My Alice: Madness Returns First Impressions

June 17, 2011

 

Shooter fatigue has set in for me.  After playing through Call of Duty Black Ops’ single player campaign amongst other various shooters, I need a break from them.  Not really being a fan of the series (and after playing some of Alice 1, not a fan of that particular game) Alice: Madness Returns was an opportunity for me to play an IP that would be new to me as well as something that doesn’t involve military cover ups or moments that promise consequences of dude bro-like proportions.

The game’s reviews have been all over the place so I didn’t know what to expect.  Initially, the game doesn’t make a big first impression from a visual perspective.  The first initial area you are in has a few muddy textures and the typical Unreal 3 jank of textures popping in and out.  A lot of that changes when you finally are outside in the streets of London.  The world substantially comes to life with vendors selling things on the street and people walking around the world doing various things.  This intro portion to the game is a slow burn for sure where you aren’t even allowed to jump, which is kind of weird for a platformer.  Still I understand the reason the approach was taken and it makes sense within the context of the story.

I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to state that Alice ends up in Wonderland.  This is where the game feels like a breath of fresh air.  Just like People Can Fly and Bulletstorm before it, Spicy Horse does a wonderful job of differentiating the game’s look from what you come to expect from a game that has Unreal 3 running under its hood.  The vistas are beautiful, the art direction dark and unique, and the color palette bright and colorful.  More than anything I was impressed that they were able to give the game a dark look without feeling like something that came out of a 1990’s Todd McFarlane comic.  It’s safe to assume that the game will have a dark and “edgy” look to it simply based on the series but it does a great job of displaying that look without feeling derivative of that approach.  Despite the fact that the texture work can be inconsistent at times, the great art direction more than makes up for it.

Enough about graphics, how does the game play?  I’m happy to say that it plays nothing like Alice 1.  The game does offer a double jump with a float mechanic and it feels really good for the most part.  I didn’t have a big problem judging distances, falling, or dying repeatedly once I got used to the jump mechanics of the game.

The one issue I did come across is that the camera can be a little spotty at times, but does a better job than a lot of platformers out there.  The only time it’s given me any kind of trouble is when you are cornered by multiple enemies in a small space, but that could very well be situational since I think most games have camera problems when put in that sitation.  The game has yet to give me camera problems while platforming.

The combat in the game is streamlined and simple so far with a butcher knife for melee and a pepper grinder gun for shooting.  The lock on feature in the game is VERY generous for those that aren’t good at aiming while the game still offers you the ability to shoot manually if you enjoy lining up shots for yourself.  I found myself switching between both and enjoying them about the same.

Although the combat is on the simple side, it works great for this type of game where the combat isn’t the main focus.  The knife works nicely and you can string up a simple combo and can use a dodge maneuver to either slide behind enemies to make the killing blow, or just give yourself some breathing room if you get overwhelmed by enemies.  The pepper grinder is very effective against flying enemies as well as enemies that are off in the distance although it overheats a bit too quickly.  You can upgrade both of these weapons, so I’m assuming that a faster cool down time for the pepper grinder will be one of the upgrades.

The game does have a wealth of collectibles for you to search for between pig snouts (which help open up new paths in the environment), memories (think audio logs like in Bioshock) that help flesh out some of your backstory, bottles (which I’m honestly not sure what they do yet, LOL), and teeth (which act as the games currency to purchase upgrades).  Although it sounds like there’s an overwhelming amount of things to collect, the game hasn’t gone out of its way to tuck any of it away yet (at least not yet).

The soundtrack to the game has been really great so far.  The music fits right in the with mood and atmosphere of the game, and there’s a few tracks that stand out even now after I stopped playing the game.  Sound effects are well done and the pepper grinder has some real bass to it which gives it a good feeling of power.

I’m only a few hours in so some of my opinion could very well change, but I’m really enjoying my time with AMR.  It’s refreshing to not only play something that’s not a shooter by nature, but also something that stands out in a genre that’s not used to having M-rated games in its ranks.

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