Steaming Up The Charts

An unusual storyline, warped characters, and a cartoonish gameworld all add up to one of the best games of the year.

In a crowded market, it's becoming harder and harder to find games which are truly original, games which have that peculiar capability to grab your attention and hold it for the duration. "Myst" was one of them, "Warcraft" was another - and the original "MDK" was very definitely a third!

With its unusual - some would say lunatic - storyline, its warped characters, and its cartoonish gameworld, "MDK" became an instant hit, with games of all ages donning the famous sniper helmet to free the planet of the evil Steamriding Aliens. And just when Kurt, Max and the nutty Doctor Fluke Hawkins think that their mission is complete, the aliens show up again, nastier than before...and it's up to the reluctant trio to take action once again!

As with the original "MDK", much of this action involves leaping around cavernous levels, solving frustratingly-difficult puzzles...and, of course, kicking lots of alien butt. To this end, Kurt, Max and the good Doctor come equipped with a bunch of weird and wonderful weapons, including Kurt's well-word sniper rifle, an invisibility cloak, a toaster, a pile of dirty towels and some electrical cord (see what I mean about warped humour?!)

In an interesting move away from the original "MDK", "MDK2" also allows the player to assume the roles of any of the three characters - so you might play one level as Kurt, the next as Max, and the third as the Doctor. Unfortunately, the choice of character is pre-decided at the beginning of each level, and the player has no control over it; however, this feature certainly adds to the enjoyment of the game, since each character has a distinct style, and you have to adjust strategies and tactics accordingly.

For example, Max, the robot dog, can fire four weapons at once and also has more health points than the other characters; Kurt's parachute and sniper rifle allow him to cross huge distances with a single leap and take out bug-eyed aliens from a mile away; and the Doctor has the unique capability to combine items he comes across to create new and deadly weapons (the dirty towels and pipes make a handy Molotov cocktail!)

Perhaps the most compelling thing about "MDK2", though, is not the gameplay or the characters, although these are well-developed; it's the levels, which often look like a cross between a Japanese anime film and something from Alice In Wonderland. Cavernous open spaces, moody industrial complexes, oddly-shaped aliens, buildings and objects in fluorescent primary colours - the world of "MDK2" is both surreal and cartoonish, and it succeeds on every level. If the designers' goal was to amaze and astound gamers with their design skills, they've certainly succeeded - once you leave "MDK2", the world around you suddenly seems flatter and more lifeless than it did previously.

While the graphics engine is superlative, the sound effects are also good, and do not detract from the game - in fact, the snippets of dialogue between the various characters are humourous, and add to the overall feel of the game. The puzzles are somewhat inane - most involve a lot of perfectly-synchronized leaps and bounds, and will frustrate gamers not used to the precision needed to master an arcade shooter - and the AI engine seems a trifle scripted at times (did I mention that you can now save your game at any point during a level - thank you, BioWare!) With only ten levels and no network gameplay supported, the game may also seem a little short on replay value; this is subjective, however, and I must say that I enjoyed the game so much that I didn't think about it all that much.

If you liked the original "MDK", or just feel like playing a good arcade shoot-em-up this week-end, "MDK2" is the game you're looking for. Remember - you heard it here first!

This article was first published on11 Jan 2001.