Friday, September 16, 2011

Alice: Madness Returns

At times I wonder if developers are scared of challenging their players. And Alice: Madness Returns brings that to mind. Although the combat and jumping system is better the closest game I can match it to is Enslaved.

Jump from point A to point B, bash some enemies, get a non-interactive cut-scene to advance the story; repeat. Like Enslaved there's just the one path through the game with the odd dead-end that leads to collectables; and just like Enslaved it has a tendency to shut off the main path behind you once taken.

However it's almost as if the developers played that and then tweaked it. As a result hints appear when in the proper state indicating which are the main and which the ancillary pathways. Combat is much more fluid to the point where taking on a group of enemies was almost approaching Batman: Arkham Asylum levels of fun.

[Update - that is if you leave the targeting system toggle off i.e. you require the button to be pressed to target. Turn the toggle on, which is much easier on the finger, and the flaw appears. Switching between targets only works with the ones you can currently see. Want to engage one of the targets behind rather than in front and it has to be turned off, the camera turned around and then re-engaged. It's messy]

However repetition strikes further into the game. Once the attack/defence patterns of a particular enemy type is learned that's it. The only challenge arises when they're mixed in with other types, which to be fair happens fairly often.

Still the brain starts to detach and it becomes jump to here, float to there, jump to here, shoot this switch. dodge, attack, block. What it lacks is percussion. There are no mid-game boss fights. As soon as anything looks remotely like one control is removed and a pre-rendered paper cut-out scene is shown instead. Now admittedly I laughed at the first antu-climax; but then another? I just felt a little let-down.

This isn't help by the forced nature of the game saving is disabled and while check-pointing is excellent these don't equate to saves and thus once a level is started there's little choice but to progress until the next auto-save.

Still with the brain gone this is still quite fun, there's plenty of collectables hidden around to replay for, the style is appropriate, as is the story. I wouldn't pay the normal full price for this, but reduced... yeah it's worth a look at.

[Update - Oh and I don't think they expected anyone to actually read all the credits because for me the music stopped about two-thirds through the Spicy Horse lists. Then came the EA list, then the EA regional list, then EA QA, then all the different studios who worked on the art, and then....]


Orphi said...

I guess there will always be bad games (and a whole spectrum covering everything between them and the best ones). I guess the question is why there aren't more great games. (Then again, that unavoidably hinges on what you consider to be a “great game”.)

I'm a bit puzzled about your comments on Batman: Arkam Asylum. While I kinda liked the game, the combat was the least likeable part about it. Batman seems to take your instructions more as generalised “suggestions” than actual commands. You see a guy with a pipe stand up and get ready to hit you, so you think “ooo, get that guy!”. So you press right and mash the mouse button, and Batman executes an impressive left roll and starts punching thin air.

The game is mostly spoilt by the extreme sluggishness of it. So amount of tweaking the settings will fix it; the game just runs absurdly slowly. I can run Crysis just fine, but Batman, with its low-end graphics, is far too much for it to handle.

Every time I go near the bat cave, the game turns into a slide-show. Literally, double-digit seconds per frame. My first visit there, it took 40 minutes for the cutscene to complete.

The rest of the game isn't nearly that slow. Sometimes you'll walk round a corner and the game will freeze for ten seconds, but then it will go back to a mostly normal framerate. Sometimes certain rooms will feel a little slow. (It doesn't appear in any way related to the visual complexity of the room though.)

Battling foes while the game is lagging is obviously going to be hard. But even when the game runs smoothly, it's just impossible to make Batman do what you actually want him to do. Which makes it fortunate that most of the enemies are laughably easy. Unfortunately, a small number of them are armed. (Why would Joker do that? Why not arm all of them??)

I started playing a few of the challenges. Unfortunately, they all seem to involve either beating up a dozen guys at once (so, slow-fest) and sneaking around, picking guys off one by one. Which doesn't work, because as soon as you leave the ceiling, 20 guys all start shooting you, and you instantly die. (I suppose you could play the whole challenge in detective mode, but it games the game very sluggish.)

What I did like very much was the story. Indeed, I'm still annoyed that so many cut-scenes were so glitchty I couldn't hear the dialogue, and there's no way to replay them. (I mean, without restarting the entire game from the beginning. Given that there are no game saves, only checkpoints.)

By the end, I almost felt sorry for Joker! I mean, seriously. The guy just wants to have a party! All he ever wanted was to kill Batman and rule Arkham island. OK, sure, the man is obviously a raving psychotic who wants to kill us all, but beyond that he's basically an alright kinda guy. Right? Right??

FlipC said...

Even the console chugged at times for Batman, but what I meant was the flow of combat.

Without the target lock (the specifics of which I've updated in my entry) I could deliver two swipes with a vorpal blade, dodge around the guy behind me then smack him with the hobby horse, dodge back then hit them as a group with a tea-pot grenade, then deflect a projectile back at the sender. As the game progressed I got a feel for how long each strike would take and what would be more effective and could work the combo.

In Batman most of the challenges are extended versions of certain sections of the game; if you got through those then in theory you can get through these. They did get a little tiresome and repetitive though.

From the comic Arkham Asylum one of the doctors suggests Joker suffers from super-sanity and his personality shifts depending on what's most beneficial to him at the at moment. so although he can plan he's very much a now-person. So he'd soon got bored with Arkham and probably turned it back over to the authorities, or blown it up :-)