Reviewed: April 15, 2000
Released: March 29, 2000
One of the best-kept secrets of 1997 was the amazing 3D action title MDK. To this day I'm not sure why this game never achieved the popularity it deserved. Perhaps the timing was off since most of the world was still caught up with the Lara Croft phenomenon. Whatever the reasons, I loved the original MDK the minute I played it, and it is still one of my all-time favorite shooters. So when I heard that MDK2 was coming I started exercising my trigger finger and cleaned that oily gunk out of my Dreamcast controller.
Shiny was responsible for the first MDK but this time around BioWare did the development for this sequel from Interplay. BioWare is known best for Baldur's Gate and its sequel. MDK2 is their latest entry in a short but impressive list of titles to come from this relatively new developer.
So what is MDK2. This is the question that has been asked ever since the release of the first game and even prompted a contest on the official website. Originally thought to be "Murder - Death - Kill" (taken from the movie "Demolition Man"), this was quickly dismissed by the authors - probably to soothe the anti-violence groups and senators hounding the videogame industry at that time. Other ideas were Max, Dr. Hawkins, and Kurt - the three main characters of the game. Regardless of what MDK stands for, it is a definite fact that this game is one 3D shooter that will challenge every fiber of your gaming skills.
The original MDK had you playing as Kurt, an ex-janitor turned superhero who had to save the world. Outfitted in his skin-tight battle suit complete with sniper helmet and deployable ribbon-chute, Kurt explored unique 3D levels and killed countless aliens bent on taking over the world. In MDK2, Kurt is back and he has all his nifty gadgets, but this time Max and Dr. Hawkins are both playable characters and each offers their own unique perspective and talents in solving the incredible levels in this game.
Kurt still uses his agility and deadly sniper helmet to finesse his way through levels. Max, the experimental 6-legged dog is the "Rambo" of this game. Walking upright leaves Max four arms and each can be equipped with a weapon making him a devastating force to be reckoned with. In the original game Max would just fly in for air strikes, but now you can put any combination of weapons in his paws and let him loose on the helpless aliens. Dr. Fluke Hawkins uses his mind to solve the various puzzles and combines various items to make tools and weapons to get him out of trouble. So by having three unique characters you get a wonderful blend of action and puzzle solving.
The storyline of MDK2 is pretty straightforward. The opening movie (done ala comic book style) recaps the original game then morphs into a glorious 3D rendered opening movie giving you a taste of the graphics and action to come. It seems that Kurt overlooked some aliens the first time around, so he must return to Earth and finish the job.
MDK2 uses a control scheme that is a bit revolutionary and could cause some initial problems for a few gamers. But once you go through the opening tutorial and play the first level it should become second nature. MDK2 uses the buttons to move while keeping the analog stick available for full panning. Much like a PC's keyboard/mouse combination, now you can be moving in one direction while shooting in another. This makes strafing and shooting targets above or below your location very easy once you master the coordination. You can use button combos to move diagonally so you have eight directions, which is more than enough to get through any of the levels.
Firing and jumping are assigned to the analog triggers and the digital d-pad has functions assigned to each of its four directions. Press down on the d-pad and your sniper mode is enabled allowing you to target aliens barely visible with the naked eye. Sometimes you are required to use the scope to solve certain puzzles or shoot targets to continue through the level. The rest of the d-pad is reserved to scroll through your item inventory and use the various items you collect during the levels such as grenades or the infamous inflatable decoy dummy.
The levels with Max are great. The whole concept of playing a 6-legged, cigar smoking, dog with a bad attitude is beyond imagination. Then you put four Uzi's in his paws and watch him shred through countless alien hordes and you will be speechless. Max's first level puts him inside a missile that you must navigate through an asteroid belt until he reaches the enemy ship. This segment is done in a 2D side-scrolling arcade style nostalgic of 80's games like Defender. Once he lands on the alien ship in a spectacular cinematic masterpiece, you can then start to kick ass and take names...aww...forget the names.
