Alice: Madness Returns Preview - Hands-On

We return to Queensland and face a few new demons of our own in our latest look at Alice: Madness Returns.

Alice's doll-like face and striking green eyes aren't the only things that will captivate your attention in Alice: Madness Returns. Like its PC predecessor, American McGee's Alice has been distorted, but the Wonderland that exists in Alice's mind is as disturbing as it is beautiful. At an EA press event during the week of the Game Developers Conference, we were able to play through a part of Queensland, which occurs late in the game, to get a feel for how the controls work. It wasn't easy, especially because it was three-quarters of the way through the game, but with God mode on and access to all the weapons, we got to face some new foes and experiment with our arsenal of deadly kitchenware.

Queensland might be familiar to those who have ventured here before. Alice had to make her way through the rundown castle, with fallen columns and cracked flooring. We got a sense of just how deserted this place was from the torn reddish curtains that dangled along the walls and were highlighted by the warm rays of the sun. We were told that there are six different domains in the game and that Alice will be traveling back and forth from London to Wonderland to uncover the mysterious death of her parents 10 years prior. You'll once again be able to summon the Cheshire cat for hints and come across familiar faces, like the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit.

In this section of the demo, after coming across a lovely pink flower, Alice was able to shrink. This gave her the ability to see things that she couldn't normally see in her normal form, such as platforms. Using this ability, Alice could also see the scrawled clues and messages that insane children had left behind with chalk. With her triple jump and floating abilities (that leave behind a stream of beautiful blue butterflies), she could make her way across the chasm without much difficulty. But once we arrived on the other side, we were greeted by card guards and a couple of other enemies that took some experimentation to destroy.

The card guards can be attacked with your vorpal blade; once they fall over, you can finish them off with the deadly hobby horse, which is essentially a heavy club. There is a stronger-looking card guard that is also armed with a hammer and is vulnerable to your pepper grinder ranged attack. The pepper grinder has a free-roam option so that you can move the cursor yourself, or you can keep it in auto-lock mode. You'll find that Alice is well equipped this time around, as she also carries a teapot cannon that lobs deadly grenades. Using the right trigger, you can fire a stream of (pepper?) pellets with it or use the B button to place a bomb on the ground to distract the guard. Your bombs are disguised as mechanical bunnies with top hats. You can place these top hats anywhere and press B again to detonate them, which stuns the guard long enough for you to run over and stab its vulnerable back. Another burly black creature with multiple porcelain-doll faces and legs needed to have its shield taken down before we could actually hit it. By holding A, you can whip out your umbrella and reflect the projectiles that the creatures are tossing at you and send them back at the creatures. Some of the tougher creatures have weaknesses that you'll have to exploit to dispose of them, so it's not as easy as just hacking and slashing your way through the scenes.

Alice is quite nimble with the heavy hobby horse.

Alice eventually made her way into the garden where she recovered another lost memory from the gazebo. As you go through the game, you'll pick up audio clips from the past or watch them unfold via a Victorian paper theatre. It's these moments that eventually lead Alice to some sort of epiphany and help her recover the memories she has repressed. Through the garden, we eventually came face-to-face with the executioner, who--under normal circumstances--would have probably been the joker; instead the executioner was swinging a huge scythe and had tentacles coming out of its eye sockets. There was nothing we could do at this point as Alice fled from the madman, though she found her way to a white cake that read, "Eat me." After taking a bite, she transformed into a towering giant, and with a smirk, she squashed the surprised executioner beneath her enormous foot and walked off.

The visuals left a lasting impression. The art direction in Alice: Madness Returns is stunning, from the well-crafted environment to Alice's signature outfit. Her red dress pops out against the sepia-toned environment, and you'll notice that your surroundings, along with the enemies, are all accented with the same shade of crimson. At any point in time, you can easily step back and spend some time admiring the scenery as the choice of color against the earthy hue of the background makes for a nice painting. Amidst the gorgeous background, the gameplay was challenging, but we were told that the difficulty ramps up throughout the game at a steady pace and shouldn't have a steep increase until you get closer to the end. American McGee did mention that fans felt the combat was too flat in the first game, which is why it gave Alice more weapons to play with, as well as a variety of enemies that have weaknesses you need to find.

You don't want to mess with her.

Once you get the hang of the controls, Alice can deftly dodge attacks with the right bumper and chain attacks with her weapons. Switching weapons is only a matter of pressing the corresponding button, so it never feels like there is any delay when you want to change your strategy. We look forward to seeing more of the game, and it's not far away now because EA has announced that the game will ship for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on June 14.

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54 comments
kitty
kitty moderator

Will definitely be buying this on day one.

Sophia
Sophia

@yogyiscool - yes

yogyiscool
yogyiscool

Will this be a Mature rated game?

gavininco
gavininco

played the fist one many years ago and loved it. IMO was artisticly way ahead of its time. I hope they can keep the same atmosphere, while keeping up with modern gameplay. This is a good one to watch for.

noladem504
noladem504

Looks kick a$$. Def. gonna try this one.

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

Its coming out to look great on PC and I am excited.

