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Alice: Madness Returns preview

It's been 11 years since American McGee's Alice last made her way into her dark and twisted version of Wonderland. Since then, she's grown up a bit, moved out of Ruledge Asylum, which held her when she first lost her parents to a mysterious fire and fell into madness, and is now seeing a psychiatrist to deal with her deep emotional trauma. Upon leaving the Asylum, the hallucinations that tormented her through the first game return.

Wonderland has traditionally been a refuge for her, so she heads back into the bizarre and beautiful land. Unfortunately, just like in the first game, her madness has invaded the formerly wonderful world, leaving it as a crumbling and corrupted shell of its former self. In order to restore both Wonderland and her sanity, she must figure out exactly what happened to her parents on that fiery night.

Alice doesn't remember much of the night in question. So, as she makes her way through familiar lands, she's on the lookout for various clues and memories to explain what exactly happened. We saw her pick up a pair of glasses, which led to a quiet whisper from her psychiatrist asking where she had gone in her own head. Memories will range from everything from simple voice messages like that to images to full-on cutscenes showing exactly what happened in her lost memories. Eventually, she'll be able to reveal memories that she had surprised about her parents' gruesome demise and, hopefully, restore her sanity to the early days.

Alice makes her way through Wonderland in a fairly typical 3D platformer style, with a few subtle changes. In our demo, there were moments where gaps seemed uncrossable until Alice shrunk down to her shrinking potion stature and was able to see the purple crayon-esque outlines of previously invisible platforms marking her way, left by the "Insane Children" from her asylum that apparently found their way to Wonderland. These tips also reveal hidden objects and doors where Alice can find memories and other clues to her past.

Once she made it across the invisible platforms, she was forced to fight a group of the Queen of Hearts' subjects, now corrupted by Alice's madness. Bolstered by her previous experiences in this sort of thing, Alice is a capable fighter. Plus, her weaponry is quite Wonderland appropriate, which we're sure helps quite a bit. Her trademark Vorpal blade makes its return, acting as the primary melee weapon in Alice's arsenal.

Filling out her weapon slots include the Hobby Horse, a mallet made out of a rocking horse, the Teapot Cannon, which acts as a shotgun, and the Pepper Grinder, a machine gun. Finally, because there had to be a White Rabbit somewhere in the demo (this is Wonderland, after all), the timed mine/decoy Mechanical Bunny can be used to distract enemies while you clobber their buddies.

In typical American Mcgee fashion, Alice's enemies are bastardized versions of well-known characters. The Cards Alice faced in our demo were torn apart, had holes ripped out of them, and were generally mangled by the darkness overcoming the land. Their weaknesses tended to relate to this corruption, as some had weak spots where the darkness had most overtaken them.

Some had bright, glowing weak spots on their backs and needed to be turned around in order to be hit, while others had flimsy armor that fell apart upon the deflection of one of their dark projectiles. Alice made pretty easy work of all of them, but we weren't expecting these drones to stand much of a chance against her veritable armory of weaponry.

And then the Executioner showed up. As massive Card compiled of bits and pieces of other cards, we couldn't tell what suit he was, much less look for any weak spots on his body. His rapidly spinning axe forced Alice to run away as quickly as possible deep into the Queen's gardens. Fortunately for her and her desire to keep her head, she turned a corner and discovered a familiar item: a cake with the words EAT ME written beside it. Of course, this caused her to grow into the size of the house, allowing her to easily stomp the Executioner to death in one comically brutal motion.

It's that sort of darkness that we expect from American McGee, and Alice: Madness Returns looks to live up to those expectations. His twisted vision of Wonderland, combined with simple and enjoyable gameplay combine for a strangely charming experience that will hopefully be just as well-loved as its predecessor.

Mar 8, 2011