Saturday, 19 May 2012

Review- Alice: Madness Returns

Alice: Madness returns, is a platformer/hack and slash for 360 and PS3, developed by Spicy Horse (possibly the best named studio ever), which was founded by American McGee (possibly the worst named game designer ever). It's a sequel to the cult classic that most people didn't actually play and only heard of, American McGee's Alice (the least imaginatively titled game since Space Invaders).

 Again poor Alice is totally bananas and must venture back through a somewhat corrupted Wonderland in a journey to save her own mind or something that doesn't become at all clear until four fifths of the game has elapsed. With the help of some characters who have decent dialogue but almost no relevance to the story progression, it's up to you to pilot Alice as she hacks and slashes and jumps and collects all over the least interestingly designed iteration of Wonderland yet.

 That may sound a bit harsh. Admittedly, Wonderland looks pretty spectacular for the most part (frequent broken lightmaps aside), and has certainly got some great scenery at times. However it's sadly the case that in order to get to the more intriguing bits of the game you are forced to play through seemingly endless abstract obstacle courses which in fact are very bland indeed. Navigating them in fairness works pretty well but that fact that around forty percent of Wonderland is floating platforms and steam vents indicates that Alice is less living in an escapist fantasy than trapped in an administrative problem.

 In between obstacle courses sections and perhaps as a reward once you reach the more interesting second half of each episode, you get to have fights with enemies either themed around mad creatures from Wonderland, or blob monsters with doll's faces, which don't really relate to anything but pop up all over the bloody place. The fighting itself in fairness is very solid, meaty in fact, and aside from the visual direction (when it's not wrapped up in floating platforms) is probably the most enjoyable part of the game. You have basic fast slashing attacks, and later expand your arsenal to accommodate a machine gun, a grenade launcher, a bomb, and a hammer. You can even lock on like in Ocarina of Time, and a border appears to focus you into the fight. Additionally you can block and dash, although dashing is so overpowered you only ever need to block to deflect enemy attacks. Likewise, the hammer is almost entirely useless in a fight, and firearms turn out to be by far the most powerful weapons in the game as only three or four enemies have a chance of fighting you at range. Not that it matters which you upgrade, as by the end of the game you'll be able to stop collecting teeth (which are currency for some bizarre reason) in order to upgrade your weapons because you've already maxed them all out needlessly. Although unbalanced, as I mentioned before the combat is more than solid and mostly enjoyable, and it's a shame the game is so focused on jumping around empty worlds rather than stabbing Wonderland's denizens.

 The game never really increases in complexity or raises the stakes, in fact the only thing it tends to threaten you with is more bloody obstacle courses, as the bland puzzling continues in lieu of further combat, distributing it sparingly. Combat never progresses beyond the basic moves you get when you gain each weapon, platforming spends the entire game based on double jumps, glides, and shrinking in order to get through holes and see invisible walls (because somehow being small makes you super perceptive?). Enemies themselves do increase in complexity, however it's really needlessly so as the advent of the teapot cannon halfway through the game obviates most of the requirement for strategic play by blowing the shit out of everybody. Even after building tension through a combination of mystery and frustration, every chapter but the last ends with a brief conversation and then a return to normality. No boss battle, no big reveal. Nothing.
My main issue with the game is not that the obstacle courses exist. No, that's fine, it makes sense to have abstract landscapes to navigate in the IP of all things, and it would help with pacing to have a few breaking up combat sections. It's that there are dozens of them. You complete four and think you might get to the next area and then you end up doing another three of them, all the while being led around for collectibles that for the most part have no practical use. In terms of these collectibles there are memories, which are kind of like audio logs in most other games and fill in bits of narrative. Or at least they would if they weren't just people giving meaningless anecdotes ninety percent of the time. Additional to these are teeth, which as mentioned before are used to get weapon upgrades, Radula room entrances (which pose challenges to be rewarded by largely superflous health upgrades) and bottles. Yes, bottles. Bottles that don't do anything. They literally only exist to give you something to collect. There's not even an achievement for getting them all. You just pick them up and think "Hey, a bottle!" and then that's that. It's like they made too much content and had to populate it with pointless crap in order to justify it's presence.

