There’s a man dying in front of you. Blood is pouring out of his torso like a fountain, and the gash across his gut is deep enough to suck. He’s staring at you with wide, agony-stricken eyes, screaming at you for help. There’s not a lot of time, so you have to act quickly. There are several ways to approach this, though. You could just let him die. But that’s not what your sponsor wants, what the fans expect, or the what the rules imply. Besides, it’s just… boring. So what will it be? A streetlamp through the skull? How about dunking him into a flaming barrel, then tossing him into a dumpster? At least you’d be cleaning up your own messes. Of course, being messy is encouraged here. Murder is expected, but it’s the suffering that really matters. You’re the one who ripped the guy open, so you better make the finish look good.
Welcome to Varrigan City.
Oh, don’t feel guilty. Quibbling over morality has long gone out of style here; given the situation, you’d be a murderer, too. Terrorists have sealed off the city and turned it into a massive reality television show. Winners of the Deathwatch Games get to live, and the last one standing gets millions in prize money. As for the losers, well, that should be obvious. The rich and powerful get to sit back and enjoy the slaughter from the comfort of home, complete with move-by-move commentary. Jack Cayman, in the meantime, is the show’s latest rising star. It’s obvious he’s there for more than just the money, but his true motives are only gradually revealed throughout the game. Despite being the hero, he’s hardly a likeable protagonist; he’s gruff, tough, and utterly apathetic about the violence surrounding him.
It’s probably for the best, though. When your work involves murdering people, a good personality isn’t exactly necessary. Besides, Jack is very good at what he does. His punches and kicks can shatter bones, and he’s able to swing the average foe around like a rag doll. But it’s the hardware that makes Jack stand out from your average badass. He’s approaching this Evil Dead style: a prosthetic chainsaw attached to his right arm. There’s nothing that ends a fight to the death faster than some saw teeth through the skull. All you have to do is press down on the B Button and swing away. The problem is that the motion detection doesn’t offer much in the way combos. Such things would be kind of pointless, given how most enemies get cleaved in half with a single attack. Things get more interesting once you’ve beaten your target senseless; you’ll be able to execute finishing moves by following on-screen commands. A quick controller thrust might let you split a foe from the crotch up, and a spinning motion could send your victim flying. It’s as gruesome as it is fun.
But you can do better. Much, much better. Varrigan City has been converted into a giant deathtrap, and you’ll find plenty of ways to use it accordingly. Several of the objects laying around can be used as weapons. See that fancy street lamp? Try plucking it out of the ground and shoving it through someone’s eye. Don’t limit yourself to just one, either; turn the guy’s face into a pincushion! A little variety works wonders, too; you could tie someone up with a tire, ram a bottle of fizzing soda down his throat, force his body into a barrel, and finish things off with an old-fashioned disembowelment. Then there’s all the environmental hazards; you can force your victims onto a wall of spikes, shove them into spinning blades and passing vehicles, toss them into fireplaces and piranha-infested waters, shock them with light fixtures, and even decorate trees with their corpses. There are literally so many ways to kill someone that you might miss some of them the first time through. The trick is learning how to use these objects and surroundings to maximize the amount of suffering; the more devastating your combos are, the higher scores you’ll get.
It’s not just about killing people in cool ways, either. Those scores are what allow you to progress in a given level. After you’ve racked up enough damage, other parts of the level will be made available for you to use. It’ll start off small, like a unlocking a spiked club, flaming torch, and other pickups. You’ll eventually unlock a variety of mini-games as well. You’ll have to kill as many people as possible in a given time limit, using whatever special machine or weapon is provided to you. Most of these are simple and straightforward, like using a bat to smash foes onto a giant dartboard, turning bodies into gory fireworks, or feeding a crowd into a giant jet turbine. Others aren’t quite as polished; you’ll have a hard time whacking heads off accurately in man Golf, or impaling foes onto giant porn star billboards. These awesome (and hilariously over-the-top) Bloodbath Challenges provide a nice break from the usual combat. Once you’ve gotten through all the mini-games and killed enough foes, you’ll eventually be treated to an awesome boss battle and progress to the next area. Rinse and repeat, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming the Deathwatch champ.
