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Alice: Madness Returns
August 3rd, 2011, 08:21
Just finished Alice: Madness Returns.
Folks, this is going to be a long post but I do hope you find it interesting.
Alice is my favorite game so far for this year. I will outline the reasons below. But bear in mind that I still haven't played my copy of TW2, as I'm waiting for the 3D stereo vision bugs to be fixed. For now though, Alice is it, and is definitely in my list of top ten favorite games of all time.
While playing the first chapter I thought this was a very simple platforming game with a cool artistic design. Unfortunately, most reviewers concluded the same thing, and thus potentially misleading a lot of people into overlooking this complete gem. The more I progressed into the game, the more I realized that the story was complex and utterly profound. Notice I said "complex," not "complicated." The story itself is simple through its entirety - Alice Liddell (the name of the real Alice, fittingly) grew up in a madness brought about by a horrific family tragedy. As you progress through the game playing as her, you assume that you are on a quest to end the madness that consumes her, which in fact is true. It took me until the third chapter however, to realize that Alice was becoming MORE mad as the game progressed, not less!
The chapters are divided by means of repressed memories that Alice unlocks as she gets closer and closer to the truth about the real cause of her family's, and subsequently her demise. There is enough variety in the locations, cutscenes, and types of gameplay to make it difficult to tell where one chapter ends and the next begins until further into the game where the method of progression becomes clear.
There are lesser memory fragments that can also be unlocked by finding them scattered throughout the game world. The memory fragments are lesser in importance, yet were very beneficial in fleshing out the story and Alice's relationship with the 'real-world' (not wonderland) characters. I even noticed after a while that many of the memories had a fitting parallel to their location in the game world, whether due to the characters involved or what was said in the memory, propelling the illusion that Alice's make-believe Wonderland was a by product of real-life experiences. This overall method of telling a simple, yet deeply psychological story is delivered in such a subtle way that you feel as though you are discovering these things along with Alice, and constantly compels you to see what's just around the corner.
The overall package of art and narrative is so perfectly executed, it caused me to
the story. As Alice sank further into madness and more memories were unlocked, I began to preempt the plot in my own mind, drawing my own conclusions. I was correct, which felt more like a reward rather than a disappointment. In chapter 4, there are hints of the evil nature behind the truth Alice needs to discover, while in chapter 5, the truth becomes sinister.
The story touched a nerve with me, as I have personally had certain tragic experiences similar to Alice's. I speak with authority when I say this: The idea of unlocking repressed memories may come off as being a cliche' or convenient method of plot development to the casual observer, but it is a very, very real phenomenon. Oftentimes those repressed memories suddenly surface due to a trigger, and they can be crippling. I had experiences in my childhood that I had utterly forgotten, out of necessity, but suddenly returned to me after an extremely stressful event occurred in my adult life. It literally spawned hallucinations, so the idea of this fictional character of Alice being driven mad by such memories is no stretch.
The use of symbolism throughout the game was nothing short of genius. I can't even begin to count how many references there are to the classic stories of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. As good as those references are, though, they are to be expected in a game loosely based from the books. The real novelty are the symbolisms that are more subtle and yet undeniable. - The use of keys to identify the individual chapters, correlating to memory 'keys' to unlock the truth. The Red Queen's castle resembling the insides of a human body, symbolizing Alice's own internal struggle. The Infernal Train, symbolizing her subconscious ever chugging toward an inevitable conclusion. And finally, the most profound for me, the ultimate villain and his wretched, giant, inescapable puppet stringed hands trying to squeeze the life out of Alice.
Sure I could go on about the gameplay, its strengths and weaknesses, the brilliant graphics muddled at times by some very poor textures, but you can watch a review on youtube for that. What is truly significant is the incredibly genius, beautifully crafted macabre journey that American Mcgee has produced. Many may buy the game… but few will truly 'get it.'
..& so they take the fiction all out of the Jabberwock & I recognize & accept him as a fact. - Mark Twain, May 30, 1880
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