Remember a game where you dress up in a black rubber suit with a huge black pointy hat. Yep, you guessed it. It has to be MDK2. But this time developed by a different codeshop, namely Bioware, the creators of the massively popular AD&D game Balder's Gate II. However do not worry, they have kept the same level of zany humour and weird monsters, and added much.
MDK2 is a third person action puzzler just like the original. The main gameplay change, though is you now get to play all three main characters. If you remember from the original, the main character was Kurt Hectic; dressed up in rubber (which is actually his organic Coil suit). He is equipped with an arm mounted machine-gun, a head mounted sniper rifle, a ribbon parachute and numerous other objects he can pick up along the way (remember the blow up decoys!). With Kurt expect to a lot of jumping, gliding, shooting and sniping.
The second character you play is Max; a strange dog with four arms, all of which can be equipped with a gun. In the demo you get to sample the Magnum and the Uzi, and both X4 pack a punch.
Thirdly, you get to play as Dr. Hawking, a mad scientist guy. Now here is where the gameplay take a bit of a right angle and point and click style puzzles come into play. The aim is to pick up ordinary objects from around the levels and combine them to create weapons and the like. E.g. pick up a hand dryer from the toilet and combine it with some pipes and a roll of duct tape, and you have a contraption for blowing the enemies around like pin balls.
So, "What's the story behind this strangeness then?", I hear you ask. Well once you begin a new game there is really cool comic book introduction (based on the style of artist Jack Kirby who drew some of the best Marvel comics, like The X-Men and Captain America) telling of how Kurt started life as a janitor working for the mad genius Dr. Hawking. To escape persecution on earth, the doctor leaves in his space ship - the Jim Dandy - to continue his experiments (one of which is the creation of Max, as a pet dog). Well to cut things short a strange race of streamriding aliens attack the earth and in the original MDK Kurt battle's them to save the day. When victorious a second wave of these aliens attack and its back to stage one. This is where MDK2 starts off! The result is basically room after room of large fire shooting aliens to kill and puzzles to solve (although in the demo you only get to play one level geared to each character). The aliens leading this second attack, specially Imperial Emperor Zizzy Balooba and Schwang Schwing, with names like that have to the end of level bosses!
As for controls it's the usual arrow and mouse combination with extra keys to use inventory items. This is of course now natural but with the games arcade feel a joypad like the Sidewinder would work very well too. More importantly though the camera implementation is very impressive and seems to be always in exaclty the right position, making the game a joy to play. (unlike other games where getting the correct camera placement turns the game into a chore!)
This game is based on Bioware's OMEN engine and features some exciting effects. The engine contains new dynamic real time shadowing and light sourcing techniques as well lens flare, alpha blending and a custom particle system. The latter is very much evident and impressive when blasting enemies green blood everywhere. There were only a few noticeable slow downs on the test system (Celeron 533 with a Voodoo2) making it an accessilbe game for mid range PC owners. As for the level design and texture they are very impressive and fit in with the zany science fiction comic book environment. Also one thing to point out is that in the original Kurt was drawn as a sprite and not very impressive and often commented upon. Well not surprisingly, now all the characters are rendered in all their polygonal glory.
Finally let's not forget the music. This is an area often over looked and where the original excelled, with a dramatic epic score booming from each speaker and the sequel more than equals this. Even a recent Leftfield track, from his Rhythm and Stealth album has been licensed and incorporated into the game. Stirring stuff!
Well all this has left me wanting more, much more and I can't wait to play the finished game. The three rooms in the demo went past very quickly and enjoyably. I expect the full game to be more of the same, with some extra surprises thrown in from the Bioware guys. The team have done a terrific job not just by keeping the same comic atmosphere but adding a look more of variety to the gameplay, which was a little lacking from the original.