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MDK (PlayStation) artwork

MDK (PlayStation) review

"MDK - It's a tongue-in-cheek acronym for Murder Death Kill, and it's the title of this spectacular 3rd-person shoot-em-up. Playstation MDK is a port from the Mac and PC versions, and if anything this could be the 'funnest' version yet. It also boasts a new musical soundtrack from Tommy Tallarico studios, which is one of the most original and exciting I've encountered in any game ever. It's definitely now a favourite of mine. "

MDK - It's a tongue-in-cheek acronym for Murder Death Kill, and it's the title of this spectacular 3rd-person shoot-em-up. Playstation MDK is a port from the Mac and PC versions, and if anything this could be the 'funnest' version yet. It also boasts a new musical soundtrack from Tommy Tallarico studios, which is one of the most original and exciting I've encountered in any game ever. It's definitely now a favourite of mine.

In MDK you play Kurt Hectic. This man is a stealthy little black-armoured juggernaut of death. He also has the wickedest looking helmet since Darth Vader, whose savage breathing habits he coincidentally shares. You have to save earth from the Stream Riders, universe-conquering aliens who are basically a bunch of creeps.

Each major level commences with you freefalling through the atmosphere towards the surface of an alien world. Radars try to pick you up and nail you with guided missiles as you scramble for power-ups that are also drifting about on parachutes.

Then you hit the surface and the fun begins. The first thing you'll notice is that each of MDK's alien worlds has its own unique aesthetic. You'll never find another game that looks or feels like this one - it really is a universe unto itself, and you'll want to spend a lot of time in it. Terrain is variously cavernous, icy, made of reflective glass, or of stars and gas. There are bizarre alien towers and citadels, wide open fields and claustrophobic shafts. There's a venereal tunnel that's unpleasantly like travelling through someone's artery. The overall feeling is 'jagged'.

All this amazing scenery is about to play host to your war with the aliens. In each level you'll face an onslaught of them, but they're rarely as mobile as you are. The game proves awesome to play with an analogue controller, as it's ultra-responsive to Kurt's movements, and you need that because he's an incredibly dexterous guy. You're always outnumbered in MDK, but you have 3 things going for you on top of your speed and dexterity: unlimited ammo in your hand mounted machinegun, a ready supply of extra weapons that are parachuted in by your support team (run by your buddy Bones the dog), and your sniper rifle.

The first world functions as something of a tutorial on the use of your weapons and the principles of the game. There are alien generators occasionally (good ol' Gauntlet) - you need to torch those as a priority. Frequently you'll need to blast bits of the scenery out of the way to progress. Glass panels or doors give way to a well-lobbed grenade or 'The World's Smallest Nuclear Explosion'. And of course, you need to shoot down hundreds of aliens. You genuinely feel like you're playing against an organised force as you hear the aliens bark orders at each other in their bizarre language, call in their own reinforcements from the sky or wheel in a tank to deal with you. It's really impressive.

There's also a lot of strange humour in supply. Aliens will tease you if they think they can't be shot by you from your current position. In the way of extra weapons, as well as the afore-mentioned nuclear explosion, you can try out 'The World's Most Interesting Bomb' or unleash a localised tornado, or even get a nuclear-powered cow dropped in the area(!!!). Aliens have got their own freaky means of taking you out, too. Some of them will grab a primed bomb and make for you kamikaze style. There are alien animals (killer seals and things like jaguars) that they'll let out to play with you. Huge steel balls or bouncing grenades.. the list goes on. The innovations are endless.

All this head-on conflict is exciting and loads of fun, but the more distinctive combat fun is to be had from Sniper Mode, which is a very major part of MDK. Hit select and you switch to the first-person view from inside Kurt's helmet. Listen to his Darth Vader-esque breathing as you play with your different kinds of ammo, zoom in, zoom out and line up long-range shots. A single shot to an alien's head will take it clean off - normally you'd have to machine-gun through all of his armour first. You can also fire mortars that have a parabolic arc, and trace their progress on the 'bullet-cam' in your helmet. Sometimes you'll need to lob mortars into chutes and over walls to hit protected positions. Sniper Grenades can trash a fortified target at ultra-long range. Homing bullets do what you think they do. The catch to all this is that if you get injured while you're sniping, you'll revert to 3rd-person mode automatically. At some times in the game it's overly difficult to pull off the required sniper shots with the amount of hectic battle that's going on immediately around you. But when it works, it's always amazing.

Sniping encourages stealth too. You can choose how to play any situation. Pick off aliens from afar first, or dive in with all guns blazing. Both are possible.. the game is generous in letting you choose tactics.

Where it's arguably not so generous is in finding your way thru the worlds overall. Sometimes it's not quite evident enough what you need to do next to progress. The game is waiting for you to destroy some landmark, or position, or find a certain tunnel, and you're not sure how. I hit a few of these impasses as I played. Usually I'd come back a few days later, play that section fresh and find what I missed, but it's a little bit annoying. The on-screen directions/hints don't flash up often enough for my taste.

These temporary impasses would be my only complaint about MDK. The rest of it is perfect: it's ultrasmooth, ultrafast addictive gameplay. The graphics and worlds and atmospheres you experience are all one-of-a-kind, and some of the best ever on the Playstation. Loading from the CD is disguised with 'tunnel' or 'shaft' sections of terrain. The framerate becomes dodgy at these points, but nobody should care because there are no aliens in these areas and you won't suffer from it at all. It's a good way to deal with a technical issue.

And the music... WOW!!! It's great music for a game, it's great music period. The main inspiration is apparently the score for the film Total Recall. Playstation MDK boasts amazingly well-developed orchestral/electronic themes that will do everything from getting your adrenaline rushing as you skirmish with hundreds of aliens, to making your skin crawl as you slink wounded thru a dark shaft on some godforsaken world expecting to die. There are also a few more humourous pieces to accompany an alien 'carnival' level, and another that's a James Bond joke. There is one particular atmospheric track that I could best describe as 'dismal' and 'drizzling', that really takes me away. Sometimes I will wander round that level (1-3) after I've cleared out all the aliens just listening to it and getting in some kind of a fearful trance... Well that's just me! But trust me - this is one of the great game soundtracks. You won't get that on the Mac or PC version either.

MDK is a spectacular and exciting game experience you won't forget. I don't need to say anymore!

-- MDK -- 9/10 --

bloomer's avatar
Community review by bloomer (March 08, 2004)

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