 And that is the real problem with Alice: Madness Returns- filler. The game feels like it could be done with in half the time it actually takes if you weren't pissing around on floating rocks and collecting bottles that do nothing for hours on end. In fact you'd not get bored as much and it would probably be far more enjoyable for it. The game is artificially long, to it's great detriment. Which is a shame, because aside from the mostly incomprehensible plot and glitchy visuals, it's really a solid effort and greatly enjoyable when you're allowed to get on with it. There are some great level designs and environments to explore, punctuated by enjoyable and engaging combat, and propped up by a score that is good when the time comes but sadly seems to be as bored as I was during the endless platforming segments.

 Overall I'd say this game was a missed opportunity. Cut the shit and you'd have a short but highly enjoyable action adventure. As it stands it's series of great levels with huge droning intermissions that soon become a chore. And that is not what a game about a young woman's over-active imagination should be about at all. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Time to die...t

Eating! It's something we all have to do, at least until we learn to absorb nutrients through eye contact. There are lots of different things to eat out there, in fact almost everything human beings have come across we have tried to eat at some point. It's like our defining trait.

 However, for some people, near enough everything is way too much choice, and they have to follow a particular set of rules to make it possible for them to consume foodstuffs without being paralysed by indecision. Alternately, some people consider it a challenge to eat only certain things, laughing in the face of those weak willed people who mindlessly consume everything they see. Some can't handle certain foods, which spontaneously become animated in their stomachs and try to fight their way out through the victim's throat. The strangest of all consider only eating certain foods to be morally superior in some way and gives them the right to turn up their noses to dangerous degrees, as they passively improve the world in some vague way.

Having recently started a test run of vegetarianism myself, I thought that as I'm now clearly an expert I'd best give everybody the low down on the wide range of dietary restrictions people impose upon themselves, or have imposed upon them by grumpy intestines.

Standard Diet:
Eat whatever you like unless it's human, robot, or a beloved pet. Most people are on this diet because they lack the willpower to stop eating animals, to start eating beloved pets, or because they just think everything is delicious.

Vegetarians don't eat meat, because of the ever present threat of animal revenge when they find out you ate all their mums. This threat encourages them to treat animals very carefully due to their telepathic communication- an insult to a sparrow could very well be avenged by a passing rhinoceros.

This is like vegetarianism, but now you don't get to eat eggs, milk, hamster eyebrows, or any product that comes from an animal. Harsh! Vegans only eat plant life and find it difficult to fight of disease because they find it morally difficult to take down viruses. More extreme vegans don't even eat anything that makes sound, as that could be perceived as communication and thus consciousness.

Practiced by those too cheap to pay for food, freegans can only consume things that they didn't pay for. They also cannot eat things that were gifted to them, making Easter a whole waste of time. Thus they are required to steal everything they eat, or only take the free bits of food that claims to have '50% extra free' at the supermarket. Alternatively, they may take to illegally downloading food from the internet, in a practice known as nompiracy.

Proletarianismists are restricted to eating things which have worked hard all their lives. This means guard dogs, oak trees, dancing bears, miners, astronauts, tactical dolphins, and Schrodinger's cat. They definitely aren't allowed to eat sloths, chavs, aristocrats, aristocats, Paris Hilton, or Schrodinger's cat.

Cybernetic Organism:Adherents to this diet are only permitted to eat flesh that has at one point been on the body of a partly mechanical creature. Currently this is fairly hard to come across so not many people follow this diet properly, and have to supplement it by eating cutlery.

The Shoe Diet:
On this diet all you can eat is shoes. This isn't as restrictive as some might think, given the current trend of fashioning footwear out of edible materials, such as bacon boots, pasta platforms, and fish slippers.

On this diet you can only eat sand. Nobody has taken this diet and lived to tell the tale.

Overall I think you'll see that out of this exhaustive list of possible dietary choices, I have selected the right one, both nutritiously, tactically, and morally, and I am therefore superior to you in some arbitrary way. You are therefore now obliged to make me a spaghetti bolognese.
Meat free of course.