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Alice: Madness Returns

Alice: Madness Returns is a very chilly, twisted, and definitely not a child’s game. With over 20+ hours of gameplay, Alice: Madness Returns turned out to be one of the most enjoyable games we’ve played so far.

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Introduction

When the original American McGee’s Alice was released back in October of 2000, gamers were introduced to a completely new and horrifying concepts of the Wonderland inside a human mind. With the graphics having changed for the better, the plot of the intriguing and twisted Wonderland can now unwind further.

To complement an already outstanding game, the sequel Alice: Madness Returns was released on June 14, 2011. Today, we will take a closer look at this continuation and see whether it is truly worth the price. The retail price is currently $49.99 on Origin, but could be cheaper with special promotions.

Falling back on the basic concept introduced in American McGee’s Alice, the Wonderland’s state is highly dependent upon well-being of Alice. Traumatized by the fire that  orphaned her at an early age, Alice has had a tough time coping with the tragedy. No matter how hard she tried to forget, the inability to remember has thrust her into madness. Recurrent hallucinations induced by a constant stress from the harsh real world have not only changed Alice, but also directly impacted Wonderland. Under the burden of corruption and a new foe, Wonderland is bound to crumble into ruins. To save Wonderland, Alice will have to save herself, and “while the disease is apparent only time will show it’s symptoms and it’s cure”.

Gameplay

Alice: Madness Returns offers extremely diverse gameplay, featuring not only basic hack and slash, but gameplay designed in such a way that each unit in the game requires it’s own unique strategy in order to be defeated. While the user is provided with a total of 4 weapons, the combinations in which they can be used along with the dodge and block offer quite a bit of diversity to the combat. However, the combos for each individual weapon are rather limited and do need to be combined with others in order to effectively subdue your opponents.  The game itself is loaded with secret features that can be unlocked by playing on varying difficulties of the game, as well as finding hidden passages in the game itself. After beating the game for the first time, the user will most likely be surprised by the amount of content that has not been unlocked after the first run through the game.  The amount of mini-game elements, designed to distract the player from the basic gameplay, is also surprisingly diverse. The player will have to complete several puzzles as well as some not so challenging DDR mini-games in order to move on with the game. Altogether an average run through the scenario is estimated to be roughly about 20 hours with all of the mini-games and challenges, but may vary upon the difficulty.

Click Image For a Larger One

Weaponry

Throughout the game the player will have access to four different weapons. Each of the weapons has four upgrades that can be updated by picking up teeth (the point system in Alice:Madness Returns).Let’s take a closer look at the weaponry:

Vorpal Blade: The bread and butter of any Alice game. The Vorpal Blade is a swift and devastating weapon that allows for Alice to quickly deliver hits without hindering the dodge ability that is crucial in this game.

  • Upgrades: Significantly increase the attack speed as well as damage of the weapon and is a “must have” as soon as possible.

Pepper Grinder: The nemesis of anything that has eyes. Originally introduced to you as a long range weapon to pepper “pig snouts”, this weapon also has outstanding melee combat capabilities. The only downside is the aim, but that can be compensated with an auto-target function.

  • Upgrades: Increases the rate of fire and the amount of shots that can be fired until the pepper grinder overheats. The priority of upgrading of this weapon depends on the player’s gameplay.

Hobby Horse: A little toy that packs a punch. This weapon is the equivalent of a double-handed mace designed to shatter armor of your enemies as well as breaking a few teeth while at it. The weapon is provided in Chapter 2. The Hobby Horse is an outstanding close combat choice for anyone that does not like to deal with shielded foes, and powerful enough to substitute for the Pepper Grinder at mid-range.

  • Upgrades: Alter combination attacks (stops at 3rd advancement) and drastically increase damage. Third combo attack is absolutely devastating and is perfect for the foes that lay on the ground.

Tea Pot: A rather controversial weapon combining the ancient Japanese traditional green tea with the explosive power of a bazooka . Not suitable for just any “tea party”. While lacking on the longer range, this is an ultimate weapon against any foe. The shot can be charged to extend the rage of the weapon, increase the area of effect of the shot and the damage delivered.

  • Upgrades: Increase the amount of charges that can be released before the tea pot overheats as well as provides additional damage to the weapon.

The Weapons’ Screen for upgrading Alice’s Weapons from collected Teeth.