The levels with the Doctor are a bit slower and require you to use your mind more than your reflexes. You will need to start thinking like MacGyver to figure out some of the unique item combinations required to solve some of the challenging puzzles. Even so, there is considerable combat with some really cool homemade weapons that takes place when you play as the Doctor.
MDK2 is a very difficult game. Don't plan on finishing this during a 3-day rental. Some of the levels go on and on and the bosses are extremely difficult. Not that I am complaining - I am always up for a challenge and I applaud BioWare for having the courage to actually release a game that is this hard. Some puzzles and bosses will force you to use every reflex you can muster, and also require you to maximize the architecture and resources of the arena itself. Bosses have patterns that you must learn them and use to your advantage if you ever hope to win. Sure, you will get frustrated. Sure, you will throw the controller and curse more than your parents would like. But the satisfaction of the victory will be your reward and this game offers great satisfaction.
Stunning, inspired, innovative, imaginative are all words I could easily use to describe the look and feel of this game. Some of the level designs are just so "wacked out" that you wonder what the designers were on when the created them. If you take the H.R. Geiger designs from the Alien movies and combine them with the colors of a Disney or Pixar feature film you start to come close to the look of MDK2. Screenshots hardly do this game the justice it deserves in the visuals department.
The characters are modeled in explicit detail and smoothly animated. The enemies are unique and hilarious, especially when viewed through the sniper scope where you can catch them making faces and rude noises as they taunt you. Even though the emphasis of this game is heavy on the killing, it is done in a humorous fashion. There is very little gore, and alien blood (as we all know) is green so parents shouldn't worry too much about the kids playing this. If your child is old enough to master the complex controls then they won't need therapy after playing MDK2.
Real-time shadows; brilliant colors, creative lighting and great visual effects like explosions and advanced particle modeling pushes the power of the Dreamcast to the extreme to bring you a visual tour de' force of epic and comedic proportions. This is easily the best looking shooter on the Dreamcast to date.
The music in MDK2 rocks, but the sound leaves a bit to be desired. The dialog is great and the voice actors deliver their lines with the quality appropriate for a comical title such as this. The opening narration is awesome and delivered by a powerful Gary Owens-type voice (remember the Space Quest narrator) that makes the whole game sound a lot more serious than it really is. Kurt sounds a bit tired and resentful of being thrust into more dangerous battles, and the Doctor sounds suitably eccentric reminding me of the scientist on Fox's Futurama.
Enemies all have unique and often humorous alien sounds and when they do speak you can't help but laugh. After completing the first level and seeing the giant alien boss adjust his sunglasses and say, "Who's your daddy?" you won't know what to expect next.
Weapon sound effects are weak. The chain gun is perhaps the worst sounding weapon I've ever heard, but things pick up when Max starts unloading four Uzi's at the same time. Overall, the weapon sounds have definite room for improvement and is probably the low point for this title.
This game will keep you glued to the screen for hours on end, stopping only when your fingers are too tired or you are too frustrated to keep going. I often had to stop playing and settle down before getting through some of the more complicated levels, puzzles and bosses. The bosses are extremely difficult and require careful analyzing and strategy. The average gamer can expect 30-40 hours of game play here, and more advanced gamers can probably cut that number in half.
Being able to play the entire game as any of the three characters would have added tremendous replay value to this title. As it is, there isn't much to make you go back and play again other than the sheer joy of playing one of the best 3D action shooters available for the SEGA Dreamcast.
MDK2 is an "old school" shooter offering intense battles with unique enemies and killer bosses set against a backdrop of imaginative level design. Once you get past the learning curve of the complex controls you will find yourself sucked into the amazing graphics and rich environments. The stunning 3D-rendered cinematics keep the hilarious story moving along and serve as your reward for completing the nine insanely difficult levels.
The difficulty factor is extremely high but so is the fun factor. Younger or less experienced gamers may become frustrated with this title after a few levels, so you may want to rent before you buy just to see if this is to your liking. But if you are up for the challenge then MDK2 will put all of your gaming skills to the ultimate test.