Eleven years ago, American McGee’s Alice saw an accidental fire consume Alice’s home in Victorian London, along with her family. Wracked with survivor’s guilt, Alice attempted to commit suicide and was committed to the Rutledge Asylum. While institutionalized there, she revisited the Wonderland of her childhood, which had decayed under the iron fist of the Queen of Hearts. By destroying the Queen -- the physical manifestation of her own insanity -- Alice restored Wonderland to its original splendor and was declared stable enough to venture out into the real world.
Alice: Madness Returns (PlayStation 3 [previewed], Xbox 360, PC)
Wonderland is a representation of Alice’s own mind; as she progresses through it, the environment changes to reflect her deepening psychosis. The early phases of the game are bursting with vibrant hues, but the area that I saw, Queensland, comes much later; it’s almost as dark as one of the circles of Hell, as envisioned by Visceral Games in Dante’s Inferno. Indeed, Wade explained that the Spicy Horse artists endeavored to give each of the provinces in Wonderland its own unique theme. In Queensland, an ominous sky hangs over a crumbling world, and Alice herself has changed: she previously wore a blue-and-white dress, but now sports a crimson one adorned with the suits from playing cards -- remember, the Queen of Hearts used to rule over this region.
Eventually, Alice made it across the chasm and encountered a combat scenario. Each particular enemy has its own vulnerability, requiring Alice to mix up her weapon usage in order to be effective. Defensive tactics are important, too -- Alice can dodge by sliding sideways, exploding into a cloud of brilliant azure butterflies as she does so, and she can also whip out her umbrella and use it to reflect projectiles. If things are getting too hairy, she can drop a Clockwork Rabbit, which draws enemies to it (or at least draws their attention) like pipe bombs in Left 4 Dead. It’s not just a diversionary tactic, though; it functions as a time bomb, and Alice can detonate it at her leisure or let it explode on its own.
Alice’s insanity will affect her quest for the truth, Wade told me. When I asked him if the game would use psychological elements to mess with players’ minds, he explained that at some point, the line between reality and Wonderland will begin to blur. The story comes from R.J. Berg, who also executive-produced and wrote the first Alice; it’s an original tale, but draws on Lewis Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland books. Wade promised that the narrative is smart, and that it will get gamers thinking. If Spicy Horse can manage to do that while keeping the environment and combat varied, American McGee’s Alice may have a triumphant return, indeed.
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