Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Art of Alice: Madness Returns Review

American McGee's Alice: Madness Returns, released in 2011 had a creepy, macabre, but visually stunning design. However, I feel that you cannot actually appreciate the aesthetics until you've viewed the concept designs, official commissioned pieces and more in the Dark Horse published hardback artbook, The Art of Alice: Madness Returns.

Artist anecdotes, an introduction from American McGee himself, and plenty of art is scattered throughout the 184 pages of this delightful hardback book. Not only is there a lot of pages, but the paper is thick and glossy, the binding is great, and it looks great in an eye-catching hardback cover. 
It seems pretty obvious to most, but unless you've never played Alice: Madness Returns, the book probably isn't worth picking up. Also, just as a warning, this artbook is rather gruesome for the most part. If there's not a splattering of gore, there are plenty of disturbing enough pieces of art which deems this unsuitable for the squeamish, and those who shy away from the stranger things in life. 

The book begins with a lengthily introduction from the game's creator, American McGee, whose twisted fantasy vision is seen throughout not only this game, but Madness Return's predecessor, American McGee's Alice. This introduction sheds some light on the initial creation of this sequel title, and provides McGee with the opportunity to express his pride at helping to create such a visually driven video game. After this, the book is split up into different sections, which present the artwork for different aspects of the game, such as the preproduction, the designing of the Victorian London seen in the game, and Alice's dresses. 
It's surprising to see how much art was created for the game-most of it in this book never actually made it into the game, but gave some examples of how different Alice: Madness Returns could have been if it was included. These include enemy designs which were either deemed too bizarre or gruesome, or because they simply did not fit in with the rest of the chosen characters. 

Every single page welcomes a brand new surprise or wonderful image that I for one could not help but stare at for ages. The book brings illustrations such as a Jack the Ripper style character mixed with the creatures of HP Lovecraft novels, angler fish with human legs, steampunk and gothic creations, and much more. The book includes a two page spread of a painting of a mother giving birth to lots of children. It's a bloody, bizarre picture that even I, who has enjoyed the rest of the quirky art contained in this book, understood why it was deemed too gory for the game! (I often skip this picture rather quickly when flicking through the book). 

There is so much packed into The Art of Alice: Madness Returns that it is impossible to read it, and look at all the pictures from cover to cover in one go. I found that it has taken me several read-through's to read every single comment on the art, as well as view and appreciate this high quality art before I could officially say that I've been through this art book completely. 
What makes this book that much more interesting is the inclusion of comments from those who have worked on the game. Each and every illustration is explained by one of the team, and it really helps to explain what the creators were aiming to convey when Alice: Madness Returns was released to the general public. 

The larger illustrations in the book are magnificent, and I found myself being drawn into looking at huge amount of detail in these images for ages before I  was able to turn the page. These large paintings really depict a wonderfully twisted, gothic world that players wander through during playing Madness Returns. The final few pages present some of the game's official commissioned pieces which tied in with the advertising of the game. Fans should be quite familiar with these, but they look even better in a glossy paged hardback book. 
Overall, The Art of Alice: Madness Returns is a gorgeous art book. Fans of the game will love this, especially as it comes packed with so many illustrations that did not make it into the final version of the game. There is plenty of gothic, dark, quirky and macabre pieces of art inside, most of which are still strangely beautiful. However, as you may have gathered, it's a dark book, and it does contain a substantial level of gore (blood mainly) in a large proportion of the drawings. Therefore, if you're a little squeamish, or darker, gothic art does not appeal to you, then you may not want to check it out. A lot of the pieces of art remind me of a cross between surrealist painters Salvador Dali and Mark Ryden (the latter is actually quoted as being a major influence during the art stage of the game), with splatterings of Tim Burton and American McGee, as well as a distinctly victorian, gothic, colourful feel. It's a fantastic artbook which I still enjoy looking through. I highly recommend it!

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