Alice: Madness Returns

Return to Wonderland

We follow Alice down the rabbit hole to Wonderland once again to see how things have changed in the 11 years since her last visit.
Author: Parjanya C. Holtz
Published: July 15, 2011
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In a time when few dark and twisted games tend to be platformers, Alice: Madness Returns, sequel to almost 11-year-old PC exclusive American McGee's Alice, stands out as a uniquely refreshing take on old-school 3D platforming, even if the brilliant concept of taking a classic children's novel and turning it into a dark and bloody tale about a young girl and her struggle to overcome the terrible trauma of losing her parents is quite a bit ahead of its often unoriginal, repetitive and bland feeling gameplay.

Picking up shortly after the events of the first game, Madness Returns takes place somewhere in London around the time of the industrial revolution. Alice has awoken from her coma and left Rutledge Asylum for a new home, an orphanage run by psychiatrist Doctor Angus Bumby. But as the title implies, the trauma of her family's death still haunts her, and Alice is far from having regained sanity. Suffering under increasingly bloody visions of her past and a burning Wonderland, she once again embarks on a journey through her own subconscious to face what may be her greatest fear; the truth behind what really happened the night of the fire her family died in.

With its 15 or so hours, Alice: Madness Returns is a rather long game, one that could have easily done itself a grand favor by cutting around a third of its entirety and instead focusing on polishing what's left of it. As a result, Madness Returns has a somewhat nostalgic vibe to it, one that will remind you of games you probably have played about a decade ago, a time when videogames still felt a little more gimmicky, and a little less like interactive summer blockbusters. But the industry has learned much in recent years, among which the rather basic realization of the importance of a story's pacing clearly stands out.

The plot requires almost four hours to begin making any sense at all, or rather to reveal its direction, giving players far too many opportunities to get frustrated with the often uninspired and repetitive gameplay. Shining with an obvious lack of creativity in both level design and combat scenarios, the first half of the game stands in stark contrast to the twisted fantasy world the game is trying to convey. The world may be pretty to look at, but a sense of discovery is nowhere to be found. At least the second half of the game draws back the curtain on some of that creative genius you'd expect to find in such a dark take on Lewis Carroll's classic novel.
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