Enemies

Note: Enemy Pictures not necessarily in order

There are a total of 74 enemies that can be faced throughout the storyline, but the amount the types of foes you face vary depending upon the level difficulty. Here is a list of some of the most basic foes and strategies for defeating them. (Their descriptions are taken directly out of the game)

Insidious Ruin- An unnatural hostile combination of ruined mechanical parts vomits pollution and slashes through the much it dispenses. A mindless, industrial disease, it oozes grease and organic slime and wields dangerous weapon. Its unseemly sound and noisome stench completes its menacing aura. An awful head adds to its revolting appearance.  Strategy in facing: Can be approached directly and very simple to dispose of with vorpal blade.

Bolterfly- What pass for fauna in the Hatter’s Domain resemble winged cross bow bolts. The nest in the now wrecked machinery, of which they’re very protective. They become fractious when disturbed, and for dumb “creatures” they’re annoying resourceful. Strategy in facing: Merely dodge or change your size to avoid these creates. The priority is the mechanical nest that will keep producing these bolterflies until it is destroyed.

Madcaps-The erstwhile guardians of the Domain appear to be armed with outsized versions of Hatter’s household cuttlery. Hatter was never particularly discriminating in his guest list, but I never imagined he had giants for tea. Like many long-time retainers, their loyalty has outlasted thier usefulness and their sense. Still, this “old guard, can be dangerous. Strategy in facing: Watch out for their attack, and go on offensive once the attack is performed. Madcaps without shield do a 360 degree attack, while shielded madcaps tend to smite the ground. Best method of the evasion is a simultaneous jump and dodge behind the foe.

Slithering Ruin- Ruined and repulsive, this reckless waste of protoplasm has a much in common with maggots and leeches as it does with slimy garden slugs. Secretive by nature; surprisingly aggressive when cornered. Strategy in approaching: While the weakest foe in the game, these slimes are an outstanding source of health while facing against stronger foes.

Eyepot- These ornately-crafted beasts, once the pride of the Hatter’s table, seem destined for scrap. Understandably they’re shirty., unsociable, bloody angry- and dangerous. Because the eye is obviously vulnerable, they fire scalding projectiles afar. But they’re not cowards. Strategy in facing: Target the eye with any of the four weapons. Particularly susceptible to pepper grinder and hobby horse.

Menacing Ruin- A more perilous version of the Insidious Ruin. Every vile and depraved feature of the former has evolved to become more loathsome, foul, and hazardous in the latter. Who could have imagined it? Strategy in facing: Start by reflecting the projectiles to break off the ceramic arms. After the arms are gone, a close combat approach in most effective to break all of the masks.

Ice Shark- Sightless eyes do not inhibit this vile predator from ruling the tundra. Living flesh is no less at risk than carrion. While his parts seem mismatched his antenna provides protection and his teeth are lethally efficient. Strategy in facing: Use harder hitting weaponry in order to avoid these monsters from burrowing within the ice.

Cannon Crab- Well-armed, with great size, an impregnable carapace, and a self-declared “honorable” mission, this noble crustacean is a formidable foe. One may only hope it has a soft underbelly. Strategy in facing: Either use a hobby horse, or reflect the missiles in order to break off the cannon when sufficient enough damage is deliver the crab will flip over revealing vulnerable underbelly.

Drowned Sailor- Poor souls are eternally conflicted. Necessity send them to the sea. The economy depends on them- but they do not profit; reluctant to sign on to a two-year voyage–they are Shanghaiedl complain about anything- they are lashed and put on short rations. They are even discouraged from learning how to swim. They trust none but themselves. Their shades do likewise. Strategy in facing: Either blow the bombs before they are about throw them or counter the underground attack. After they are materialized they will appear stunned and vulnerable to vorpal blade.

Colossal Ruins- An infinitely more powerful and undeniably more disgusting manifestation of the Menacing Ruin. What was formerly foul and detestable is heinous, even monstrous here. The RUIN seems relentless. It just keeps getting worse. Strategy in facing: Keep your distance and autolock on the masks. Once all but one mask remains the ruin with chase you with the flamethrower. After the chase the ruin will be fatigued leaving enough time for the player to destroy the final mask.

Samurai Wasp- ravagers, despoilers, and murderers, these self-proclaimed Samurai have corrupted the blameless and defenseless Origami Ants way of life. It’s a cruel lie. They’ve vilated the philosophy of that noble warrior class: “Bushido”. They’re merely expert killers who have expropriated the weapons of their namesake- sword, shield, and long-bow. Unlike true Samurai, they protect nothing, are loayl to nothing, and have no honor. Strategy in facing: Bash them with hobby horse from up close and spray with pepper grinding at the distance.

