Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Alice: Madness Returns

The death of Alice's family returns to haunt her in Alice: Madness Returns. This time around we get to see the bleak real world as well, though it merely functions as carrying the story forward between chapters. The actual action still happens in the colorful Wonderland.

The game uses the popular Unreal Engine 3, which gives it the potential to look way better than American McGee's Alice did. And it does but I feel that they did not use every possible trick available. Like there does not seem to be much of anti-aliasing. Many things look quite edgy and bare. Maybe it is because I have been playing the Crysis games lately that have all manner of stuff scattered about.

Textures could have been of higher quality as well. Alice and effects look pretty, though. Alice's dress actually changes throughout the game to suit the part of Wonderland she is in. I really liked that. My favorite one was the steampunk-themed Steamdress in the first chapter.

But more important than the graphics is the gameplay. And the gameplay is good; it has been greatly improved from the first game. Alice can now do mid-air jumps and float, making platforming less precise and more forgiving. Not that it made me suddenly the master of it. Luckily, falling into the void only puts you back on the nearest solid piece of terrain.

Frustration is gone from the combat as well. Aiming melee attacks feels effortless and mooks will not suddenly break your melee combo to stagger you. Ranged combat, on the other hand, is maybe even too easy with target-locking/focus mode. Alice can also dodge now by transforming into a cloud of beautiful butterflies. While it quite will not interrupt a long melee animation you are in, it is otherwise very responsive and can be spammed to travel invulnerable past (not through, sadly) enemy packs.

The default mouse sensitivity was way too high and I was slightly surprised when adjusting it actually did something. I have found that in obviously meant-for-consoles games the setting often does not do anything for me. Previously I had that happen in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. One gets used to it after awhile but I would still rather have working setting sliders. Otherwise the options menu did not have much to adjust, as one would expect.

The amount of weapons had been reduced to four: the vorpal blade, hobby horse (slow melee weapon), pepper grinder (machine gun), and teapot cannon (grenade launcher). They all handle very nicely, however. Especially the hobby horse feels particularly meaty when the third attack slams on the ground, very much like the thunder hammer in Space Marine. The weapons can also be improved up to four times with the teeth found in the game, changing their appearance (with the exception of the vorpal blade) each time. Another feature I quite like. There is also a clockwork bomb, but it is mostly just a distraction in combat and mainly used for holding pressure plates down.

Enemy variety was nice. Each chapter has its own unique opponents, while some types are encountered everywhere. Some require a special tactic to take down most efficiently. Discovering the proper approach was quite satisfying.

Alice: Madness Returns has one piece of DLC, a dress and weapon pack. It comes packed with the PC version of the game, though you have to manually enable it by editing one .ini file. Also, using the DLC dresses and weapons is questionable, as they do more than just have different appearances.

The effect of the dresses and weapons range from handy to outright overpowered. The Fleshmaiden dress, for instance, allows you to use Hysteria at will when it is normally only usable for a duration when dropping to one rose of health.

While in Hysteria, Alice does extra damage and is invulnerable, thus there goes all the challenge from combat if you can use it all the time. Enemies will nor drop teeth under the effect, though, so maybe it is better for a New Game+ on Nightmare difficulty. Then again, if you are using the alternate weapons, upgrading them might not be that important. +50% damage dealt and -50% damage taken? Right-o.

American McGee's version of Alice is very charming and much to my liking. I think she makes an excellent character for an action platformer and Wonderland a great setting, at least when it is this macabre. Even if much of it is just pure nonsense. Mr. McGee's plans of making the next game an episodic one evidently were not met that well by EA, however. Something has been going on lately, though. Maybe we will see another sequel yet, under the name of Alice: Otherlands. This one, at least, was quite swell, in my opinion.

Also, on a somewhat related note; I usually watch the end credits, even though, especially in EA's games, they tend to be rather long. First come the developer company's people -- and that list is fairly short. They are followed by EA's bosses, then their marketing folk around the world, often listed under different subtitle, because two to four people per region is apparently enough for that. And then a whole lot of QA staff.

What struck me as odd in AMR's credits, was how there were people from half a dozen different '(3D Art)' companies. Why the heck Spicy Horse needed to outsource art to so many different places? And did the profits from this one game really pay the wages for all those people? Riddle me this, indeed.

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