I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Friday, June 17, 2011

Alice: Madness Returns

Most of my friends who played American McGee's original Alice played it somewhere near a decade ago. I was fortunate enough to have played it for the first time this year, so when I entered into the world of Alice: Madness Returns I was still familiar with Alice's story and many of the bits of game-play from the original. I was also used to playing a video game with fairly terrible graphics (though not so bad for the early 2000s) and difficult jumping mechanics.

Alice: Madness Returns is a lot heavier on story than the original, and this makes sense. In the last decade, nearly all video games have beefed up their story, with the exception, I've heard, of Duke Nukem Forever, which was apparently a big let down. In many ways, the story is an expansion of the pervasive motif of the original game, that Alice is having difficulty coming to terms with the death of her family in a fire and she feels responsible for the fact that they are no longer among the living. Since Wonderland is a reflection of Alice's mind, Wonderland has turned into a Terrorland of sorts. In some ways, Alice: Madness Returns feels like a reboot of American McGee's Alice with better storytelling, graphics and game-play, but it is probably better to say that it is actually Wonderland that has rebooted. The story of Alice continues on.

I'm sure a lot of people are talking about the fantastic new graphics in Alice: Madness Returns. I agree that they are fantastic, and that they actually make this messed up fantasy feel like a wonder land. The design that went into this video game is absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, the optimization of this sequel is likely to cause even the most advanced of PCs to chug along at times. (My computer savvy friend Joe suggests that, despite the fantastic quality of the Physx engine, to turn Physx to low. Otherwise, you're likely to have speed problems.)

The best part of Alice: Madness Returns is the innovative new system of control, which opens a whole new world for game-play. Like many video games, the Alice sequel assigns two controls, melee and range. It has a new targeting system for smarter combat, a dodge button so that you don't have to meet enemies' attacks with your forehead, and my personal favorite, shrinking mode. Shrinking mode allows you to access hidden areas through keyholes and what have you, but it also functions as a kind of Batman: Arkham Asylum-esque "detective mode," providing access to secret clues throughout the game.

I haven't even completed the first chapter of Alice: Madness Returns and it is already one of the best games I've played this year. Pick it up sooner than later. You won't regret the choice.

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