Alice: Madness Returns Exclusive Preview

We venture into the Mad Hatter's domain to get a glimpse of Alice's distorted Wonderland.


Alice: Madness Returns

It wasn't too long ago that we paid a visit to Wonderland and spent some time getting to know some of the twisted creatures that reside in that fantastical world. Creative director American McGee and executive producer RJ Berg once again team up in this sequel to the cult classic American McGee's Alice, which is being developed by McGee's studio Spicy Horse in Shanghai and published by EA. During the week of the Game Developers Conference we jumped ahead and took a tour of a later level, Queensland. For more information, you can read our preview here. EA recently came by our office to show us a new level, this time from Chapter 1, where we can see the beginnings of Alice's dark descent into madness.

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The Hatter's domain is one of the first areas you'll visit after the tutorial stage. Here, judging by the color palette and decor, there's a distinct steam punk vibe to the area that has been carefully crafted in Alice's troubled mind. And that's where Wonderland exists, in the mind of the young girl who lost her family 10 years ago. The game's story follows Alice between Victorian London and Wonderland as she tries to piece together lost memories and dig deeper into her repressed ones. As you explore Wonderland, you can pick up two types of memories: the smaller audio snippets are suppressed voices from her past, and when you come across a larger memory, Alice will have an epiphany regarding the events from that devastating night.

In the beginning you won't have access to all the weapons. However, we were able to mess around with Alice's full repertoire to see how it works in combat. For the most part, we preferred using Alice's vorpal blade, which deals quick melee strikes. But each enemy type has a weakness, so it's almost impossible to get through by just mashing one button. The long-range weapons, such as the fast-firing pepper grinder and the explosive teapot cannon, are great for getting enemies out of the way before you get too close. The auto-lock-on feature is helpful, but there is a free aim mode as well if you prefer to maneuver on your own. The first enemies we faced were the Mad Caps. These gremlin-like creatures were relatively easy to dispose of, except some came armed with a shield that would deflect our repeated blows. By watching how they move, however, you'll soon learn that they'll come at you fully with their fork, and if you dodge out of the way, it'll leave them wide open to your attacks. Another enemy type included flying creatures known as bolterflies (basically bolts with wings), which spawn from a nest repeatedly and do nothing but get in your way. Taking out the hive will clear them for good, but you have to watch for these things and think carefully about how to proceed.

On top of being able to wield a variety of deadly kitchenware, Alice can dodge quickly and jump multiple times, leaving a flurry of pretty blue butterflies in her wake. Once she comes across the shrink flower, she can shrink on command and explore areas for collectibles and other goodies. The insane children have left clues on the walls, so it pays to look around to see what has been scrawled. Like the drawings, certain platforms are visible only in this shrunken state. You'll find that enemies will leave behind teeth, which is the currency in the game that will let you upgrade your weapons--up to four times each. It's worth taking the extra time to explore, since there are "drink me" bottles to collect that will unlock concept art and additional bios in the main menu, giving you more character backstory.

Real world themes will make their way into the twisted Wonderland.
Real world themes will make their way into the twisted Wonderland.

As you progress through this murder mystery, you'll venture through beautifully painted worlds, each with its own unique style and art direction. Alice's outfit and hobbyhorse change as you go, to match with the overall aesthetic. Even the enemies themselves match the surroundings, and as twisted as they are, the detail and creativity behind them is worth noting. There are four difficulty settings in the game, and while we played the game on normal, it provided a decent challenge, especially when we spent a good amount of time figuring out which weapon to use against what enemy. It's much more tactical than a straight-up button masher because if you treat it as such, you won't get very far. The platforming portions aren't too tough once you get used to how Alice jumps and glides around. To really get an idea of how the game plays and looks, be sure to watch the video preview embedded above.

Alice: Madness Returns looks to make quite a comeback with its stunning visuals and varied gameplay. We are eager to spend more time in Wonderland and uncover all of its secrets when it is released on June 14 for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

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