Thursday, 22 December 2011

Alice: Madness Returns - 360/PS3/PC

There's a lot to like about Alice: Madness Returns. From the beautifully presented waif-like protagonist and her constantly changing sense of style, to the cast of grotesque characters who litter a decaying vision of Lewis Carroll's dreamlike Wonderland.

It's a spellbinding visual treat throughout and whether Alice is stumbling through the grimy streets of Victorian London, exploring the clockwork innards of the Mad Hatter's lair or making her way through the faded grandeur of the Queen of Hearts' castle, the art direction is inspired.

But despite the visual flair, Alice's journey through her rotten mind descends into a standard third-person romp, with a raft of gameplay ideas as old as the hills.

Armed with a twisted assortment of weapons - including a chain gun-style pepper grinder, a teapot cannon and white rabbit time bombs - Alice fights, jumps, runs and twirls through long, drawn-out levels in a bid to save her sanity.

The combat is initially a thrill, with Alice cutting a swathe through Studio Ghibli-like enemies. However, respawning gothic creatures and a dodgy in-game camera soon temper that initial rush and these arena style brawls soon become something to be tolerated rather than enjoyed.

The platform-heavy antics are a throwback in many ways. Leaping from invisible platforms, riding on steam vents, trampolining off neon-tinged mushrooms and sliding down Mario 64-inspired chutes is decent enough fun, but we've been here hundreds of times before.

And while the game does its best to mix up gameplay styles with the inclusion of environmental puzzles, 2D papercraft sections and a side-scrolling shooter level, much of Alice's adventure feels hastily pieced together. It's as if developer Spicy Horse couldn't decide on a plain course of action and instead decided to throw everything at the title to see what would stick.

But despite its flaws, I was captivated by the adventure from start to finish. The art direction certainly helped and wanting to know what lay around the next corner kept me ploughing through the madness.

The storyline also does its best to tug the player through the experience and Alice is constantly reminded of the cause of her fading sanity - the house fire which killed her family. As the story plays out, snippets of her memories spring to life in the shape of collectable audio logs, while other hidden treasures await those who wish to scuffle about the darker recesses of Alice's warped mind.

Once Alice's adventure is over, fans can skip back though her painful memories and replay chapters to sweep up missed collectables - and Spicy Horse have added an extra treat for Alice fans.

The original PC title from 11 years ago, American McGee's Alice, is also included on the disc. While this cult classic hasn't aged particularly well, it's a nice bonus and completes the Alice collection.

Spicy Horse have played it safe on many levels and regurgitated tried and tested gameplay ideas throughout in a desperate attempt to make Alice: Madness Returns a macabre masterpiece. But it falls somewhat short of its lofty ambitions, leaving the player wishing for something more.

It can be fun and at times it is a visually splendid experience, but too many quirks and flaws make this trip to Wonderland entirely optional rather than essential.

No comments: