Written by  :  Maw (884)
Written on  :  Apr 13, 2007
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.25 Stars4.25 Stars4.25 Stars4.25 Stars4.25 Stars

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On a good day, 2.5 billion people will die

The Good

Since in theory you can put anything in a video game, it's surprising how damned unimaginative many games are. The quest for "realism" has produced many pretentious and mediocre games that fail in the basic requirement for a game; to be entertaining. Arcade-style games have less trouble in this regard, as they can suspend the laws of physics and realism any time they want for the sake of a roller-coaster gaming experience. MDK is one such game. While tactical and strategic shooters bog themselves down with realistic physics, firing modes, and squad AI (sometimes sacrificing gameplay to do so), it's nice to see a shooter that has no pretensions about itself and desires only to entertain.

MDK is an over-the-shoulder 3rd person shooter where you play as Kurt (a cute, androgynous little guy with a chaingun cannon built into his arm), who is apparently earth's sole defence against a menacing breed of Alien spacecraft called Minecrawlers. Your goal is to board each of these Minecrawlers (they're as big as a good-sized city) and shut them down through whatever means necessary. This amounts to progressing through a series of linear levels, blasting enemies, and finding out what you have to do to destroy the Minecrawler. This is different on each level, sometimes you'll have to deactivate a set of switches/blow something up, other times you'll have to fight a boss.

The meat of the game is centered around massive set-piece shooting sequences interspersed with puzzles that are similar to Rayman. You have unlimited ammo, and a parachute built into your exoskeleton that allows you to glide across huge chasms with ease. At the press of a button you can switch into sniper mode, which allows you to zoom in and blow away enemies that are seemingly miles away. This versatile combat system allows the developers to pile on the baddies and force the player into seemingly impossible situations that can be escaped through obscure logic and creative use of Kurt's talents.

To add more variety to the game they threw in a bunch of other oddball gameplay conventions, including rail-shooting, hover board flying, Crash-Bandicoot-style tunnel-surfing, and even a few well-placed mini-games (that actually add to the gameplay instead of serving as mere gimmicks and distractions unlike most mini-games). You get a bonus if you complete a level within a set time limit, and a funny one-liner from your boss if you don't.

Already you have the premise for an engaging and quirky action game. But Shiny pulls out all the stops for their fans by pulling off set-piece stunts of sheer audacity. Have you ever seen something in a videogame so amazing and unexpected it sent your brain into a near-meltdown, something that made you think "HOLY CRAP, I HAD NO IDEA THEY COULD DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT". I'm talking about things like the skydiving gun battle in No One Lives Forever, the zero-gravity level in Quake, the fight against Ganondorf in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, where you think you've won and suddenly Ganon comes back to life for a showdown of near-apocalyptic proportions. Yeah, stuff so mind-numbingly brilliant that it takes your dignity, your sense of reason, and the layer of cynical jadedness that surrounds ever gamer and throws it into an industrial wood chipper.

Well, MDK is full of moments like that. Time and again you'll be thinking you've seen it all and then the game will shock you with something new. One time I was running towards an exit or safety with only a few points of health left, thinking "whew, I did it" and than suddenly the walls of the building fell out to reveal massive laser-shooting turrets that turned the entire level into a technicolor killing zone. The whole feel of the game is one of hectic, unbroken spontaneity, as if the level design was being channeled directly from the mind of Dr Seuss to a C++ program. Many tricks and set-pieces could have easily detracted from the gameplay, or played no other part other than eye-candy, but Shiny pulls them off with brass balls. The final boss fight was so hilariously creative I felt the urge to applaud.

The acid-tripping world MDK is set in complements the action and skewers the lunatic, over-the-top feel the game has. Think of Chronicles of Riddick crossed with Tron and you have an idea of what to expect. At no point does the game try to be realistic so any sort of architecture is possible, ranging from urban environments to sandy deserts to completely nonsensical fantasy worlds that were seemingly thought up on the whim of the developers. There's hardly any eye-candy, though this is no criticism.

The game is graphically exceptional with a first-generation polygon engine that looks far less blocky than Quake 2 or Unreal, and is faster too. It doesn't have real-time lighting to play with, but makes up for it with reflective surfaces and even some particle and flame effects. But the star of the show here is Kurt himself, with by far the most detailed model in the game with some exquisitely well-rendered animations and movements (look at him while sidestepping). The enemy models are very blocky but equally well animated, and will gesticulate and taunt you from a distance. MDK is also one of the first games to have a completely bug-free sniper mode, you can zoom in and out on targets anywhere without having to worry about clipping problems.

The music video (performed by pop group BZK) you get when you beat the game was a hoot, and I wish developers would include stuff like this more often in their games.

The Bad

The cutesy enemies and general level of quirkiness would probably just annoy many of you (make no mistake, MDK has "CONSOLE GAME" stamped all over it) and aside from the music video the ending is as unrewarding as you can get, consisting of little more than a short cutscene and Nintendo style a-winner-is-you screen. But hey, the game itself was so crazy and unpredictable maybe my expectations were unreasonably high.

As far as actual criticisms go MDK is insanely linear. You get led by the nose through a series of tunnels and passages with maybe two or three divergent paths throughout the entire game (seriously, I'm not exaggerating) that you need to explore in order to unlock some other area. The game's puzzles are retarded "figure out which brick you need to shoot" affairs that are usually a matter of trial and error. And the final boss fight, cute though it is, is perhaps the easiest part of the game.

And it's damned short.

The Bottom Line

While not for everyone, MDK is a crazed, high-octane shooter full of originality and invention. Games like this one are rare, and to be treasured wherever you find them.