About ten years ago a little known game was released by the name of American McGee’s Alice. It presented a rather warped vision of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s story. In the original game, Alice struggled to overcome the pain of losing her family in a horrific house fire—and the subsequent damage it caused to her young mind. Although she was successful in coming to terms with the experience and released from the mental asylum she was confined to at the end of the game, it becomes apparent that time does not heal all wounds. In Alice: Madness Returns, eleven years have passed since the events of the first game—and despite therapy sessions, Alice is still haunted by memories of her family and a guilt she can’t explain over her role in their demise. Feeling unable to find the answers she needs to piece her memories back together in the real world, Alice once again retreats into her Wonderland to search for the clues she needs to make sense of her past—only to find that a new evil has taken hold in her absence.
True to the original game, Alice: Madness Returns does a fantastic job of combining its visual and audio qualities to create an atmosphere that is greatly immersive. Not since The Path have I played a game that was enjoyable solely for the exploration of the world in which it takes place in. The environments are both visually stunning and often deeply unsettling—all while reflecting the instability lurking just below the surface of Alice’s mind.
Madness Returns also lives up to its origins as an action platform game, while making significant improvements over its predecessor in both aspects. There is a fair amount of balance between the action and platforming sections but with slightly less focus on the action. This isn’t to say that the combat within the game is poorly done or unworthy of mentioning—on the contrary, battles are smooth and satisfying with little to complain about, aside from a lack of ability to attack while jumping. The game also utilizes an assortment of interesting and unique weapons.
It should be noted that there are better games of this type if you’re looking for a combat-oriented game—but that isn’t where the focus of Alice: Madness Returns is directed, nor should it be for this game to work as intended. The appeal of Alice is clearly directed toward its aesthetic quality, as it is a surreal experience that pushes the limits of the imagination and what games are capable of providing in that sense. While I can’t go so far as to say this game qualifies as a work of art overall, it definitely has artistic qualities and should be noted as a point of inspiration for future game development and creativity. These points set Alice apart from mainstream games and will put it in a class along with other “cult classics” being remembered as a brutally twisted and unforgettable original game. In an industry dominated by the big name “realistic” first person shooters such as Call of Duty, it’s a relief to know that games such as Alice are being made and there is hope that the future of gaming might involve more than looking down the iron-sights of a gun at the same old brown and grey enemies and environments you’ve seen a thousand times already.
Just as Lewis Carroll’s story, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” has captured the imagination of countless people for nearly 150 years, Alice: Madness Returns will no doubt do the same for anyone who plays it, with its unique twist on the story that would surely leave Lewis Carroll in awe of what his tale has inspired so many years later. The Mad Hatter said, “If you don’t think, then you shouldn’t talk” and I expect this game to give players something to think and talk about for a long time to come.