It won’t take you long, either. This game is ridiculously short. If you don’t count replays – which you will have to deal with thanks to a severely limited amount of lives and some absurdly difficult battles – it shouldn’t take you more than four hours to beat. The replay value is based on the scoring system; with so many different methods of murder and mayhem to use, chances are you’ll figure out new and better ways to outdo yourself the second time through. Aside from a harder difficulty setting and higher scores (or a morbid fascination with wholesale slaughter), there’s not a much to keep you coming back for another round. MadWorld does what it was designed to do; it recaptures the gameplay style of old-school brawlers while kicking up the violence to absurd levels. The problem is that it’s all it does. While the combat is immensely entertaining, there just isn’t enough of it to justify its high price.
Even if you can forgive its brevity, MadWorld is hardly a perfect game. It’s got one huge, glaring flaw: the camera. It’s terrible. Borderline horrendous. Once you get into the bigger levels, you’ll find it’s difficult to navigate due to the occasionally shifting angles and objects blocking your view. Your most well-intentioned grabs could result in you gripping nothing but air, or awkwardly stumbling through a crowd of foes because you’re not swinging in the direction you thought you were. The game tries to make things up by including a lock-on targeting system, but it’s inconsistent at best. Since your enemies are constantly on the move, focusing on just one means you’ll lose track of your surroundings and miss potential kills and pickups. Instead, you’ll likely end up relying upon the on-screen map of the level and its dots showing the locations of your foes. But if the camera was any good, you wouldn’t have to fall back on a map in the first place.
At least you’ll have plenty to see as you get your bearings. One of MadWorld’s biggest draws is its unique graphical style. Rather than going for something hyper-realistic, Sega decided to keep things simple by limiting the art palette to only a few colors. Nearly all of the levels are presented in black and white, using stark contrasts to outline shapes and structures. It might seem bland and jumbled at first, but you’ll realize just how detailed the levels are. You’ll crusade down city streets, leaping over abandoned and passing by boarded-up buildings. There’s even a small castle to storm, right down to the breakable glasses of wine, suits of armor, and flaming candelabras practically begging to be shoved up someone’s nose. The boss battles are even better; one of the high points of the game involves you sidestepping tornados and dodging the barrages of falling debris. There is a problem with the frame rate, though; once you get enough enemies on-screen, things can slow down to a crawl for a few moments. Aside from superb design and lighting effects, there’s only one thing keeping the levels from being too drab: blood. Lots of it. The constant splotches and splashes of the red stuff makes the violence all the more festive.
MadWorld does a good job of balancing the grotesque and humorous aspects of the situation, too. It’s all thanks to some excellent writing and voice acting to back it up. Jack Cayman’s story might be dark and gritty, but his exploits are celebrated throughout the game via a pair of commentators following his every move. Greg Proops and John DiMaggio provide the play-by-play with tons of outrageous lines and possibly offensive (but still witty) jokes. You’ll hear everything from the analysis of the level hazards, anecdotes about prostitutes, the celebration of drug use, and tons of other stuff that you’d never expect to hear in a video game. MadWorld has no problem poking fun at itself, either; characters will point out the ridiculousness of having saw blades buzzing our of walls, or how the entire Asian-themed level is little more than a bunch of stereotypes cobbled together. Such humor does a good job of keeping gamers from getting overwhelmed by all blood and guts they’ll spill. Needless to say, this isn’t the kind of game you’d want to play in front of your mother.
MadWorld has a lot going for it. It’s got an intriguing story that examines the violence and excesses of our society. The combat is brutal and bloody, but it’s also incredibly fun. There’s something alluring (if not utterly perverse) about mowing down hapless foes with a chainsaw, all while being cheered on by the viewers. With so many weapons, objects, and environmental hazards to use, you’ll find plenty of ways prolong the suffering of your enemies. Despite the occasional slowdown issues, the levels are incredibly stylish and make the experience far more interesting than if it were depicted with realistic imagery. Unfortunately, MadWorld falls short of its potential. The camera and targeting mechanics are bad, almost game-ruining awful. What really kills this game’s appeal is its brevity; since you can beat this in only a few hours, the high price tag might not be justified. However, it’s still one of the most fun, entertaining, and unique titles on the Wii. Who says violence in video games is a bad thing?