In games like Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia and Trine, platforming is a device that makes up much of the core game. It's a type of gameplay I immensely enjoy and so I stay on the lookout for anything similar. Alice Madness Returns fits the bill, but for such a potentially great game, it's too bad the PC version is so full of bugs. If you can play this game without venturing into the config files, count yourself one of the lucky ones. Most people will have to spend a fair amount of time tweaking this baby to get it running properly.
The story is a sequel to American Magee's Alice published in 2000. It's centered on Alice's belief that she started the fire that killed her family and explores how she mentally copes with that. The original Alice is about her decline into madness and the decade she spends in an asylum undergoing various treatments. Wonderland is a place she created in her own mind and the place where she retreats to during hallucinations. When the doctors feel they can do no more for her medically, Alice is transferred to a children's home where she continues psychiatric treatment and encouragement to forget her memories.
This game picks up the story a year after Alice has moved to the orphanage. However, she still experiences hallucinations about Wonderland and during one of these, she discovers that a train is rampaging through Wonderland and leaving the Ruin in its wake. Alice believes the train represents her memories and sets out to stop it in the hope this will cure her. However, even though the Cheshire Cat informs Alice that it is not she but an outside force that is causing the corruption, she cannot accept this analysis.
The game is pretty much equal parts of platforming and combat. Alice is equipped at particular points with two melee weapons, a Vorpal Blade and Hobby Horse and two ranged weapons, a Pepper Grinder and a Teapot Cannon. She also finds a Clockwork bomb that can double as a weight on pressure plates and an Umbrella for defense. Combat on normal is quite hard as it requires mastering combo moves in conjunction with dodging. You can collect teeth to upgrade weapons and do specific challenges called Radula rooms to upgrade your health. You can also stand in flowers and shrink to renew your health. During combat, if you health becomes really low, you can access Hysteria for a limited time when you will take no damage.
After the completion of a level, a dress will be unlocked that can be accessed and changed in the main menu, but not during gameplay. Each outfit has specific bonuses. There are also some integrated side-scrolling 2D puzzles that offer another layer of variety.
Shrinking will often reveal hidden clues, keyholes, and floating platforms you cannot see at regular height. Some platforms are timed by using the clockwork bomb on the pressure plates. If you fall during jumps, you will be loaded back to a nearby platform. However, this game uses autosave and if you die, it loads an annoyingly long ways back in the game where you might have to do tricky jumps or battles all over again. Either jumping twirls need to be keyed at very precise time or sometimes the keys don't respond promptly. I haven't decided which, but that and the autosaves were very frustrating. Camera angles also make it very hard to judge the right distances and they are also quite buggy in the keyholes as controls are taken from the player.
There are several types of collectibles in the game which can range from out in the open to hidden or hard to reach. Collecting memories will open up snippets of Alice's past, bottles will open up concept art and biographies, snouts will have some kind of reward like teeth, beating Radula rooms will increase your health bar and dresses, which give Alice various abilities, become available for beating the level.
Once you have tweaked everything to death, the game runs not too badly even on older systems like mine. The graphics are also very pretty, helped by the subject matter of the fantasy-like locales and characters. Each level design is quite unique and not subject to repetition even though your enemies remain fairly much the same after your first introduction to them. Although the game can be quite frustrating, it's also quite compelling in its story and environments. Many fans have quite taken to the game in spite of it not receiving rave reviews. As a result, there are lots of forums and posts sharing how to tweak this game to get the best graphics and performance. Many people consider it a flawed gem.
Unfortunately, this game needs the heck tweaked out of it through configuration. It will take some patience to get it tweaked to your satisfaction and for your particular problems. You'll have to decide if it's worth the effort. For myself, when all was said and done, I very much enjoyed it.
Although the DLC for this game is not available for PC, you can access the DLC dresses through altering the config files.
DefaultEngine.ini GIsSpecialPCEdition=FALSE Change false to true
In addition to the dresses showing up in the menu, you will also see an entry for American Magee's Alice. This is a false entry and clicking on it will close your game.