Platform: Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Publisher:Electronic Arts Release Date: 17 June 2011 (Europe)
Believe it or not, it’s been 11 years since we were last allowed to enter American McGee’s warped take on Alice in Wonderland. The story of Madness Returns kicks off ten years after the last game, with Alice released from the Rutledge Asylum but still struggling to cope with the mental trauma caused by death of her parents in a house fire. To that end, Madness Returns sees Alice literally battling her demons in an effort to remember the events of that night and accept it.
The obvious question, though, is why have we had to wait so long for the next instalment? We talked to American McGee himself, who explained that ‘I left EA after we finished the first game and... it wasn’t until I had moved to Shanghai and built a studio there that was capable of realising the vision and building a quality product that we could really get started on it again. So, it was just a matter of waiting it out and making it happen.’
According to McGee, Madness Returns is 'a narrative sequel to the first game, so it picks up where the last game led off, which is that Alice had fought her psychological demons and managed to free herself from the asylum. [Madness Returns] picks up a year after her release from the Asylum. She’s dealt with the emotional fallout of the first game - the death of her family - but she still hasn’t solved the mystery of exactly what happened that night. So, moving between London and Wonderland this time, she’s piecing together that night and the events that led to the death of her family.’
This idea of piecing together a mystery was clear to see from our play-time. Hidden rooms and areas held glowing objects to collect, such as memories or clues. A menu screen presents all the clues and memories - most of which are pretty vague - but we couldn’t tell whether we had to collect them all, or whether we’d have to solve some kind of logic puzzle with whatever clues we'd gathered to complete a level, or the game itself.
It's no Beauty and the Beast
As well as wandering around in Wonderland, McGee revealed that parts of the game would be set in London, where Alice is released from the Asylum into the care of a psychiatrist. ‘One of the questions in the game is really about Alice’s mind - really about "how mad is she still?", so where London starts off feeling fairly solid and like a real place, as you move through the game you’ll start to see that it's coming apart at the edges, and Wonderland starts to bleed over into London.
But it’s not a game really about London; we really spend a very small amount of time there and use London as a vehicle for her to have encounters with some of the real-world characters that matter to her. Like with the first game, she’s using Wonderland as a tool, by which she’s able to piece together the things that happened and explore her mind.’
Madness Returns is firmly set in the Wonderland of the original game too, so you won’t find any clues by reading Alice Through the Looking Glass. ‘Being that it’s a narrative sequel, there are a lot of characters that come back - people know the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts and Card Guards - they’re all back again.
We’ve also been able to inject a wide range of new characters in London, characters who fill out the story of her past. Also, in Wonderland we’re introducing a lot of new characters, both by way of enemies and also the major characters that play a role in the final domains of Wonderland.’ There’s continuity too - the Queen of Hearts domain was wrecked in the original game and it’s still a wreck in Madness Returns.