It's not cool for reviewers to discourse on videogame violence. Outside of an academic setting, you'd never hear me give an opinion on whether violence in games is good, bad, or somewhere in between. I believe it's very important for writers to remain impartial when commenting on the creative result of a developer's hard work. But I don't know how to do that with Madworld, so bear with me.
I have given the game 9/10 - it's a unique graphical marvel, it makes tremendous use of the Wii's control system, it has a cool soundtrack and the background commentary to the in-game-game Death Watch is very entertaining. But - and it's a big but - this game is depraved. There comes a point, I suppose, for every gamer (or maybe there doesn't - hell, I'm not a psychologist) who has played through the GTAs and Resident Evils of this world, where he or she goes, "Okay - I'm done. That's enough blood and guts for me." I hadn't hit that point - and didn't think I would - until Madworld came along.
You can do the research on public outcry yourself. I can't put off talking about the actual game forever. But before I get into it, I have to admit I can see (at last) where these people are coming from. In discussing Madworld, the conversations must shift from the tired old "violence in videogames" model, and move to a place where we must all wonder about games that are by their very nature violent and where, more than that, players are expected to think violently - to encourage their characters to be as violent as possible. To quote the developers themselves - "Only the bloodiest, most creative tactics will help you keep alive..."
What really disturbs me is the word creative.
All that said, Madworld is going to really generate some excitement. In the game you play as Jack, a killer of wondrous detachment and ambiguous age. He is a contestant in a game known as Death Watch. The premise is simple: kill everyone. The more twisted your method of dispatch, the more points you get from it. Early cut scenes will link Jack with Agent 13, a man representing a Death Watch sponsor. In Madworld, the rich cleave themselves to the fate of Death Watch contestants and ultimately profit from their success. The action takes place in a cityscape cut off from the mainland - not unlike New York in the first of Kurt Russell's Escape movies.
Jack has a chainsaw, which is a leg up in any such situation, I'm sure, but aside from that he's all fists, boots and whatever he can pick up in the landscape. In the tutorial, Jack is guided through his attacks - you'll learn how to use the game's basic controls - punching with A, using the chainsaw with B, etc. You can swipe either vertically or horizontally with the chainsaw, each one dismembering your victim in a different way. Each is controlled with an appropriate flick of the Wii Remote. If you punch a victim to the ground, you will be given a finishing option - depending on how you approach him as he lies on the ground or kneels in front of you will determine what this is - you might run him through with your chainsaw, rip his head off (yank Nunchuck and Wii Remote in opposite directions) or swing him around and launch him into a wall or in front of an oncoming train (swing the Remote in a circle).
You can grab your quarry and hold them off the ground with A. If they get a little wriggly, sort that out with a calming headbutt by giving the Nunchuck a shake, rendering them nice and rubbery, and perfect for setting down on spikes (wall-mounted or sticking up from the floor - your choice). Sitting someone on a ground spike will see it burst wetly from atop their head. On the wall they penetrate your enemy's back, and you're not limited to a one-shot deal either. By shaking the remote you can lift them off and slam them back on over and over.
Tires and street-signs are the least of the horrors you can find scattered around to aid you in your kills. Signs can be used to bash with, or spear opponents through the head. Tires can be thrown at them or used to bind them: you will find it much easier to spike someone if they can't move their arms.
You get the drift? Later in the game you'll hurl people into jet engines, be attacked as you weave through the streets on motorcycles, and come up against some tough bosses, but the basic plot is fairly one-track: kill everybody, and make it look pretty.
The look and feel of the game has been inspired by comic book art, and the developers have done a wonderful job of bringing the gritty, urban comic book feel to it. Madworld is presented almost entirely in monochromatic black and white, except for the lurid red of spilled blood and the yellow ZOOM!s and SPLAT!s that decorate the screen after elaborate killings. At first I thought this might all be a bit hard on the eyes, but it's not too bad at all. Each time I moved into a new area, I was taken aback by the level of detail that has been rendered using this simple colour scheme. And it would be only fair to point out here that while the game is beyond-violent, much of what happens is very cartoonish in style: you won't be able to resist thinking about the work of one Frank Miller.
The game has plenty to offer in terms of length, exploration and enduring appeal. There's multiplayer modes, minigames and of course the challenge of making it from one bespattered end to the other. There is plenty of bang-for-your buck, make no mistake, but in scoring Madworld for value I would have liked to be able to give it a 0/10 for what it fails to add to the world.
The game's soundtrack is perfect for it and helps with pace and flow. The sound effects, again, are pretty cartoony, but they fit with the overall style so there's no complaints. At least the reduced realism makes it easy to take a step back from tearing people apart and smashing faces in with spiked bats.
Madworld is a game that will appeal to many people - so please let me be clear in saying I am just one reviewer who found it far too pointlessly violent. The concept is solid, I've raved enough about how it looks, and using the Wii's controls as you do makes you truly appreciate developers who go all out to give you a unique gaming experience. Undoubtedly, Madworld's R18 was the right way to go, and I would never argue that sound minds shouldn't be able to get their hands on this game if it's what they want.
But for my part, I think I need to play something with Mario in it. Stat.