My Time with Alice
There’s something to be said about the art of discovery in games. Something like, “Hey, whatever happened to the art of discovery in games?” Alice: Madness Returns is absolutely gorgeous and American McGee makes sure you damn well appreciate every single gorgeous aspect of his game. He grabs the player by the shirt and drags them from one interesting locale to the next saying, “See? See?! Do you know how long this took to make?!” in a terrible British accent.
And you know, I’m okay with that. Yes, American McGee, it is pretty. Very pretty, actually. You have made a very pretty game for stupid people. Which is odd considering how hard you tried to make it edgy, witty, and philosophical. Unless, of course, that was the point. Then congratulations!
Alice is armed with a handful of helpful abilities to aid her journey throughout Wonderland, such as triple jumps, floating, and shrinking, the latter of which is the problem. When you shrink you also gain some sort of magical perception that translates to ridiculously obvious clues for the gamer. For example, if you shrink to fit through a keyhole you’ll also see little icons painted on walls telling you not only where to go but what you’ll find when you go there. You’ll also be able to see otherwise hidden platforms that have actual numbers to ensure that you jump on them in the correct order.
Let’s be clear on this. You must shrink at certain times in order to progress through the game. When you shrink to progress through the game you’re given clues as to how to proceed, most of which tell the player (in pictures, of course) that you must shrink in order to progress through the game. Think about it.
Later in the game you’ll come across timed switches that open doors, lower elevators, or do some sort of other puzzle-related activity which isn’t at all puzzle related because A) the hint system tells you if you either need to stand on the switch or place an object on it and B) the camera always pans away to show you what the switch did. Subtle it is not. What’s worse is that because these are timed switches, you need to act quickly to solve the puzzle, something you can’t really do when the camera is busy panning over the luscious landscape to show you how that scary looking door just opened. Again.
Either American McGee resents gamers or hasn’t played anything since Doom 2, which is pretty much what you’re left with after you strip away the fabulous visuals. If I were to describe the game play using a single, inoffensive word, it would be competent, which by definition isn’t bad but also isn’t something you’d necessarily want to put on the back of the box (“A twisted fairy tale brought to life though jaw-dropping visuals and competent game play!”).
All of the characters Alice meets throughout her journey are crazy and are written as such, except no one told the actors this. I’m pretty sure the only direction the actors got was “read your lines as fast as possible so you can get back to work modeling that crying statue.” It’s like when you were asked to read portions of Macbeth aloud in English class. The words may be brilliant, but they lose all meaning when spoken by someone who would rather be drawing little penises on their desk.
Not that the words in Alice are brilliant. Good god, no. They’re terrible. Characters interact with non sequitur monologues. I suspect that wouldn’t have mattered quite as much if they were at least, I don’t know, acted well?
Much of the game’s back story is told through random bits of dialogue you find throughout your journey. It’s up to the player to put it all together, which is asking a lot considering how boring it all is. Everything revolves around Alice thinking she killed her family and her memories feature completely random strings of words that look smartly written but just show that American McGee has access to a thesaurus.
Eventually we learn that Alice’s case worker or whatever has been trying to erase her memories in order to cover up his grand child molestation scheme. And that he killed Alice’s family when her sister turned him down. How’s that for edgy? No? Retarded? Very much so.
The frustrating thing is that I’ve made this sound far more exciting than it actually is. The main story is constant derailed by Alice having to gather body parts, Alice having to assemble a musical revue, and Alice having to free the spirits of undead sailors. This translates to jumping puzzles and repetitive combat.
Combat is competent.
You can forgive Alice for being a competent game because it’s a very beautiful one. You can’t forgive it for being boring. This is a game that should not be boring and that’s its biggest offense. Deadly Premonition features questionable game play and archaic graphics but its amazing story and amusing writing makes it fun to play. Bayonetta has terrible writing and obnoxious characters but oh, such delicious combat which makes it fun to play. Alice: Madness Returns is pretty to look at, kind of like my screen saver except it’s not constantly dropping hints on how to turn it off.