Samurai Ink Wasp- While not terribly clever, strong, or dangerous, there’s seemingly endless supply of soldiers available to support the Samurai’s mayhem. They remind me of Grubs. They’re unpleasantly alike. Strategy in facing: Same with bolterfly, take down to the ink stone and on by one they fall.

Drifting Ruin- another arrow in this abomination’s bulging quiver of mayhem. It moves faster, it’s bigger and it can fly! What’s next? Impregnability? Immortality? Who dreamed this up. Strategy in facing: Wait till the ruin shows his face and use long ranged weapon to either destroy it or knock it down to the ground.

Card Guard- Without weapons, the Queen’s reckless guards aren’t much more than “fodder”, in a fight. They were never really with their hands; but with current bout of clawing demands caution. There are so many of them! And they’re eager to give up their lives. Even dead, their corpora delecti and remnants can cause a problem. Strategy in facing: Can be easily taken out with direct approached, but when knocked down are best to be taken out with hobby horse.

Armored Card Guard- The wicked staff they carry makes them dangerous, but ponderous. Still, were their weapon to its target, they wouldn’t need speed to deliver the coup de grace. Strategy in facing: Dodge the attack and dash behind the guards destroy their hearts.

Executioner- With less intelligence and imagination than a wind-up toy, this brute does the bidding of the Queen. Her creature, its orders out of date, is certain to fall hard- when he falls. But until then, he’s much more than a heartache. Strategy in facing: RUN!!!!!

Doll Girl- The female of the species, so to speak, is equally objectionable. Their depraved maker played no favorites. Her voluminous clothing appears to conceal more than her body would demand. Strategy in facing: Target the bombs on the back of the doll and rip her part by part until the heart is destroyed.

Babies- The construct is a flying, vomiting, killing machine in the guise of four-legged female infant is certainly the proof of a diseased mind- if more proof is needed! Strategy in facing: Use tea pot to take her down with a single blow. Watch out for the explosion after the doll is dead.

Storyline

The story of Alice Liddell continues. Haunted by the memories of the fire that took away her family, Alice is desperately trying to forget and is eagerly collaborating with the psychiatrist. However, perhaps her memories are not the symptoms for the disease but rather it’s cause. The uncertainty of the reason as to why the fire started and the events that occurred carries more mystery than thought by the others. While Alice’s physician and nurse are convinced that Alice is the murderous pyromaniac that could have killed her family in “one of her episodes”, the facts point the other direction. The source of the fire is linked to the lamp that could have tipped over by accident. But is it truly so accidental or is there more to the mystery? The true mystery is that Alice’s sister Lizzie was the only one who did not respond to the burning fire. Was she truly asleep or is there perhaps more to it? While unable to find answers to all of these questions through the material evidence, there is still hope that Wonderland holds the keys to the Alice’s secret memories.

Unfortunately, Wonderland is no longer safe either. Due to the psychological treatment that Alice has been receiving, Wonderland has started to change. Perhaps defeating the Queen was not such a good idea, since it is possible that the Queen carries the answer to the ever present conundrum of what it is that started the fire. However, now Alice is faced with a far more superior foe, “The Train”, which threatens to destroy all of Wonderland. In order to stop The Train, Alice will have to go back to where it all began and find the keys in order to unlock her memory. While some of the memories may not be pleasant, it is in her horrors that she will remember the truth. With the wisdom of the Caterpillar and guidance of the Queen, Alice will be able to save Wonderland by the same “train” that was haunting her.

Performance

To test the performance of Alice: Madness Returns, we ran FRAPS and played the same part of the game several times to get an average reading for the graphics settings. We used one system, our main gaming system, which is described below in the specifications table. We ran the game at different resolutions and settings to address the system specifications for Alice: Madness Returns. It is important to not that the game has a maximum FPS limit set when you first start the game. This setting cannot be disabled in the Graphics section or in the game, as VSync is locked in. The specific FPS we’re talking about is 31FPS, and VSync is enabled. To bypass this we went to the install directory for the game ( My DocumentsMy GamesAlice Madness ReturnsAliceGameConfig in our case) and opened up AliceEngine.ini in notepad. The user needs to find MaxSmoothedFrameRate and change that from 31FPS to any other higher number. We went for 60FPS, but for the benchmarks we set it to 999FPS to see the true performance that we get with our system. Another thing that needs to be changed is the VSync setting. The UseVsync setting needs to be changed to False, instead of True, unless the user wants to use VSync.

