by Chris Scott
reviewed on X360
The madness returns
Lewis Carroll’s classic tales of Alice and her adventures in Wonderland have been interpreted and adapted by many, most notably Disney, but American McGee’s take on the wondrous dreamscape in his action platformer American McGee’s Alice is possibly the most twisted. American McGee’s Alice was released in 2000 and despite garnering quite the cult following hopes for a sequel seemed dim after a decade of inactivity with the property. Someone at EA must have kept the fire burning for fans because here we are, a decade later and the madness has returned to Wonderland.
Twisted fantasy land
Alice: Madness Returns finds players once again dealing with the dark spots of Alice’s mind as she wrestles with the recessed memories of the tragic fire that took the lives of her parents and young sister. These memories and Alice’s struggle to uncover them have had a cataclysmic effect on Wonderland thus the goal in Alice: Madness Returns is to uncover the latent memories and in the process save Wonderland. While American McGee’s Alice was a dark game, Alice: Madness Returns is far darker. The themes in this sequel are some of the most adult themes this reviewer has ever encountered in a game and it all does it amidst the wondrously dark backdrop of Carroll’s Wonderland.
American McGee’s twisted fantasy land is a colorful yet nightmarish world and the look of Alice: Madness Returns is certain to turn some heads. Newcomers to the series will no doubt believe that the art direction is inspired by Tim Burton’s live action Disney film Alice in Wonderland and while it can certainly may have inspired some of the games design, those that have played the original will understand this is the realized vision of what McGee was attempting to do a decade ago.
Much of this realization comes from the use of the newest iteration of the Unreal Engine and the game looks beautiful most of the time. There were numerous instances of textures taking a while to load making the game world look quite muddy. This seems to be a constant issue with the Unreal Engine but there is little denying that when the game is running optimally it is a looker.
Alice will revisit a few locales from the original Alice novels, including the Red Queen’s castle, but much of the game is spent in locations that feel like Wonderland but are completely new. Helping to tie everything together are a smattering of returning characters including The Cheshire Cat, The Mad Hatter, The Duchess’s Cook, and The Caterpillar amongst others. These characters are not the renditions of your childhood though as they are dark creations of Alice’s fractured mind.
The art style and mature storyline pull players through the gameplay.
The gameplay can get a bit repetitive.