LadyS0rcha
LadyS0rcha

@Bozanimal: I agree. I've lost track of how many people have asked to play my copy of the original game after seeing these videos. While playing the first game shouldn't be necessary, it might be helpful to those who're confused about the setup/backstory. Regardless, I can't wait for this game. It looks stunning.

kvan33
kvan33

Seems like everyone has their nostalga goggles on. The first Alice was a interesting romp, but GS gave it a 7.3 for good reason.

rann89
rann89

I'll probably buy it for my girlfriend. It actually looks a lot better than I thought it would.

Dorimant
Dorimant

With the art style that's being employed, it certainly looks like this one is going to be a beauty to behold. Even if the release date gets bumped up, I think the visuals alone will be worth the wait.

shanethewolf
shanethewolf

@rigzzy I think you'll find it applies to everyone and everything. lol. I just find the combat very cliched and looks too much like mindless button mashing. That's fine for games aimed at adolescents, but using classic ltierature as reference (as with Dante's Inferno) feels wasted on a younger audience.

rigzzsy
rigzzsy

@shanethewolf things like gravity don't tend to play an important part to someone gone insane, i think it looks excellent

shanethewolf
shanethewolf

@kaem79 I agree. It was the same problem with Dante's Inferno. Those flashing effects make these mature and dark games look very childish. I also hate the total disregard for gravity, like how characters hover in the air when they're fighting.

shanethewolf
shanethewolf

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

x_Xarion_x
x_Xarion_x

I can't wait for this, the first one was so good

FolkIore
FolkIore

The combat reminds me of Folklore (not my name its a game for ps3).

FolkIore
FolkIore

i want this more then anything it looks amazing.

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

I'd like to see EA make the original Freeware to drum up additional publicity for this sequel. I already own the original, but it'd give a lot of people wondering what Madness is all about a chance to enjoy its predecessor.

Gomtor
Gomtor

also cant wait. Hope it is as good or better as no 1.

irwin88
irwin88

Looks good but i'll have to wait for the reviews....... :)

Bowser05
Bowser05

I can't wait. I loved the first one to death.

packtop
packtop

Seem like a really interesting game but EA -_- Depend if they don't announce to many DLC before the release i will buy the game.

juliano001
juliano001

I played the first one long time ago. Loved the fantastic and crazy scenarios. Will buy this sequel for sure.

megakick
megakick

guess its better then dante's enferno and will have a larger audience, same genre different ip.

sensei_hEnRY
sensei_hEnRY

I'm really curious with American McGee's Alice series. Missed the first game but i'll definitely get this one

Setho10
Setho10

@littleboomer - I don't think his name has anything to do with the games he makes. Man can't help his name.

OverlordEX
OverlordEX

Absolutely CAN NOT WAIT for this one.

Rickystickyman
Rickystickyman

@kaem79 yeah you're right there is no blood *looks at the bloody monsters and the twisted deformed world* You must be joking right?

NoDzombie
NoDzombie

june 14th, that means it will most likely be a june 17th release here in UK and since thats my birthday im thinking that buying this would be the perfect present for myself, loved the first game, cant wait for this

littleboomer
littleboomer

American McGee? I will never buy a game from a guy named American McGee

Vozlov
Vozlov

@Skullcandy: McGee is better than Burton? One is a game designer the other is a film director. Wtf? Anyway this is looking more and more promising as time goes on.

santinegrete
santinegrete

June of this year? Didn't expect it that soon. Putting it under my radar.

Skullcandy
Skullcandy

Looking forward to this game. McGee is better than Burton and focuses his imagination towards gaming. I am always a loyal fan.

nooblet69
nooblet69

Never thought they'd revisit this amazing series. Will definitely be a first day buy for me.

nevershoutnevea
nevershoutnevea

im so buying it :] ... i hope they wont messed it up..im looking for it

kaem79
kaem79

why is there a flashy light when she hits something,where there should be blood? remove the blood and I will definitively won't buy this game..... stupid EA and there dumb down, childish games...

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

@aj_marquez - The original question from user NeverMore0 was, "Trying to figure out who the target audience is for this game, but I just can't." People that enjoy the things I mentioned are more likely to enjoy Alice, by my estimation, but it is certainly not limited to those audiences. I'd certainly be surprised if Guillermo del Toro wasn't preordering this one. ;) All I'm saying is that not only is there an audience, it's a big one.

Quadster
Quadster

I was a huge fan of American McGee's Alice, and i can really see myself buying this. I'm going to have to replay Alice before i play Madness returns just for the nostalgia trip

aj_marquez
aj_marquez

@Bozanimal I'm sure you don't need to like any of those things to like this game. I hate Tim Burton and all of his movies with a passion, considered Pan's Labyrinth an ok movie, The Dark Chystal was extremely childish for me and I haven't seen Mirrmormask; yet I loved the first Alice and am very interested in this one. Just saying.

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

@DennisWZH - If you're wondering how it's going to play, consider the original Alice review. It's a pretty straightforward platformer - McGee says as much in this interview - with some unique weapons and an interesting story loosely following the original Alice In Wonderland as interpreted by its predecessor. Look for a heavy focus on art direction and Mario-like puzzles in this follow-up.

madsnakehhh
madsnakehhh

Looking great so far, for this game i got the first one and i was pleased, i can't wait for this one.

DennisWZH
DennisWZH

still waiting to see just what this game is about, at first i thought it's horror action, but now it looks more like just action.