Chasing small furry animals down alley ways and rabbit holes remains a vice for poor Alice, her mind yearning for an escape from reality. What creatures can she dream up this time? – nothing too pleasant it seems. Join us as we review Alice: Madness Returns on the PC and see what dark depravities Spicy Horse came up with in this sequel.
The environments are pretty, detailed, fantastical, but the gameplay can only be summed up as ‘console’. We’re big on PC gaming here at Techgage, but as is common practice, we are regularly setup for disappointment. I personally have no problem with controlling a third-person camera with a mouse. Running around with WASD is fine too – second nature even.
On-screen prompts help guide you through the rest of the controls though, with the odd reminder every now and then telling you to dodge when some unpleasant flying bolt latches itself onto you. For the most part, the prompts are of relevance and are helpful, although they can stick around for a while. The problem comes later when certain actions were not converted over from its console heritage, leaving you bewildered when you need to press X to continue…
The number of controls and their placement with which they are lumped upon the PC crowd for this release are truly awful though, and guaranteed to instill RSI, carpel-tunnel and permanent disfigurement upon your left hand.
The real problem is the haphazard nature of the target lock. You aim at the abomination in the distance, press Caps Lock and target the overgrown slug that’s closer to you, shifting the camera focus off the steamy pile of engine oil; you quickly press tab, shifting from other slugs to slightly larger oil stains, until you eventually get hit with a large flaming boulder and die. So I tend to avoid using it when more than two critters be roaming. Speaking of death, it’s quick and over in a couple seconds, letting you get back into the action promptly.
The bread and butter of platformers is quite simple. Provide surfaces, often moving, with which to jump from and too; throw in some environmental distractions and/or death-traps; frustrate us with carefully timed and sometimes rhythm-based events; and give our brains something to ponder over between rampant switch-flicking.
Alice: Madness Returns delivers all of the above and… well, that’s it really. Move from point A to point B via 1, 2 and 3 with the odd switch to pull and monster to slay; all without plummeting to your death, drowning, or being cooked alive in lava. Then repeat for 12 hours.
Alright, so there is a little bit more to it than that. Using a clockwork bomb as a weight on pads and scales, shrinking to see hidden platforms, shrinking to run through small keyholes and jumping on the ever-present shrooms. The only physics based puzzles are those involving weight platforms; you stand on one, the other rises. Sometimes a destructible wall is thrown into the mix as well.
It’s the same puzzles thrown at you time and time again, but in a different order with a new skin. Sometimes you have to make greater use of invisible platforms, sometimes there are spikes or large crushing pistons to worry about, but it’s the same thing over and over.
Don’t get me wrong, the first couple hours of play are great, it’s a journey of exploration. The problem comes with the fact that it just takes forever to come across that next new experience. The environments change 4 or 5 times before the next mind-bender is thrown at you.
What keeps you going is that change in environment, what crazy and bewildering construct can they come up with next? With a game like this, any screenshot could be deemed a spoiler, but there are just some fantastic levels which you can explore later on, such as where the whole place is made from cards that fly in and out from under your feet, or one place that feels like your walking on the set of Nine Inch Nails’ Closer video.
That exploration is fueled by that infamous pastime, gathering. Searching for memories which spring quotes on you from some of the characters important to Alice’s life (both good and bad). The more you collect, the more you unlock, such as various special weapon bonuses and costumes.
Occasionally, a curve ball is thrown at you, leaving you wondering what the hell happened. There a numerous mini-games dotted around the place, too. Some are simple, others not so much. From benign slider puzzles to full on 2D side scrollers, you never know what to expect when you go through that next door.
Read on for our final, if not confused thoughts.