Returns is certainly filled to the brim with character. Victorian acid-etched cut-out animation provides the bulk of vivid cut-scenes of recovered memories. Visual flourishes abound, giving the impression that care and attention has gone into developing a very unique take on the original stories to ensure a bleak-gothic fantasy atmosphere abounds. One that should be of delight to fans of Roman Dirge and Tim Burton, with a spot of puzzling thrown in to tax the grey matter as well as the twitch trigger.
On first impressionsAlice: Madness Returns certainly cuts an impressive package, overshadowing its predecessor, proving an immediately engaging and comprehensive package. Both visually and atmospherically it certainly bears the hallmarks of a improved sequel, but protracted traditional platform elements of jumping and collecting maybe more suited to younger audiences (with the level of violence proving restrictive). Only time will tell how well the puzzle and platform action melds with this very unique world.
Alice: Madness Returns is out June 16 on Electronic Arts. Visit www.ea.com/alice for more.
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