We've had several opportunities to fall into the rabbit hole that leads us to the wonderfully bizarre world that is known as Wonderland. In the latest preview build that we've received, we played through the entire first chapter on our own to get an idea of how the game begins. Unlike our previous demos, we weren't given access to all the weapons so we were able to get a better sense of the pacing and were introduced to all of the disturbing creatures one at a time.
This was our first time playing from the beginning as Alice in London, where she has spent the past 10 years in an asylum and is now working at the Houndsditch Home orphanage. During the intro, we got a chance to see what goes on in her troubled mind, as the soothing voice of a psychiatrist coaxed her to forget the painful memories of her past. Her memories are played out like a model paper theatre, and the images are disturbing to say the least (see above). When she came to, we were able to take control and wander through the depressing corridors of the home that was populated with snarky young children. Upon leaving the home, it didn't look like things were much better on the streets. It was clear that we weren't exactly in the richest neighborhood in London because everything was incredibly dreary and bleak. Alice's hair was jagged and she was dressed in plain clothes, which was a stark contrast to the different versions of Alice we've seen in previous demos.
Not that the darkest alleys of London weren't fun to walk through, but without giving away too much of what happens, we found ourselves back in the dreamlike Wonderland. We started off in the Vale of Tears, where Alice looked less scrappy and we were surrounded by luscious trees and blooming flowers. The first part of Wonderland serves as a tutorial to get you used to Alice's abilities to jump, glide, shrink, and attack with the vorpal blade. We've covered many aspects of the game already in our other write-ups, so the biggest change we noticed is that the game does do a good job (at least on normal difficulty) of teaching you the techniques you'll need to survive. It takes a few hours to get through the Mad Hatter's domain, and during that time, we were shown new techniques and introduced to new enemies one at a time so that we could familiarize ourselves.
When things got rough and Alice was low on health, we could go into Hysteria mode by pushing down on the left stick. All the color gets drained so that you're fighting in a world that's black, white, and, of course, red. While it's not a mode you want to find yourself in too often, the Sin City look is quite stylish. You can't get hurt in this mode and your damage is augmented with the hope that you finish off the enemies before Hysteria runs out. The downside is that enemies won't drop teeth if you defeat them in this mode. (Teeth are the currency for weapon upgrades). Even if you do happen to die, you won't be bumped back too far, and you can try again. For the most part, enemies don't swarm around you in large clusters very often. You'll spend a good amount of time exploring the Hatter's mechanical world, hitting switches and jumping gracefully from one steam vent to another.
We mentioned before that pig snouts are located throughout the world and will lead you to collectible bottles. You have to keep an ear out for the "oink oink" sound as you play. The only way to learn more about Alice's past is to collect memories that are scattered throughout Wonderland. The game is fairly linear, so you'll find memories along the way, but for others, you'll need to shrink to get through a keyhole or do a bit of exploring to get to them. If you do happen to feel lost, shrinking lets you see the graffiti that has been left behind by the insane children, which will guide you in the right direction. Sometimes, arrows or invisible platforms will appear, and they linger for a brief second when you return to normal.
EA recently announced that Chris Vrenna (composer of the first game and formerly of Nine Inch Nails) will be contributing a track to the score, but the main composer is Jason Tai from Spicy Horse. To listen to an exclusive track from the game, check out the most recent Sound Byte. One thing that is exceptionally good in Alice is the art design, which contributes to the haunting atmosphere. Not only do the visuals do an excellent job of portraying the fantastical world that Alice has been thrown into, but the music also complements the scenes nicely. From what we've played, the voice actors have done a solid job as well.
We look forward to playing the entire game when Alice: Madness Returns hits the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on June 14, so look for our full review then.