Alice: Madness Returns (PC) Performance Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, June 27th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (
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Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Alice: Madness Returns is the sequel to 2000 PC game, American McGee's Alice, and like its predecessor follows the events surrounding a darker and more mentally unstable Alice. If you're not familiar with the first game, it takes place years after Alice's first ascent into Wonderland and is set shortly after the events of Through the Looking-Glass.

In the first game, Alice became traumatized by her family's untimely demise in an accidental house fire. As time passes, she slowly descends into madness and is institutionalized in Rutledge Asylum, placed under the care of Dr. Heironymous Wilson. While in the asylum she is transported into Wonderland, but like Alice's mental state, Wonderland is also darker and at times more psychotic than before. To make issues worse, the Queen of Hearts has taken control of Wonderland and it is up to Alice to restore Wonderland and her sanity.

The second game takes place immediately after the events of the first, but Alice has been released from the Rutledge Asylum and now resides at an orphanage in Victorian London. Still haunted by the demise of her parents, Alice regularly visits Dr. Bumby, who is helping her to forget the past so she can move on. However, after an unproductive visit with Dr. Bumby, Alice is again transported to Wonderland where she must face a new foe and confront the truth behind the fire that killed her parents.

The reason we are following Alice down the rabbit hole is not to evaluate the game, but rather to gauge the performance of Alice: Madness Returns and see what PC hardware is recommended to properly play it. Since the game engine utilizes the Unreal 3 Engine it should be playable on most systems, but to make sure we are going to see how it performs while using as many Nvidia and AMD based graphics cards as we can find.

The video options screen in Alice: Madness Returns is rather basic and only allows for changes to the game's resolution, Anti-Aliasing, 3D Vision, Motion Blur, Post Process, Dynamic Shadows and PhysX. With the Anti-Aliasing options being limited to either on or off, and no filtering options to even toggle, it will be up to the user to fine tune these changes on their own through the graphics card control panel before they will take affect in the game.

The PhysX option at the bottom of the menu is designed to work solely with Nvidia based graphics cards and is a multi-threaded physics simulation. With PhysX enabled, the GPU is able to calculate the dynamics of clothing, characters, explosions, liquid and so on. This increases the visual effects of in-game movement and adds to the overall feel of the video game. However, since Nvidia is the only company that supports PhysX, their products are required to properly utilize this technology.

The video menu in Alice: Madness Returns has three options for PhysX; Low, Medium and High. Each option will adjust the degree to which PhysX is leveraged in the game. When the PhysX level is set to Low, there will be less dynamic cloth, character and liquid moments, and when set to High, the effects will naturally be greater.

To test Alice: Madness Returns, we set the in-game settings to match those of the settings used for our graphics card benchmarking suite. These settings consist of using all in-game options such as motion blur, dynamic shadows and post processing. Additionally, we have set the PhysX level to Low, which should give us the best comparison between AMD and Nvidia based graphics cards, and adjusted the Anti-Aliasing level to x4 and the AF to x16.

The overall performance of Alice: Madness Returns is quite good across the board, regardless of the type of graphics card we used. In our testing we were able to achieve smooth frame rates on nearly all of the tested hardware, with the only exception being the AMD HD 6670, which was not able to play the game above 20FPS when the resolution was increased to 2560x1600. So, regardless of which graphics card is being used, Alice: Madness Returns is a game that can be enjoyed on virtually any system ranging from entry-level to high-end.

There were some issues observed with the game that lead us to believe Alice was either released too early, or was designed for consoles first and then ported to the PC. The first issue we ran into was an FPS limitation that only allowed the frame rates to vary from 22 to 31FPS. These are essentially the target frame rates for consoles, and it is unfortunate to see a game released for the PC with frame rates below 60FPS. Additionally, there is no option to disable Vsync from within the in-game menu, which makes the process hard for those with only minimal knowledge on how to do so through the game's .ini file.

Another issue we ran into was CrossFire support. When testing the AMD HD 6990 in CrossFire, the total frame rates were on average lower than that of a single HD 6970 card. This issue has been passed on to AMD and they are currently investigating it so we hope to hear back from them soon. However, with the frame rate limitation and relatively high FPS on even entry-level graphics cards, the lack of CrossFire support is not going to negatively impact the overall performance greatly.

The last issue that lead us to believe this game was designed mainly for home consoles was the poor mouse support. During the gameplay there were multiple instances when the mouse would lag, almost as if the DPI level of the mouse was being adjusted to the lowest level for a few seconds. This of course was not what was happening, but it is the best manner in which to describe the random mouse lag. Also, there were times when the mouse stopped working entirely. I would have chalked both these issues up to my mouse, but after experiencing the issues I installed another mouse and still suffered the same problems. There were no issues with my motherboard ports, leading me to assume that perhaps the controller support would be less flakey.

The time I spent with the game was both rewarding and frustrating. The game was playable on even the most inexpensive hardware setups, yet the game still limited the performance of even higher end graphics cards to 31FPS max. While the gameplay was fun and engaging, the flaws with the mouse control proved to be a real distraction from the gaming experience.

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