By Victor Germeshuizen
It’s been eleven years since the world last saw an MDK release, but with the recent trend of releasing the hits of yesteryear in HD, gamers get a chance to experience the off-the-wall humour and unique style of the franchise again, thanks to Overhaul Games.
I was excited to revisit the crazy world and wondered how well its unique quirky humour, level design and mix of action, sniping, platforming and puzzle solving would hold up under a new coat of paint.
And what a coat of paint it is. The main characters and enemies have been completely remodelled and for the most part look fantastic, with greatly improved detail and animations. The in-game lighting and shading has also been brought up to today’s standards with aplomb. Level textures have been decently updated and sharpened, but as with the original, the levels start to look repetitive, with specific corridors and wide-open spaces being replicated again and again, not only across levels, but multiple times within the same level. You’ll find yourself running down the same twisting desolate corridor or crossing vast empty spaces so many times between the action that you’ll start to wonder why they didn’t just remove them altogether in the update.
The audio has been brushed up nicely, adding EAX support and remastering the music. The general sound effects are quite standard and get the job done, although I experienced the occasional audio anomaly and a few cases of sound effects cutting out early. But where it really shines is in the music. The remastered techno-rock and orchestral music tracks sound great, fading in and out according to the situation, be it upping the pace for action sequences, providing ambience between battles, or creating tension before and during the big boss battles.
MDK2 was now-revered Bioware’s first effort at making a 3rd person action game, taking over the franchise from now-defunct Shiny Entertainment. Bioware used the sequel to increase the focus on story, broaden the gameplay styles by adding 2 extra playable characters and upped the frequency of humour, while keeping the feeling of the general play much the same. While the story is relatively engaging, I found that the majority of the humour just hasn’t aged well. It all has a very “oh-brother” nineties sitcom feel that, while entertaining for its nostalgic value, is more silly than funny. But I suppose that’s the trapping of remaking an eleven year old game that employs that particular style of humour.
While MKD 1 had you playing only as janitor-turned-hero Kurt Hectic, the sequel also has you play as harebrained scientist Dr. Hawkins as well as his action-hungry, cigar-smoking, six-legged dog, Max. Kurt’s levels are a balanced mix of action, sniping, platforming and some light puzzle solving that usually involves sniping targets and jumping/parachuting between platforms. Approaching battles with caution and health conservation is the key, as the difficulty ramps up quite quickly. And there is a certain satisfaction to be gained from flipping back and forth between chaingun, sniping and dodging, particularly for some of the more challenging boss battles.
Max’s sections are action heavy, allowing you to mix and match up to 4 different weapons at a time as you run and gun from battle to battle. These stages were the highlight for me, both in the original and now in the remake as they don’t have the same health-conserving demands that Kurt’s stages have. You have double the health and quadruple the firepower, allowing you to go in guns blazing to just about all the conflicts. There are some less-than-exciting jetpack sections that can get quite frustrating as the controls aren’t quite up to the task, but thankfully these are generally quite brief.
As for Dr Hawkins’ levels, they’re certainly the low point of the package. The stages employ a clumsy item combining mechanic in order to solve environmental puzzles. While the combinations seldom make much sense, they maintain the quirk that the game strives to attain. For example, combining pipes and hand-drier gives you a leaf blower to shunt enemies around a level, or combining whiskey, towels and a lighter to create Molotov Cocktails. However, due to the finicky controls and the troublesome physics engine, execution of several of these solutions is inconsistent at best, and downright frustrating at worst. These puzzle sections are broken down by some of the worst platforming in modern gaming. The movement controls are simply too finicky to allow for smooth navigation, making you frequently thankful for the near-instant quicksave/quickload keys.
Fortunately the control issues are generally limited to the platforming sections and are perfectly serviceable for the various forms of action you’ll enjoy for the majority of the game. Speaking of controls, it must be noted that the game doesn’t do any sort of automatic configuration of gamepads, Xbox controller or otherwise, requiring you to reset the keys input by input. If that doesn’t make you feel like you’re gaming in the late nineties, nothing will.
In conclusion, the game looks good, sounds good, has some decent action sections and fun, creative boss battles. However the repetitive environments, poor platforming controls and dated humour holds it back from being the excellent game that most of us remember.
MDK 2 released for PC on 12 October 2011, via Interplay’s new Beamdog digital distribution service.
Last Updated: October 31, 2011