The game starts off with psychopathic inmate Kasady in a mental asylum, being wheeled into the place on a board and a straight jacket by maximum security (see what I did there?) officers. While the game quite brilliantly shows you this through comic panels taken from the pages of the titular book series, Kasady abruptly breaks free from his binding after the Venom symbiote takes him under control and transforms him and his personality into the raving lunatic super-villain, Carnage.
With Carnage on the loose, it's up to the unlikely combined efforts of Spider-Man and Venom, along with Cloak, Dagger, Firestar, Iron Fist, Captain America, as well as a huge team of heroes and villains alike to take Carnage down. To stop the raging psychopath from doing what he does; going on maniacal, villainous spree, and this is really all you need to know.
In the first moments of gameplay, you control Spider-Man, armed only with his webs and his wits, facing off against random street thugs solely to advance the story and to get the player used to what they'll be doing through the entire game; KICKIN' ASS!
This is expected in a beat 'em up, and as such a game, Maximum Carnage succeeds pretty well.
As well as playing as Spider-Man, you can also play as Venom once you advance the story enough. Both characters play differently, such as Venom being slower but dealing more damage, and both have an impressively large array of attacks, though you'll only be mashing the attack button for most of them. This isn't a bad thing, mind you. The control is incredibly fluent, definitely more so than the first Streets of Rage, and the way you implement each attack is where the meat of the gameplay comes from.
You can tackle your opponents in the way you see fit. You can climb buildings and bring swift justice to enemy faces by dropping down while delivering kicks to the face, webbing up enemies for short periods of time, grabbing enemies, a badass web swing/kick, calling in hero/villain allies, and the typical special move with a larger area of effect that will drain a small bit of health, but only if the attack connects.
All of these attacks mixed with smart enemy placement all the way throughout the game make for a rather strategic beat 'em up, and is quite refreshing. I personally found Maximum Carnage more enjoyable than beat 'em ups like Final Fight or Streets of rage, because once you manage to get involved with the game enough, it's just a deeper experience.
The strategic elements of this game really start to show the more you play, considering this game will hand your ass to you on more than a LOT of occasions. You'll have to do everything in your power to take as little damage as possible, search every nook and cranny of the levels for extra lives, continues and health, as well as triggering secret rooms full of helpful items throughout.
Interspersed between levels of beating up street hooligans, you'll face some really tough, really impressive boss fights. From Demogoblin to Shriek to even Carnage himself, sometimes all of them at once, the boss fights are a tough challenge. The only complaint I have with them is that they are recycled far too much. The best boss fight in the game, Muzzoid, is really the only balanced boss there is. He'll telegraph attacks and won't get cheap shots off on you if you know what you're doing, but the same can't be said for the rest of the bosses. Demogoblin and Carnage himself (naturally) being the worst offenders. Expect to die, and expect it to happen a lot.
It's fortunate that exploring the game, and even repeating the levels time and time again works well since the game looks amazing for the time it was released. Character sprites are large, detailed, have a huge number of animations tied to them, and everything here runs silky smooth. Backgrounds are colorful and bright, even during night time levels, buildings have detail, foreground objects work wonders if they're not obscuring your view, and the mighy parallax scrolling makes a welcome appearance without being overused. Maximum Carnage is a great game to play as much as it is to watch.
Sound wise, the game is astounding. You'll be treated to tons of great bone crunching sounds, the sticky call of a web being shot, and best of all the music was composed by the amazing 90s comedy/metal/overall badass band Green Jelly, and it sounds great here on the Genesis. Sega's 16-bit wonder machine never had a good reputation in the sound department, with most soundtracks sounding tinny, distorted and without much bass. Thankfully, the bass here is surprisingly full, and the distorted sound the Genesis is famous for really lends itself well to Green Jelly's music. It's one of my favorite soundtracks for a 16-bit game, and the sound aesthetic on the console worked much better for me personally than it did on the SNES, and even the music in that version was no slouch.
Just don't expect to pick this game up and beat it your first time through. To complete this dauntingly brutal task, you'll have to know the location of every collectible around. Maximum Carnage will not just hand out extra lives or continues, you have to work for them. You absolutely need every last one you can find. This is where the game finds its only major shortcoming; if you haven't noticed by now, it's the game's difficulty. It is way, way too hard for new players the first 3 or even 4 times trying, and there are no difficulty settings. That being said, I can really only recommend this to those searching for an absolutely tough as nails challenge.
That doesn't mean the game is bad, though. Quite the opposite. Maximum Carnage is a great game, and is a near perfect beat 'em up for those looking for said challenge. Tons of superheroes and villains, a great story told in a thoroughly enjoyable way, and fun, sometimes frustrating, gameplay mixed with amazing sound and visuals make for an amazing experience. Just try not to break too many controllers in the process.