It’s the Plot that causes Madness

Originally Published 20 December 2011

I just finished up Alice: Madness Returns. I think it is important to note that, unlike the first game, this one doesn’t have American McGee’s moniker on it. That should be the first warning sign.

Gameplay wise, Alice is a 3rd person, action-platformer. Unfortunately, both the controls and level design are clunky. Considering the game is based on the UT3 engine, one would think that the controls, at least, would be solid. The level design issues are partially mitigated by the extremely large number of hints sprinkled about the levels. Unfortunately, the poor platforming coupled with the rough controls makes much of the game tedious.

Worse still, the game seems to repeat everything one too many times: go collect the 3 hoozits; doyet another damn sliding block puzzle; oh look, they’ve reused the same minigame for the tenth time even though it lacks even the small amount polish that the main game got.

Furthermore, the early writing of the game is also somewhat iffy. Lots of backstory is applied at once–likely because it is a sequel to a game that came out 10 year ago–and that often feels forced and muddled. Worse, much of the dialog feels like a first draft. Rapport between characters is often lacking. Non sequiturs abound, but they don’t feel like the whimsical wanderings of slightly deranged minds; they instead feel like result of writers would couldn’t be bothered to string together a consistent relationship between the overall plot and the actions that Alice is directed to take.

The main shining light of the game is the art direction. Alice’s “real life” outfit looks brilliant and her first few “Wonderland” dresses are beautifully constructed. Similarly, the first two (of five) chapters do have very nice visuals with vivid color and a consistent feel. Unfortunately, as the game becomes “darker” the levels become grey and brown. It seems a lazy way to go about the descent. A more clever and creative approach would have been appreciated.

Unfortunately, art direction doesn’t make a game, especially art direction that goes downhill over the course of the experience. And even if the plot does begin to come around in the final chapter, that hardly makes up for the muddled mess that the previous four chapters offered. There’s no way that I can recommend this game.

Alice: Madness Returns: 0

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