In the year 2000 the titular Alice saved her sanity in American McGee's Alice, a critically-lauded, action-based re-telling of the famous 1865 Alice In Wonderland novel by Lewis Carroll. American McGee, the game’s director, put a violent, unusual spin on the tale, helping the game stand far apart from the ‘me too’ titles of the age, which resulted in it selling over 1.5 million copies.
Following a couple of aborted attempts at a sequel, Electronic Arts announced in 2009 that American McGee and his Shanghai-based development studio, Spicy Horse, were working on a direct follow-up that would continue the tale.
Having reclaimed her sanity in the original game, Alice was released from Rutledge's Insane Asylum and into the care of a psychiatrist at a group home for orphaned children in Victorian-era London, which is where the sequel, Alice: Madness Returns, begins. Now eleven years on, Alice, who had been living a life of relative normalcy, begins to experience hallucinations and vivid memories relating to the death of her parents, deemed to have been begun by a clumsy cat in the first game. As Alice’s sanity begins to crumble she dives back down the rabbit hole once more to discover the truth and fix her broken mind.
The world of Wonderland, now more warped and deranged than ever, calls for a more violent approach from Alice, which in turn requires bigger and better weapons and brand new abilities. Being a story-led game that dazzles with its madness, we won’t spoil the game’s surprises, or even the tools that it gives you, but needless to say, they’re all a bit bizarre.
Graphically, Alice uses Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, and as such is on par with other recent titles, but if you have a PhysX-compatible graphics card you’ll be able to experience a huge variety of extra, immersion-adding effects. From realistically floating bubbles in the background, to accurately falling leaves, there are a range of subtle effects that greatly enhance Wonderland and its whimsy.
In the foreground, PhysX is used to enhance nearly every aspect of Alice Madness: Returns. Weapons gain extra particle effects, making them ‘feel’ beefier, and in the case of Alice’s heavy melee weapon, the environment is realistically deformed and destroyed with each impact, whereas with PhysX off there is no visible change whatsoever. Enemies on death coat the environs with particles and their remains, and one of Alice’s most common enemies deposits black goop on the ground when hit, which Alice can then realistically run through and disperse. Explosions and in-game events are similarly enhanced, and while some of the enhancements may not seem significant, their loss is instantly noticed with PhysX disabled.