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MDK (PC) artwork

MDK (PC) review


"Innovation is the name of the game. Actually the name of the game is M(urder)D(eath)K(ill), but don’t be mislead by this macabre repetition – there’s plenty of death here, but probably not in the sense you’d expect. Surely, games such as Blood and Doom weren’t as lightheartedly silly as this, but unfortunately, MDK largely relies on its goofy exterior and a single innovative mechanic to set itself apart when it otherwise doesn’t deserve to be set apart. The entire experience – term used l..."



Innovation is the name of the game. Actually the name of the game is M(urder)D(eath)K(ill), but don’t be mislead by this macabre repetition – there’s plenty of death here, but probably not in the sense you’d expect. Surely, games such as Blood and Doom weren’t as lightheartedly silly as this, but unfortunately, MDK largely relies on its goofy exterior and a single innovative mechanic to set itself apart when it otherwise doesn’t deserve to be set apart. The entire experience – term used loosely – is just too lean and evenly unexciting, and Shiny’s limited comedic stockpile fails to eclipse this by seldom transcending “silly.”

Deliberately poking fun at numerous bad movies and even itself, MDK delivers a semi-comically exaggerated background story of alien invasion and imminent human destruction, should no fair hero stand up to the menacing threat. Innovation is the name of that hero. Actually the name of our hero is Kurt Hectic. Armed with a comedic bevy of special items, a parachute that defies the laws of physics, a hand-mounted chaingun, and the innovative face-mounted sniper weapon, Kurt is ready to sprint at unwieldy speeds through the exasperatingly long corridors that connect numerous open expanses, where he’ll cleverly solve puzzles, engage in some platform-jumping, and even do battle with the mentally deficient and veritably harmless alien threat.

Five of the whole six levels that comprise Kurt’s surprisingly menial quest to save the world begin by literally throwing him into the air, leaving him to skydive to his location while dodging lethargic enemy fire and amassing the (not-so-useful) power-ups and items. This mini-game is simplistic, unsatisfying, and over before it’s barely begun – much like the individual levels that follow, much like the game itself. Upon touching down you’ll run around unloading literally thousands of chaingun rounds into the nearly defenseless alien grunts, as they fruitlessly resist by slinging inexplicably slow projectiles in your direction. Simply combine the ever useful strafe key with the all too useful sprint key, and suddenly being hit at all by these things becomes a near impossibility.

As if his quest weren’t easy enough to begin with, various special items, ranging from the conventional to the offbeat, often fly in by way of parachute. These begin with normal grenades and marginal chaingun upgrades, and quickly escalate to room-clearing items in the form of tornadoes and enlarged hammers. And then things just get silly. Which isn’t the same as funny. The inflatable dummy decoy proves to be a throwaway feature in every sense of the word. Earthworm Jim power-ups will drop cows on your enemies. Don’t ask me why. The World’s Most Interesting Bomb is supposed to be so interesting that the aliens are actually drawn to it! But take it from me: the thing doesn’t live up to its name. Finally, rounding things out is The World’s Smallest Nuclear Explosion…which opens doors.

But the most vaunted of Kurt’s arsenal however, and of MDK’s achievements as a game, is the innovative sniper weapon, an idea that has already been variously pilfered and implemented far better by countless games to follow MDK, including its vastly superior sequel (predictably named MDK2). Kurt’s sniper scope is heavily ornate, detailing each individual bullet as its fed into the chamber, following the path of each once they’ve left the chamber from one of three bullet cameras. It’s a brilliant idea that paved the way for countless sniper rifles to follow, but here the execution just falls horribly, horribly flat, leaving you with a fairly useless weapon that’s often ignored in favor of the all-powerful chaingun. Only when using the sniper is absolutely the only way to get past a situation does it come in to play, such as the first level’s final boss, who was quickly defeated by sending two carelessly aimed sniper grenades his way. I managed to get through another level (and remember: there are a mere six) firing the sniper a grand total of once.

MDK’s failure is twofold: its assortment of gameplay elements don’t really mesh – and none of them are compelling to begin with. There’s little sense of balance between running-and-gunning, sniping, and using special items, simply because Kurt’s chaingun is unlimited and brutally effective when combined with his all-evading sprint-strafe. Admittedly, using a tornado does quicken the process, but the only difference in the outcome would be that now you’ve one less item. When not indiscriminately sending a rain of fire into his hapless opponents, Kurt will fling – and frequently over- or under-fling – his overly sensitive self from platform to platform, “surfboard” across the land, or even body-surf down long chutes.

And at the end of each level, after you’ve gone through a series of each of the mundane tasks that make up MDK’s empty heart, you’re pitted against some sort of boss. Unfortunately, for some outrageous, inconceivable reason, every boss in the entire game is laughably simple and easy, thus destroying potential excitement. Level two’s boss, Gunter Jr. is easily dispatched by strafing around, yet again unloading thousands of chaingun rounds until his life meter is depleted; he offers little serious resistance in return. Pyke, the guardian of level three, will crumble after you’ve fired four sniper shots. Four. They don’t even need to be painstakingly lined up. The mildly amusing, but anti-climactic final boss – where you rescue your friendly cybernetic dog, then fling him directly at the gluttonous Gunter Glut – is utterly disappointing, and this flat finale manifests MDK’s emptiness with the most concentrated moment of blandness during what should be the most thrilling scene.

Sometimes the problem with playing an average game is that it may give you the false pretense that it’ll be good. At least some average games have a few great moments; in MDK however, there seems to be a cap on the level of excitement and it seems to be relatively low. Rather than fluctuating wildly, like in many other average games, the excitement in MDK simply never escalates to a very high point. Kurt may be able to save the earth, but innovation can’t save MDK.

Rating: 4/10

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Community review by radicaldreamer (October 24, 2004)

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