Saturday, 18 February 2012
Alice - Maddening Level Design
American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns was a game I was intrigued by – a dark and twisted version of Alice in Wonderland that combined both platforming and combat elements – it seemed right up my proverbial gaming alley.
Managing to snag it at a low price, I recently played through it - and although I did finish it, was left severely disappointed.
First impressions were good. Really good.
The art style, aesthetics, character and enemy designs were all top notch. Exploring the children’s home and the old cobbled streets of Victorian London left me gobsmacked. It was like I was wandering the set of Corpse Bride or something.
Similarly, first setting foot into Wonderland was amazing. Bright and colourful and yet also dark and decrepit – the world was so wonderfully designed. This is what Tim Burton wished his Alice in Wonderland film was like.
So what went wrong? Well at first the combat and platforming seemed fine. Riding gusts of wind, hopping on invisible platforms, weighing down a switch, shrinking to fit through a small space – so far so ordinary. And then… that was it. For the rest of the game! Literally every level just continued to recycle these basic mechanics used over and over ad nauseam. I’m sorry, but a simple reskinning of these platforming mechanics to suit the levels theme simply isn’t enough to keep interesting what is essentially doing the exact same things repeatedly. It doesn't help that the levels are really long either – they just seem to drag on and on.
There are the odd 2D parts to break up the tedium but sadly these are also woefully underdeveloped despite showing initial promise and similarly overstay their welcome.
Usually game don't make me angry – if a game is bad so what I think, just don't play it. But this game genuinely made me frustrated. There was so much potential here –such imagination and an impeccable art style – made impotent here by shamefully lacklustre level design.
Two examples that some up my crushing disappointment with this game:
One - At the end of the first level, the rabbit and the mouse you have been chasing get together in a huge robot monstrosity ready to assault you… except it doesn't. Instead of a boss fight the hulking junk beast just inexplicably falls apart and you go on to the next level – for more of the same platforming. In fact, apart from the very end, there are no boss fights in the entire game!
Two – you are in an underwater realm and you come across a city, where all the inhabitants are fish. The surrounding buildings and are so beautifully realised and you cannot wait to explore this watery metropolis and see what it has to offer… except you cant. Nothing here is interactive, just a place to pass through to reach the next set of floating platforms, the fish denizens wordlessly frozen in place by their cruel creator.
To be fair the combat in the game works well – its just not enough to save it from the mind-numbing tedium of the rest of the experience.
This game is actually a sequel – the original PC game American McGee’s Alice released in 2000 is also included in the package. Just a shame it hasn't aged well and is nigh on unplayable by today’s standards – le sigh….
17 Feb 2012