System Requirements

PC MINIMUM System Requirements

  • Operating System: Windows 7 SP1, Windows Vista with SP2, Windows XP with SP3
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon X2 running at 1.6GHz or greater
  • Memory: 2048MB or greater
  • Hard Disk Space: 8.5GB
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce 7600 256MB or greater
  • Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible

Bjorn3D’s System Requirements for maxing out the game at 1920×1080 with Low PhysX:

  • Operating System: Windows 7 SP1, Windows Vista with SP2, Windows XP with SP3
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad or AMD Athlon X4 running at 2.3GHz or greater
  • Memory: 3GB or greater
  • Hard Disk Space: 10GB
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce GTS 250 512MB or greater
  • Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible

Our Recommended for maxing out the game at 1920×1080 in nVidia 3D with Low PhysX:

  • Operating System: Windows 7 SP1, Windows Vista with SP2,
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 at 2.3GHz or greater
  • Memory: 4GB or greater
  • Hard Disk Space: 10GB
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB or greater
  • Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible

Our Recommended for maxing out the game at 1920×1080 in nVidia 3D with High PhysX:

  • Operating System: Windows 7 SP1, Windows Vista with SP2.
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 at 3GHz or greater
  • Memory: 4GB or greater
  • Hard Disk Space: 12GB
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 1GB or greater
  • Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible

 

Test Rig

Case Silverstone Temjin TJ10
CPU

Intel Core i7 2600K @ 4.3 GHz

Motherboard

ASUS P8P67 WS Revolution

Ram

Patriot Gamer 2 Series 1600 MHz Dual-Chanel 16GB (4x4GB) Memory Kit

CPU Cooler

Heatblocker Rev 3.0 LGA 1156 CPU Waterblock

Thermochill 240 Radiator

Black Ice Extreme 120 Radiator

Laing D5 Variable Speed Pump

3x Quiet Zalman ZM-F3 FDB 120mm Fans

Hard Drives

4x Seagate Cheetah 600GB 10K 6Gb/s Hard Drives

2x Western Digital RE3 1TB 7200RPM 3Gb/s Hard Drives

SSD 1x Zalman SSD0128N1 128GB SandForce SSD
Optical ASUS DVD-Burner
GPU

2x Nvidia GeForce GTX580 in 2-Way SLI

Case Fans

1x Quiet Zalman Shark’s Fin ZM-SF3 120mm Fan - Top

1x Silverstone 120mm fan – Front

1x Quiet Zalman ZM-F3 FDB 120mm Fan – Hard Drive Compartment

Additional Cards
LSI 3ware SATA + SAS 9750-8i 6Gb/s RAID Card
PSU

Sapphire PURE 1250W Modular Power Supply

Mouse Razer Mamba
Keyboard Logitech G15
Monitor

Asus VG236H 23″ 120Hz 3D Monitor (1920×1080)

Speakers Logitech Z-2300 2.1 THX Certified Speakers

Performance

While playing Alice: Madness Returns we’ve noticed some very interesting performance results depending on how we had the game configured. By default, the game will have a max 31 FPS, which for most PC gamers will feel a bit awkward, especially if they are running high end systems. To change that, and fix this, please read our first paragraph on the top of this page.

Second of all, Alice has some fantastic PhysX features, though we’ve noticed a big performance decrease when PhysX is set to High. Medium keeps most of the PhysX effects, and users can get better FPS while gaming without sacrificing too much from the effects. We find Medium PhysX to be the optimal setting for those that don’t have systems including a very powerful CPU or a dedicated PhysX card. This does not mean that users cannot play the game on High PhysX with decent video cards like GTS 450 or higher, it just means that while in large battles, users might experience a performance decrease to the level where their camera and game would lag at higher resolutions. With PhysX set to Low, there are minimal PhysX effects, and the game feels a bit too downgraded in graphics, but almost any system can enjoy Alice without the PhysX effects even with older graphics at higher resolutions.

Resolution/Settings

Average Frames Per Second (Higher is Better)

SLI Configuration – Left results

Single Video Card setup – Right results

1920×1080 in 3D, Max, High PhysX

39.14 FPS          28.4 FPS

1920×1080 in 3D, Max, Medium PhysX

47.11 FPS          35.17 FPS

1920×1080 in 3D, Max, Low PhysX 60 FPS               58.48 FPS
1920×1080, Max, High PhysX 104 FPS             57 FPS
1920×1080, Max, Medium PhysX 118 FPS             63 FPS
1920×1080, Max, Low PhysX 148 FPS             81 FPS
1600×900, Max, Low PhysX 156 FPS             89 FPS
1280×720, Max, Low PhysX 172 FPS             101 FPS

For the benchmarking we were playing Alice: Madness Returns in Chapter 3, which is located somewhere in Asia. We were battling wasps of all kinds and other monsters that came along.

