30 January 2012

Living the next rabbit hole to Alice

Alice Liddell, a tormented young woman, punishing herself for the demise of her family, is under a psychiatrist's care. He in his infinite wisdom has encouraged Alice just to forget. "Forget is good." The Victorian London Alice lives in is a dank, dark, ugly place. And just so happens, following a stray cat, Alice escapes the smog and misery and descends into her fevered imagination, the wonderland. Instead of lush meadows and eternal sunshine though, this wonderland is a messed up, twisted place where rules of mundane life don't apply, with the infernal train corrupting the wonderland the further it steams away, waking up sickening creatures in its wake. It's up to Alice to stop the train, that is, to save herself from descending so deep into madness there can be no return. Someone would be very happy for that to happen...

This girl comes up to me, her dress red like a rose on a thorn bush, like all the colors of a royal flush... Alice gets to wear different garments for every domain in the game while in London between the levels she's gray little mousy.

Alice: Madness Returns takes place about a decade after American McGee's Alice, published for PC equally some decade ago. Mr. McGee and his Shanghai-based studio Spicy Horse, "built around artists", have taken some bold decisions, both in visuals and gameplay. Instead of some flashy, easy to digest genres which are such a riot today, the game takes place in a form of a 3D platformer with weapon-based action thrown in. And there comes the challenge, visually presented in such a bravado and dark beauty the art team must have themselves visited the wonderland they have created!

Oh, it's a straight flush! Soon a dead straight flush!

If you fumble and meet thy doom, it's always your own fault, not the controls or the game being unfair. Yes, it's hard at times, very, very hard, and the good ol' trial & error method is sometimes the rule of overcoming tougher parts. But never is Alice unfair. I understand some reviewers have mixed up challenge and unfair... Oh well, I blame it on how easy most of the modern games are. In this time and age where games practically play themselves through, a game which roots itself so much in the old school of 3D platformers comes as fresh as a nice cup of darjeeling tea served from a steaming teapot cannon.

Leaps over vast emptiness of, er, nothingness. Yes, everyday in the wonderland Alice Liddell has conjured up. 

The story which unfolds bit by bit and is written in a manner that is as funny as it's creepy and doesn't shy away from touchy subjects either, keeps you playing the vast and huge levels and overcome their deviously laid out platforms and traps. Alice, a laconic, very slightly mad girl, is voiced over perfectly, giving her pretty - in a vorpal blade wielding, psychotic kind of way - 3D image a soul.

Come closer, I promise, I won't hurt you... Oh, this knife? Well, it's for... chopping you into pieces!

I wish I had played Alice: Madness Return in the last year as I would have chosen the game as the runner-up for the game of the year as well as the best platformer, action game and best visuals. And of course the award for the best very slightly mad girl heroine. Yes. I liked the game so much. I can't recommend this to everyone though, it's almost a case of taking an artist to appreciate this art of a game. If you really want to see and feel something very different though, be free to descend into the mouth of madness of Alice: Madness Returns.

9/10

1 comment:

NePaul Wilson said...

Always a joy to read your review and even better when I know it's a great game that was sadly overlooked over the year. I have to agree this game is all about the art, it's really one of those cases where you are playing a canvas and you just progress through it with a brush.