Alice: Madness Returns

It was earlier this morning that I found myself face down on the sofa, hands in the armpits of a cat, thinking how maybe I should give up blogging and writing altogether and hey why stop there why not just bung me in an institute for mute people and affix my lips together with gaffa tape while we’re at it because I would never have anything interesting to say about anything ever again and why bother.

“Cat,” I said,”why am I so tired all the time?”

The cat, who up until now had been trying to rub saliva over my knuckles with his lips, delicately took the side of my hand into his mouth and began to chew on it. He’s a sweet creature, if rather stupid.

It was a fair question. I’d been sick with worry for the Love of my Life, who, when done being busy for his job (thus preventing me from playing Alice, see previous post) had managed to get himself ill after a rather serious fashion, which in turn meant I grabbed sleep when I wasn’t worrying, which meant I replaced sleep with back-to-back “Hoarders” marathons for a week, which meant I then got ill myself WHICH COINCIDED WITH MY PERIOD God help us all, having found out that LofL’s treatment is going to be lengthy and often quite painful. (He’ll be fine. No worries, femmeketeers.)

But it’s been days, possibly weeks — I don’t know, time is dead in my emo heart — so why the shit haven’t I been able to get up and go about my life? Can a person catch lupus from cats, coffee, or PS3 controllers?

Because even though the thought of trying to write something insightful about Alice has been about as appealing as rabies, I’ve been playing it a lot.

Alice knows my pain. SHE WEEPS MY TEARS

I confess, I am a crazed fan of American McGee’s various interpretations of Lewis Carroll. It’s been my very favourite game franchise since I spotted a copy of the first Alice entirely by accident on my birthday. I wasn’t even looking to buy a game but I couldn’t help myself. It was everything I ever wanted in a game: amazing art direction, a plot about insanity, a dreamscape, a whiff of classic literature, gothy frothy steampunk topping.

Forgive me, then, if my review of Madness Returns is a little biased. I can’t really convince you to like the er, style of the game. The…aura. The thing that makes it distinctly so.

So I shan’t even try.

First, the problems with the game:

  • You find out, if you do a little digging, that there are things they wanted to include, but that they “didn’t have time” for. “Didn’t have time” is game industry speak for “EA wouldn’t give us money”. Did I mention that I hate EA sometimes? I hate EA sometimes.
  • Plot progression was, at one point in Chapter Two, woefully unclear. LofL and I were scratching our heads about it until I played it again recently and discovered that yes, it makes sense, but only if you pay very close attention. This is okay with me, I guess — though a wee bit irksome. It wouldn’t have taken very much effort to make it clearer, and unlike other places in the game where obscurity and puzzlement is absolutely key, it just didn’t work here. Made us go hunh rather than hmm.
  • The graphics are out of date. This game is just gobsmackingly gorgeous, you understand…you’re not really paying for graphics. You’re paying for art direction and story and music and it’s worth it. But I understand why this would irk a lot of people.
  • No 3-D videos. None at all. None of that stuff from the trailers that made me wee my knickers in excitement. Nope. EA didn’t give them the money to do it. I was absolutely heartbroken when I found this out. Truly crushed. And then, as I played it, I grew to appreciate it. It’s always bothered my suspension of disbelief when I walk into a glade or whatever and suddenly everyone gets nicer hair and shadows spring out of nowhere and suddenly granny has a mole or the protag is actually pretty for once. So, in a way — it was really nice. But in another way, EA can suck a dick.

Now that’s out of the way, let me gush a little.

This GAME, friends. This GAME! It took my brain and put it through a keyhole into a land of rusted nails and despair and dolls covered in wax and broken glass, and MEAT FURNITURE and clockwork and burning tea and sick, SICK, depravity.

Nnnaaaagh.

It was AWESOME. LofL told me he’d never seen anyone go through a game looking at each. and every. texture. before moving forward but really the game is just that lush. Everything means something. Everything is put in just so to tell a story and once you play through the game and start playing it again everything sort of clicks into place and you find yourself making this face

when you realise the depravity of it all and the hints they gave you along the way that you didn’t see and also sort of this face

because oh my god it was there all along but you just didn’t see it coming.

I have no idea whether playing this game qualifies me for a degree in psychiatry (it should) but even if the plot isn’t realistic, it’s intricate and believable. Alice, effectively, is kidding herself. And there are a few things she’s not noticing. You don’t notice them either, but they’re right there for you to see.

Speaking of seeing…I don’t want to ruin the game for you by posting too many screenshots. My favourite part of this game was starting a new chapter not knowing what I was going to find.

Each chapter of Madness Returns has three parts: Victorian London, a pre-level of sorts, and a level proper. The things Alice sees in Victorian London are beautifully echoed, exaggerated and twisted in Wonderland. Unlike the previous game, this one makes it very clear that Wonderland exists entirely in Alice’s head. It’s not as romanticised as the first installment: Alice is crazy, and it shows. Most of the game takes place silently — in the visuals, the decoration.

Gameplay was smooth. I liked the fighting system; it had a nice difficulty curve. This was because the game switched up the fighting a lot; different enemies required different strategies, the early-acquisition weapons were useful throughout play, and control was very intuitive. Yes, there are a lot of jumping puzzles. But they’re really cool. They’re especially cool because jumping puzzles let you nose around the aforementioned jawdropping prettiness you’re prancing through.

Though standard Alice gameplay was amply present in Madness Returns, there were frequent minigame additions I found refreshing. I also liked the emphasis on collectibles; getting them was a puzzle in itself.

Another thing about gameplay that I adored: there’s only one boss. I hate bosses. They make me trip over my own feet. They freak me out. I kind of just cower in the corner whimpering. just kill me already I don’t even want omigod you’re so big and scary hnhhhhhhh *flailing of hands*

But with normal enemies I’m all like BLAMMO and POWFACE and this

Yeah. Bad^ass.

so by the time I got to the final boss I was cracking my knuckles and darkening spittoons with cool. Okay, and so then the fight started and I nearly burst into tears and shoved the controller into LofL’s hands. BUT I WILL TOTALLY DO IT MYSELF NEXT TIME.

(To sum: if you like bosses, do not purchase this game.)

I of course bought the dress-and-weapon DLC, and I think it’s just fabbo (Pretty dresses! Deeply creepy weapons!), but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone but rabid fanatics like myself or obsessive compulsives who must. get. every. collectible.

You can whine all you want; I’m not going to change my mind. I loved this game. If you don’t want to pay 60 bucks for it, rent it from GameFly. If you don’t want to play it yourself, get someone else to play it and watch. If you’re entirely uninterested and you think it looks ugly and boring or you’d rather be playing Need 4 Speed: Cars Go Vroom or Punch Him in the Dick! Do it Again! or My Pony Princess Cupcake Fantasy Love Baby or whatever crap you like, then that’s cool — we’ll just never be friends.

– Alice M.

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