Alice: Madness Returns Preview

In early 2009 Electronic Arts announced a deal with game designer American McGee to create a second game set in his dark, twisted adaptation of...

In early 2009 Electronic Arts announced a deal with game designer American McGee to create a second game set in his dark, twisted adaptation of the world from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The word of mouth success of the original plus last year's similarly vivid Alice in Wonderland feature film by director Tim Burton gives this new game a lot of momentum to build on. Alice: Madness Returns looks ready to do just that from the classic balance of action and exploration evident in the demo I checked out at EA's pre-GDC 2011 showcase. This next game is a direct sequel to McGee's Alice released in 2000. Alice even revisits several areas from the original and sees the effects of what happened in her earlier adventures. The game does not, though, retrace its own steps. At last year's Tokyo Game Show McGee told me that one of their core goals was that the player would never see the same piece of Wonderland twice.

Escape the menacing Wonderland all over again.

Alice returns to Wonderland driven to learn what happened 10 years ago when her parents were killed. The game is in fact a murder mystery, the investigation of which takes place in her imagined world. There are six unique domains to Wonderland, each of which reflects Alice's increasingly disturbed state of mind as she gets closer to the truth about her parents killer. Alice actually already knows what happened, but must unlock those memories from the depths of her subconscious. This demo showed how she does that by exploring Wonderland and defeating the guards protecting the clues. Alice runs and jumps around the world like many other adventure games. The creative environments hold the potential to add unusual new obstacles to get past such as bounce mushrooms. Alice also now possesses the ability to shrink herself at will, rather than needing special potions. Special shrink flowers indicate specific areas where she needs to do so to advance. And once shrunk otherwise unseen avenues become visible. To take on the various enemies she faces, Alice wields four weapons at any given time. She arms herself with magical versions of things in her real life. There's a pepper-mill gun and the teapot cannon for instance. In a fight, the strengths of these various weapons must be brought to bear against the weakness of whatever is being fought. For example, against the demo's card guards, circling around the back of the enemies to stab a jeweled weak-spot was only possible after a stunning blast from a teapot. The demo concluded with Alice facing one the Queen's henchmen known as the executioner. She looked to be at a size disadvantage before munching a slice of cake, after which she grew to several times the size of the foe who had looked so formidable moments before. The screen went dark just before the boss fight could start, but with unexpected "things are not what they seem" tricks like that and solid action-exploration fundamentals, Alice: Madness Returns looks to be shaping up well.
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