Forcing a signpost through a man’s face, then slamming him repeatedly against a wall of spikes. Tearing into a man’s chest with my bare hands, pulling his heart out, then crushing it right in front of him while he watches. Beating a man with a spiked club, throwing him head-first into a toilet, then cutting his legs off with a chainsaw that is grafted to my arm. Picking up an oil-drum, slamming it over a man’s head, then throwing him into the path of a train covered in spikes. Punching a man repeatedly in the face until he loses consciousness, then grabbing him and head-butting him until his head shatters.
After half an hour’s play, that’s just a selection of the ways in which I have killed those who thought that picking a fight with me was a good idea. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to MadWorld.
Let’s get one thing straight, here – while MadWorld carries a BBFC 18 certificate (and rightly so, many would say), and features some of the most satisfying violence ever to grace a video game, it somehow fails to be anywhere near as disturbing or wanton as the stuff we’re hearing about, say, the upcoming Saw game. Maybe it’s just down to the Sin City-esque visuals, but at no point does MadWorld shock you any more than an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. My point being, don’t think I’m some kind of sadistic wanker if I start talking about how great it is that you can punch a man and and then throw a bin over him and set him on fire and jam a spear through his head and punch him again and then pick him up and throw him around a bit and then stab him to death with knives. Because the funny thing with MadWorld is that it bothers to back it all up with some excellently solid gaming.
It’s the near future, and an entire island has been completely cut off from the outside world – by filthy terrorists, no less – and they’re using it to host DeathWatch, a kill-or-be-killed TV gameshow where the viewers are invited to get involved by betting on the contestants they think will make it to the end. Enter Jack, a mysterious contestant who appears on the third day of the game with a chainsaw grafted to his forearm, and promptly begins to kick the poo out of anyone who gets in his way. Suffice it to say that the story gets a little more complicated than this, and it’s made fairly obvious right off the bat that Jack isn’t exactly your average contestant. The story is hardly the game’s main selling point, but some of the cutscenes are fairly awesome – and if you don’t agree, you can always skip them. Hurrah.
Now, it’s all too easy to call MadWorld a fighting game, but this isn’t totally accurate – it involves fighting, sure, but that’s not really the main focus. If you want to beat your enemies in a fight, you pull the trigger on your Wii remote, flick it in any direction, and congratulations – you’ve just cut a guy in half with your chainsaw. Trouble is, this doesn’t get you many points – and MadWorld is all about scoring points. If you want to progress, you have to rack up points by going for more elaborate kills – see the first paragraph for a few examples – and so you have to get creative with the enemies and your environment if you want to do well. The more stuff you use to kill a single enemy, the more points you get. In other words – it’s not a fighting game. It’s a killing game.
This may, initally, disappoint fans of God Hand. Yeah, all three of you. For those who don’t know, God Hand is an incredible roaming beat-‘em-up on the PS2 that got overlooked because of its admittedly slightly rubbish visuals, and the fact that it was really difficult. The reason it gets a mention here is because MadWorld comes from (more or less) the same development team, and ostensibly sits in the same genre, so comparisons are inevitable. Getting enjoyment out of God Hand almost solely relied on learning all the nuances of the incredibly well-polished fighting mechanics, since each and every fight could easily be the death of you, and so each victory was meaningful. Avoiding death in MadWorld, on the other hand, is a lot easier – and even then, you have multiple lives per level. And it’s less about getting the better of your opponents, and more about spilling as much of their blood as you can before they finally kick the bucket. So while the two games appear to be similar, they each have their own subtleties that set them apart.
That said, MadWorld enjoys the occasional change of pace in the form of boss battles at the end of each stage. These require more thought than the regular plebs you have to deal with, despite their heavy use of quick-time events, and… oh, man – the QTEs. Now, don’t get me wrong – I hate QTEs. Loved them in Shenmue, hated them in pretty much everything since. But the execution of the primarily gesture-based QTEs in MadWorld is what really sets it apart from other games in its genre. If you’ve played No More Heroes, imagine the QTEs in that, but about ten times as satisfying. Throughout the game’s (admittedly short) lifespan, you won’t ever get tired of swinging the remote around your head to throw an enemy into a dumpster, or swiping the remote and nunchuck outwards to break a guy’s neck. And while a lot of the bosses feature arguably cheap ‘power struggles’ – that is, waving the remote and nunchuck as hard as you can in order to get the better of an enemy, somehow – they’re almost always presented in a way that makes you feel like the world’s biggest badass, even though all you’ve done is shake some pieces of plastic around in front of a TV while some poor guy is getting his ass handed to him on-screen. But there’s enough of a connection between the two that it feels really invigorating – and it’s a connection that could never exist without the motion controls. A couple of levels in, you’ll find that even though the QTE prompt basically says ‘SHAKE THE CONTROLLERS LIKE AN IDIOT’, you’ll be mimicing Jack’s on-screen actions, because you’ve got this extra level of immersion that you won’t find in most games – helped in no small part by the fact that the boss battles are genuinely exhausting at times.
Then there’s the commentators. Superbly voiced by Greg Proops and John DiMaggio, they’re a near-constant source of amusement, and they’re wildly offensive to boot. In fact, I’d go as far to suggest that the game’s ‘grownups-only’ BBFC certificate is more down to the commentators than the game’s violent content. No subject is considered taboo as far as these two gents are concerned, and they even manage to sneak in a joke about domestic violence. As funny as the commentators are, mind you, the game has an awful habit of repeating the same lines over and over again – particularly when you pull off the same environmental kill several times in a row, which happens often. What’s even more curious is the fact that you’ll often hear several different takes of the same line – suggesting that the game was programmed to incorporate more lines of dialogue, but that they were either never written or just not translated into English, so the same ones got used over and over again instead. This is wild speculation on my part, of course. But it’s strange nonetheless.
Oh, you want more negatives? Fine. As mentioned earlier, MadWorld is really, really short. By the time I’d finished the game, the time on my save file – which, to be fair, doesn’t include retries – had barely made it over six hours. However, this is a little easier to swallow when you realise that, despite the game’s brevity, it’s also totally free of fluff. Having reached the end of the game, I’d have trouble picking a single moment where I wasn’t thoroughly enjoying myself. So, is MadWorld short, or does it simply have respect for the amount of time its audience will have to play it? Personally, I’m inclined to pick the latter – especially since, in the time it’s taken me to write this review, most major games retailers have seen fit to slash MadWorld‘s price to around £20. The fact that it’s not riding high in the charts, even at that price-point, should be a great source of shame to any self-respecting gamer, and it sends out a really unfortunate message to publishers who were considering bankrolling original and, dare I say it, proper games for the Wii.
Still, despite its shortcomings, MadWorld still deserves heaps of praise for the things it does right. Its mix of visceral but strategic combat with stunning visuals, memorable characters and some genuine laugh-out-loud moments easily earns its place on anybody’s shelf. As long as they’re over 18, obviously. Oh, and one piece of advice – don’t ever put the controllers down during cut-scenes.