Did Alice really burn her own family to death as a child? We presume not, but who knows? She is completely, utterly mad, and as 10 years in an asylum and round-after-round of vintage therapy sessions have proven useless, only the memories she recovers in Wonderland can reveal the truth.
Above: The truth is back in Wonderland... if only it would stay so lush and friendly
We’ve played the first section of Alice: Madness Returns, in which Alice returns to the Hatter’s Domain to see what has become of Wonderland since her stay in the loony bin. If you want to approach the game fresh, note that there are light spoilers ahead… mwahahahaha! MADNESS!
The incorrigible Alice may be coolly dismissive of her situation, but the gooey, black corruption devouring her life isn’t easily shrugged off. First of all, she’s poor and insane (sane folk aren’t often attacked on the streets of London by men with rat faces and bug eyes), and on top of that, she’s being blackmailed by the grotesque Nurse Witless.
The hideous nurse took Alice off the streets (where she’d otherwise be “selling her backside”) after she was released from ten years in Rutledge Asylum. But Witless’ services came with a catch. “All died on my account, I couldn’t save you,” Alice once uttered of the fire which killed her family when she was a child. Witless overheard Alice’s delusional words, and now sells her silence to the pitiful girl.
“Come along home, then, and look at my pigeons. Pretty birds… like you,” says Nurse Witless to a frazzled Alice in a London alleyway. Why so frazzled? Just before the nurse appeared, Alice gave chase to a stray cat (she admits she has a problem with chasing furry animals), which led her to the dark alley where she was encircled by a gang of Jabberwock-faced men (see Sir John Tenniel's original depiction of the Jabberwock for an idea) intent, it appeared, on devouring her. They disappeared just in time, and were replaced by Witless’ no-less-cruel mug.
Powerless, Alice follows the nurse to her rooftop, where she keeps her “pretty birds.” Alice is on edge... so on edge that in the midst of the nurse’s cruelty, she too transforms into a toothy, winged beast. Alice's only escape is down, and through a fissure in reality, she plummets into Wonderland again.
“When you’re not on edge, you’re taking up too much space,” says the cruel-faced, riddle-happy Cheshire Cat. Aside from the feline meddler, Wonderland is looking quite nice. Domino stepping stones and clear-as-air waterfalls are scattered through the lush, candy-colored Vale of Tears. It's only unsettling that Alice herself – or a statue of her – is the one eternally sobbing out the forest's glassy river of tears.
There’s even a slide – like the “big slide in Hyde Park,” which Alice recalls her sister describing. But why is the ride peppered with loose teeth…?
Were it not for Alice’s madness, things might have stayed so pretty, and her tears may not have turned to blood. Even corrupted, however, the environments of Madness Returns are sumptuously grand, detailed and often colorful (or just blood red).
“I’ve not come back here looking for a fight,” says Alice as she examines the edge of the Vorpal Blade with her fingertip.
“That’s a pity, one’s certainly looking for you,” replies the Cheshire Cat.
Doll-faces animated by the gooey corruption rise from the ground, goblin-like Madcaps attack with spoons and forks, and looking for a fight or not, Alice responds by slicing their heads off, and blood coats Wonderland.
There’s still some beauty in the world… Alice, largely. Her dress and hair flow with the wind, and she jumps and floats with perfect grace. As a fork-wielding Madcap thrusts his weapon at her, she evaporates into beautiful blue butterflies, and he jabs his weapon into the dirt. It sticks, and off goes another head. More gore.
In the previous build we played, Alice’s butterfly dodge ability seemed to need a bit of recharge, but she’s now apparently able to use it freely, which is helpful. Additionally, time very slightly slows down in the midst of an enemy’s lunge, giving the player a better chance at evading the attack. This is especially important later, when Alice is confronted with many enemies at once.
Things got ugly in the Vale of Tears, but they’re even uglier in the Hatter’s Domain. Alice did leave him in "a decrepit condition" the last time they met, so what can she expect? Perhaps not that his teatime companions, the March Hare and Dormouse, apparently intent on destroying Wonderland, would leave his decapitated head to rot as they corrupted the ‘Looking Glass Line’ - the train which runs through Wonderland.
“The world is upside down, Alice. Inmates run the asylum – no offense. And worst of all… I’m left teeeeeaaa-less,” whines the Mad Hatter, who not only lacks limbs, but is pitifully without his own namesake – his hat.