MDK2 HD: review

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HD is a buzz acronym that is popping up everywhere in our culture, a bit like an OCD mole that has to visit everyone’s garden. The gaming world is no different, with HD re-skins of older games such as Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid 2 and Ico all pinging on the radar. However, one that a lot of people possibly didn’t see was a remastered appearance from Bioware’s incredibly mad, eleven-year-old, third-person action game, MDK2. A few months on from its digitally Wii-mastered release on Nintendo’s console, the PC now has its own version of MDK2 HD.

As far as game concepts go, this is still fairly unique even eleven years on. Players control three characters throughout the game: Kurt Hectic in his coil suit, an all-in-one costume with a handy face mounted sniper attachment; Max, a six limbed dog who stands on two legs and is capable of quad wielding any guns he finds; and the man responsible for both, Doctor Fluke Hawkins. Each character faces environments that suit their different abilities and the game switches who you control at the end of each level.

Gunning mid stride, something you'll be doing a lot in MDK2 HD.

Kurt and Max’s levels focus on run and gun action, with a few areas that test your precision jumping and timing abilities. Doctor Hawkins on the other hand tends to deal with more puzzle oriented problems. He lacks combat proficiency, but instead combines items through a slightly fiddly dual inventory system. He gets more puzzles thrown his way than enemies, but can defend himself with his atomic toaster and bread based munitions. It’s a very mad adventure but each character feels utterly unique and offers a refreshing amount of variety throughout.

Overhaul Games have taken Bioware’s source material and gone over everything with a high definition paintbrush to give it a coat of HD magic. A glance at the comparison screenshot below will show you the wonders of their efforts. Each character has a brilliant new skin grafted to their old bones which doesn’t make them look out of place amongst modern game heroes. Unfortunately, there is a limit as to how far the HD can stretch. The pleasing new skins are still bolted to the same old animations which have not aged well. Characters move with a jerky, animatronic-like nature that looks odd when compared to the superior graphics.

World textures do not look nearly as nice as the character models, often lacking details or looking blurred. The main problem is that the structure of the world has largely remained as the angular, blocky shapes that appeared in the original game. We appreciate there was nothing major that could be done about this, and that it is an obstacle any older game given HD treatment faces. This is where we found reviewing MDK2 HD difficult; its old self.

Looking better now than they did then. A textbook case of Carol Vorderman syndrome.

Classic gameplay’ is a good way to describe the manic world. It’s the kind of game that will mist up your monitor with nostalgia and make you remember what games used to be like. Of course, a more cynical way of saying this is that the game feels old. It seems unfair to judge this game by today’s standards, but younger gamers who have never come across the game could easily be put off by the older mechanics. Things that you expect to come as standard in games these days are lacking or absent, such as the non-existent aiming reticule. You just have to aim the screen where you think the bullets will land or rely on the aiming assistance to hit things with most weapons.

Level design also appears to be more of an issue to wrestle with today than it might have been back then. In the campaigns of Call of Duty and Halo you almost can’t move forward without tripping over a large “Go this way” sign. MDK2 just seems to leave you to it and hope you’ll figure it out. There were a couple of sections where we spent about ten minutes trotting around like an orphaned puppy because it just wasn’t obvious where to go. In the end the exit was usually hidden behind a subtle panel you could shoot or a hidden switch, but it did take a lot of poking and probing to find such things. We shamefully had to sneak onto the Internet and look up ancient walkthroughs to find the way forward on a couple of occasions.

Combine the toaster and bread to launch atomic toast missiles.

Some of these sections are made even more frustrating with the presence of infinitely spawning enemies, something that has for the most part been expelled from the games of today. Nothing leaves you feeling more cheated than finally topping an enemy, only to see him crawl arse first back into reality through a puff of magic. On one hand it can keep the action thick and fast, which when wielding a chaingun with unlimited ammo can be fun. Unfortunately, solving puzzles under these circumstances feels like trying to complete a Sudoku in downtown Mogadishu.

MDK2 HD feels like a loving tribute to a game that was brilliant over a decade ago. The humour and style is unique and not the kind of thing that has been recreated in a game since. It seems like the game received this makeover as a fan service, to ensure MDK2 could still be preserved and enjoyed today. Unfortunately, judging this as a game for today doesn’t make it look pretty. Those not familiar with the game will find it old fashioned and clunky, as it follows a videogame rule book that is at least ten editions out of date. If you fancy revisiting the MDK2 you loved when you were younger, then this is a brilliant nostalgia cruise that you will most likely enjoy, in which case, please add a couple of points to the score on this page. Those new to the party might find some enjoyment here, but you need to be able to push through the ageing mechanics that form a dense barrier around the experience.

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.

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