Alice: Madness Returns Gameplay Preview -- Diving Back Down the Rabbit HoleBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Mar 08, 2011
A little more than 10 years ago, American McGee sat down with Lewis Carroll’s classic tale Alice in Wonderland and developed an excellent PC-only action-adventure game called Alice. Set after the events of Through the Looking Glass, Carroll’s second Alice story, McGee’s game added a more overtly macabre twist to the fictional world. Now, finally, McGee is bringing his knife-wielding Alice back to Wonderland for another deranged adventure in Alice: Madness Returns.
The story opens 10 years after the events of Alice. Our possibly-insane young protagonist is released from Rutledge Asylum back into the world, though she is still plagued by memories of her parents, who died in an accidental fire before the events of the first game. Once again, Alice’s inability to put her memories aside leads her down the rabbit hole (figuratively speaking… possibly) and back to Wonderland. Slowly, over the course of the game, players will learn with Alice exactly what happened on the fateful day when she lost her parents. As Alice recovers her lost memories, her changing state of mind will be reflected in the Wonderland environments that she explores.
There are two basic types of gameplay “levels” in Madness Returns, which G4 learned all about at a recent Electronic Arts seasonal preview event. Fans of the original should be familiar with Alice’s forays through Wonderland, relatively straightforward RPG-lite action-adventure gameplay, very much in the vein of The Legend of Zelda or, more appropriately, Darksiders. At other points, Alice will find herself back in the real world, exploring a range of locations as she tries to uncover what happened to her family. These sections will de-emphasize the combat completely, focusing instead on exploration and exposition.
On the Wonderland side, Alice has a number of tools at her disposal. She can carry four weapons at a time, each one mapped to a compass point on your gamepad’s D-pad. While there’s nothing as traditional as a gun, each of the game’s bizarre weapons can typically be paired with a real world analogue. The pepper grinder, for example, is your basic machine gun, while the teapot cannon serves as your bazooka. Alice will also of course be armed with her vorpal blade as well as a hobby horse, which doubles as a club. An umbrella serves as her shield.
There are other weapons too, such as the Clockwork Rabbit, which also doubles as a puzzle-solving tool. This item actually has a range of uses. At its most basic level, it can be wound up and set to explode line any old time bomb. It also has weight in the world, meaning it can be placed on pressure pads. A wound- up Clockwork Rabbit also serves to distract enemies. Alice will also eventually gain the ability to shrink at will, which has the effect of revealing hidden objects in the environment such as invisible platforms and hints.
Each of Alice’s weapons has its own four-tier upgrade tree. We didn’t get a close look at what those upgrades entail, but players will need to collect teeth – Wonderland’s standard form of currency, ‘natch – in order to unlock them. There are other collectibles too: Duchess baskets, pig snouts and bottles. There are also Radula Rooms, which are basically discrete combat or riddle challenges. Complete one and Alice gets a boost to her total health.
One final thing to note. While EA certainly isn’t offering any confirmation yet, the rep who demoed the game did not outright deny the possibility of an HD upgrade of the original game being ported over to consoles. In fact, he said the idea has been discussed, though there are currently no official plans to announce in that regard.
Overall, Alice: Madness Returns looks like every bit the dark, fan-serving adventure that its predecessor was. It remains to be seen if Alice has aged well from a gameplay perspective, but McGee has certainly not lost sight of what makes Carroll’s stories so appealing in the first place. Even spending just 15 minutes watching the game in action, it is clear that the environments are just as detailed and head-spinningly bizarre as they were the first time around. If you are a fan of the original, taking a plunge down the rabbit hole should be a no-brainer when the game hits stores on June 14.