For those looking at playing Alice in 3D mode at a 1920×1080 resolution with High PhysX, we recommend using an SLI system, however, it is not needed if  28.4 FPS is enough for the user to enjoy the game. Honestly, if the user does not adjust the graphics settings, they will receive a maximum of 31 FPS during gameplay. It’s not too bad considering that gaming consoles usually render graphics at this speed. Other parts of the game should be super smooth even with a single GTX 580. As we said earlier, Medium PhysX might be the optimal setting for most users. For those that are running older systems, turning PhysX to Low will be the best option. If we just play the game in 2D mode, and have the AliceEngine.ini file modified for higher FPS, even when the game is maxed out with High PhysX, we are still getting 57FPS at heavy action scenes.

3D Experience with NVIDIA’s 3D Vision

The 3D experience in Alice Madness Returns with NVIDIA’s 3D Vision Kit was absolutely gorgeous. While some say that the 3D experience is not perfect in Alice with High PhysX settings, personally, we did not have a problem with it. The best part of the 3D experience in Alice Madness Returns has to do with the enormous amount of detail in each level. For example, in the first wonderland that Alice enters, there are mushrooms growing out of the hills, all kinds of flowers and trees. You get to go through tunnels, and small spaces, you first get to see Alice’s double and triple jumps that generate flowers and butterflies that fly into the screen. And as you go through each level, objects continue popping out at you in different ways. As monsters attack and all the PhysX is being rendered right in front of you, you get a great experience in 3D.

Even though the gaming experience is excellent in 3D mode. The parts that we enjoyed the most were the in-game cut scenes where characters get super close to the camera or have enormous features like big nose, tall hats, etc. All of these really pop out in 3D mode and make it a great 3D experience.

The settings we’ve used in Alice Madness Returns.

Conclusion

Overall, Alice: Madness Returns is an outstanding game that provides a diverse and exhilarating experience throughout. While confusing at first, the storyline becomes clearer by the end when all of the secrets and memories are revealed. In terms of fun factor, the game does have its Pros and Cons. The story line and versatility in the scenery definitely adds to the fun factor, while the simplicity of the controls detriments it to a certain extend. The game does include a variety of mini games and puzzles in order to provide more diverse gameplay and is by far one of the most successful games to have implemented such features. The gameplay is rather straightforward, but does get rather intricate if the player decides to pick a higher level of difficulty. Throughout the game the user will constantly have to figure out where to go, as well as how to counter individual opponents. As we have provided in our description of the monsters, each of opponents has to be beaten in a certain way, which is far from a simple hack and slash approach. This makes battles a lot more challenging and entertaining. Though killing your enemies can be fun, the combat system does have it’s bad sides by not being able to fight in air. In addition to the main storyline, the players will have to adventure in order to unlock extra features, which can be accessed in the Extras menu. Overall the game was really satisfying and will take a little over 20 hours to complete. Aside from the outstanding gameplay and story, the game did have some issues with graphics performance especially when in 3D mode with High PhysX. This will really depend on the system, but every once in a while in heavy action scenese we did see our FPS dropping to around 20-24FPS even with two GTX 580s. However, this problem was less apparent after we have disabled 3D mode or changed they PhysX settings to Medium. The problem could have also arisen because of us recording the video gameplay with FRAPS which drops the performance of the game by about 5-10FPS, so gamers should not be too worried.

On the end of the day, is the game worth $49.99?  We think yes. Alice: Madness Returns being one of the most fun games we’ve played this year, we think even $50 can be ok for a long gameplay full of different worlds, weapons, and twisted story lines.

OUR VERDICT: Alice: Madness Returns
Performance 8.5
Graphics 9
Gameplay 9
Fun Factor 9
Story 9
Length of the Game 10
We are using a new addition to our scoring system to provide additional feedback beyond a flat score. Please note that the final score isn’t an aggregate average of the new rating system.
Total 9.5
Pros Cons

Fun and Exhilarating Storyline

Diverse Gameplay

Excellent 3D Experience

Lengthy Game

While graphics not extreme, it has a great Cartoon type look to it.

Can’t fight with weapons while jumping

Big performance drop with PhysX on High settings.

Summary:  Alice: Madness Returns is a great game that will satisfy any gamer that is looking for a solid storyline and diverse gameplay. Bjorn3D is proud to award Alice: Madness Returns with the Bjorn3D Gold Award for scoring 9.5/10 for excellent story plot, creativity and design.

 

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