MDK 2: Armageddon Review
MDK2 Armageddon is a third person shooter that follows the many adventures of a janitor named Kurt Hectic, the genius Doctor Hawkins, and a six-legged dog named Max. The story is presented in comic book fashion as a narrator reads the trio's initial exploits. Dr. Hawkins, a brilliant yet often misunderstood doctor was tired of being ridiculed by his fellow scientists, so he does what any of us would do, he goes to live in space, on his ship the ‘Jim Dandy'. Kurt, the loyal janitor that he is, gets called on to make the journey to space, and he obliges. While in space, Dr. Hawkins creates his most spectacular invention, the six-legged canine, Max. These three form the unlikely trio of protagonists, whom you lead throughout the game.
Meanwhile, Earth has been invaded by creatures from a strange dimension, who have arrived by riding on energy streams. Once on Earth, they attempt to rob it of its precious minerals with their giant minecrawlers. Dr. Hawkins knew that Earth's only hope resided on the ‘Jim Dandy', so he summoned Kurt. Hawkins outfitted Kurt with a Coil suit that contained a chain gun, and a ribbon parachute, which allowed Kurt to float. Kurt went down to Earth and began to irradicate the invading aliens. Eventually he met up with their leader, a grotesque creature named "Gunter Glut" and defeated him in a climatic battle. After their leader had been defeated, the aliens began to retreat, and the Earth was saved. Or was it? This is where the story of MDK2 Armageddon begins, and our heroes' adventures continue.
Just when the trio thinks everything is okay, the ship's alarm goes off and Dr. Hawkins rushes to check the view screen. It seems there is still a minecrawler on Earth, and it is attacking, god forbid, Edmonton (Please no hate mail from Canadians, I love Canada). Well this certainly won't stand, so Hawkins sends Kurt down to finish them off one last time. In this series of adventures, it's your job to lead Kurt, Dr. Hawkins and Max to victory, by controlling each of them at different points in the adventure.
The most recent game that I've played that I can compare to MDK2 is Oni, but the two differ in several ways. The main difference is that despite the fact that they are both shooters, only MDK has weapons that are actually usable. MDK2 relies on more than hitting switches all the time, and MDK2 is better written. Maybe the thing they have most in common is that their controls take time to master. Characters are controlled using the digital pad, and the analog sticks control the game's camera. L2 and R2 strafe, and the L1 and R1 buttons control inventory. The rest of the buttons perform a variety of functions, which change depending on which character is being used. For example, while using Kurt, the circle button enters sniping mode, but on Max, it will equip or un-equip a weapon. There is a brief training period before using each character for the first time that details your new character's various abilities. This is a nice feature for those people that don't have the patience to leaf through the instruction book before playing, you all know who you are.
Since each character has their own abilities, it stands to reason that each section of the game is substantially different from the previous level. Kurt's strengths are his sniping skills, and his ability to float using his ribbon parachute. I'm not exactly sure how a parachute made of ribbon, that has huge amounts of space between ribbons, manages to float, but I'm not the brilliant, quirky designer, so I'll have to live with not knowing. Since Kurt can float and snipe, his levels largely consist of floating from place to place, and sniping distant sentry cannons.
Max's primary assets are his six arms, which allow him to carry four weapons at a time. Since he's well armed (pun intended) his levels are heavy on shooting, and light on aiming. He's also got a jetpack which allows him to get places ordinary canines can't. The jetpack, while very useful, has a finite amount of fuel, so it is important to plot your course before you blast off aimlessly.
Dr. Hawkins, the self-proclaimed genius, relies on his smarts to advance throughout the game. He has the unique ability to pick up items he finds during his quest, and combine them using his abilities to carry separate items in each hand. You or I might not to be able to do much with plutonium and a toaster, but Hawkins combines them with ease to form an atomic toaster, which fires radioactive toast at the bad guys. Speaking of bad guys, the bosses are just as well designed as the main characters, they are huge, and have the same sense of humor. Depending on the difficulty setting they range from easy to extremely hard, which is apparently something the Dreamcast version had some issues with. The PS2 version is well balanced, and can provide a challenge suitable for people of all skill levels.
This isn't the most beautiful game I've ever played, but it's not one that's so ugly that you'll want to play with your eyes closed either. It represents what is typically different when comparing PS2 titles to PSX games. The PS2 games have larger environments, better draw distances, and everything looks clearer. In MDK2, the levels are huge, and the power of the PS2 makes it possible to see great distances while playing in outdoor levels. The ability to see so far ahead makes it much easier to plan your path from one obstacle to another, and it lets you see enemies while they are still too far away to engage your character.
The game begins with a virtual comic book that details the trio's adventures from what I assume is the previous MDK game. It looks amazing, just like a digital comic book on the television. The colors are bright, the characters are well drawn, and the camera is used cleverly to move from frame to frame. The rest of the game's story is told using the in-game engine during the cut-scenes. Once you enter the game, it moves along at a fairly consistent framerate, only bogging down when there are several enemies shooting at you in large room, while you run around trying to dodge them. Since it's not always clear where to go in the game, it would be nice to have rooms that are easily distinguishable from other rooms, but alas, the game's bland, repetitive textures make this difficult at times.
Comedy is a key element in this game, so it is important for the voice acting to deliver the goods. Fortunately Bioware did a top-notch job finding voice talent to bring the characters to life. Each character delivers their lines well, whether it's a one liner, or just communicating their current situation. Sure the fact that the game is superbly written accounts for most of the humor, but Resident Evil voice acting wouldn't have cut it here. A nice way of combining humor with function is the way you find items. Each item lying around is lit by a bright neon item that reads "Item." This lets you see exactly where an item is, even from a long ways away, and it's pretty funny.
When the characters aren't chatting, they are busy saving the world from alien invaders, so the guns are constantly blazing. Explosions, guns firing, enemy screams, and shells hitting the floor are all well done, but nothing too exciting. It is possible, and often times very helpful to listen closely to determine exactly where your enemies are attacking you. A techno soundtrack provides the background music, and it does its job of keeping you pumped, waiting for more baddies to blow away. Similar to Tomb Raider, it's not always present, so when it is playing, it's during the heat of a battle, or to let you know danger lurks ahead.
Since there are so many different difficulty settings, you may want to tackle the game on an easy setting, and then work your way up the ladder. There aren't multiple endings, or items to unlock, so the amount of replay you get from the game is strictly dependent on how much you want to play through for fun, not earning new things. The somewhat bland levels, and often times confusing levels dampened my experience a little, but it certainly didn't keep me from enjoying what was a very satisfying game. MDK2's humor is some of the best I have come across in a video game, and it fits in amazingly well with the gameplay. With all of the recent rehashes, and me-too games being released these days, MDK2 Armageddon is a breath of fresh air, and one that I can highly recommend to anyone waiting for the AAA titles to arrive.
6/26/2004 Aaron Thomas