I saw a pigeon get hit by a bus today. A London intersection, a looming 73, Speckles McFlappy looks the wrong way for one soft second, and he's gone, taken from us in a misty red explosion and ensuing drift of dirty feathers. It was incredibly disturbing to watch, not least because some school kid carefully picked his way into the middle of the road a minute later to deposit a Polo Mint halo on the body. (I imagine that, right now, the same child's probably quietly strangling a pig, or chopping up his own step-family.) Weirdly, however, an hour after this tawdry event left me shaking, I was chainsawing a perfect stranger in half and then throwing his lifeless corpse into a dumpster, laughing my head off throughout.
All of which is to say that MadWorld's relationship with violence is rather special. MPs will froth, petitions will be signed, and Germans will go without, but in reality, PlatinumGames' wild street fighter has as much to do with real brutality as a 200-stone man lurching back to the all-day buffet with his own home-made plate has to do with food: both are exercises in excess. This isn't just violent; it's so violent that the overall effect is one of stunned high spirits. That's why MadWorld's closest parallel is not Gears of War, or even Hostel: it's something like that annual festival in Spain where everyone gets hooped and then chucks tomatoes at each other until somebody dies, or they get bored, or they simply run out of tomatoes.
Don't get me wrong: SEGA's new Wii title has comfortably earned its 18 certificate, and the flavours of arm-lopping, bone-crushing, and face-grinding made available to you in the opening chapter alone is enough to suggest that we're going to need to add a few lengthy additional clauses to the Confessional, just to cover off all the spellbindingly imaginative splatter at your disposal. But, even a few minutes into the game, putting a street sign through someone's neck isn't going to make you whimper - it's going to make you smirk. This is button-thumping, point-scoring nonsense of the highest order, and you can leave your real-world tears and post-traumatic stress for the likes of Speckles McFlappy and his Spearmint wake.
As you may have suspected, MadWorld's plot is a gleeful contractual obligation. A city's been cut off from the mainland, a murderous game-show is taking place in the streets, and you're caught in the middle. There's revenge, there's confusion, and there's probably a twist or two, but essentially your job is to head through the levels, killing everybody you see, as gruesomely as you possibly can. The protagonist's named Jack, and that's about as deep as things go on this one.
Good. You don't want complex motives, narrative brilliance and emotional journeys from MadWorld. You want a herd of stylish disposables to wade into, and a weighty stack of nasty things to do to them up close. On this front, the game seems entirely capable of delivering.
Throughout, MadWorld restricts itself to a modest palette of black, white and red (okay, and occasionally a bit of yellow), to create visual effects which turn out to be anything but modest. The results of what should be a pared-down approach is actually a cartoon explosion of chaos which blasts across the screen like an x-ray, and leaves other, busier, games looking distinctly wanting. And, having played the opening section, there are no signs so far that long-term variety will be a problem, the first level alone providing a stylish tangle of strikingly skewed alleyways, industrial machinery, and a cinematic big-city waterfront, while the grubby newsprint veneer adds a confident coherency.
And it's not just a looker: the development team has sharpened the Wii's often fuzzy controls to something approaching glinting precision. With the nunchuk handling movement, A and B unleash a quick punch and a slash of the arm-mounted chainsaw respectively, with a sharp yank of the remote up or across providing stronger special moves such as an uppercut and a horizontal slice. The A button also works contextually for actions, allowing you to pick up objects and grab hold of enemies, while another quick shake on the remote will launch them through the air. Despite the range of moves available, MadWorld's more than usually responsive to quick gestural commands, and shows a winning intelligence when it comes to interpreting your inputs.