Poor old Alice. She's back in Wonderland and it's an increasingly miserable place, horribly corrupted by her slackening hold on reality. Specifically she's in Queens Land, home of the Queen of Hearts and her playing card minions. The stony castle has been overgrown by ivy and neglect and now festers under a piss-yellow sky of despair.
But never mind Alice, eh? Imagine how American McGee must be doing! The creator of American McGee's Alice must have been incubating this tortured take on the world of Lewis Carroll for nearly 11 years. He probably doesn't wear a lot of Hawaiian shirts. And just imagine the office mood boards.
McGee's name's not on the front of this one but he is very much in charge of it. Standing on stage at the Game Developers Conference in a Hawaiian shirt (OK, not really), he speaks proudly of how the first game sold over a million units.
Whether Electronic Arts expects this one to improve on that isn't addressed. But after last year's Dante's Inferno, it certainly fits with the publisher's ongoing commitment to making hellish-looking games based on ageing literature. (Look out for a survival horror take on Pride and Prejudice sometime in 2014.)
Anyway, Alice: Madness Returns is described as a mixture of platforming, puzzling and third-person combat (much like the book). The demo on show at GDC gives us a taste of how Alice explores memories that help her to understand the events surrounding the death of her family.
In Queens Land she begins by using her shrink ability, which allows her to see the world around her slightly differently. (And also climb inside a flower, for some reason.) For instance, she can see hints left for her by the Insane Children (whom you may remember from the first game), which highlight secret areas and point the way ahead.
In this case, the arrows direct her to jump and double-jump over semi-visible platforms that lead her into a courtyard, where we get our first taste of combat. Alice is up against playing cards and a Ruined enemy. The playing cards are leathery, ragged, hooded and filthy, while the Ruined is a black blob with spindly legs, pipeworks on its back and assorted tortured doll faces on its front. Twinkling xylophone blends uncomfortably with deep bass as they advance.
Alice is a bit handy in a fight, able to use her bloodied vorpal blade to hack and slash at enemies as well as her hobby horse (a giant hammer, effectively) to smack them more firmly. She also has the teapot (an explosives launcher) and pepper grinder (machine gun). She can drop a little clockwork bunny who distracts enemies and can be remote-detonated. (We have no idea why Tim Burton left all this out, incidentally.)