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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

GOG.com Replay: MDK

Each month, we'll review a game from GOG.com's copious collection of games and provide you with a rundown of how good it is. At the end, we'll tell you to "Buy It," "Ignore It," or "Think About It." This month's entry is MDK, developed by Shiny and released by Interplay.

What Is It?

In MDK, you play as Kurt, the janitor to the insane Dr. Hawkins. The good doctor built a space station called the Jim Dandy, and not a moment too soon. Minecrawlers are stripping the earth’s resources, and Kurt is sent by Dr. Hawkins to destroy them. He’s been outfitted with the Coil Suit, which repels bullets, a hand mounted chaingun, a sniper helmet, a ribbon parachute, and really, really weird weapons like “The World’s Most Interesting Bomb.”

MDK is supposed to stand for “Murder, Death, Kill,” but the developer, Shiny, thought the name sounded too violent for the press. Instead, they claimed that it stood for whatever you wanted it to stand for, like “Madonna Dates Kylie” or “Mother’s Day Kisses.”

The Context:

Shiny Entertainment made their name on the Earthworm Jim series, which was absolutely insane and tons of fun, if frustratingly uneven at times. MDK was Shiny’s first 3D game, and they knew they needed to somehow marry their odd sensibility with the finest technology they could use. To that end, MDK required a Pentium processor, which was a big deal in those days.

Also, sniping in games was kind of crappy up to this point. It was really hard to have a far draw distance without putting up a wall of fog (hello, Superman 64) or having significant draw-in. MDK managed to pull it off, allowing you to switch from sniping mode to regular mode seamlessly whenever you wanted to.

Other games released in 1997:

Final Fantasy VII
Quake 2
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

What holds up:

Surprisingly for a 14-year-old game, the graphics hold up remarkably well. Shiny used all sorts of tricks to get things to look otherworldly, such as faux-reflective surfaces and solid-colored polygons. It’s really quite an impressive feat. While they’re at a pretty low resolution, you won’t find yourself cringing too much.

In each level, you’ll be doing a variety of tasks. For instance, in just the first level, you’ll learn sniping, drop bombs on soldiers from a slow-moving plane, drop mortar shells on enemies using your sniper helmet, fight tanks, and end up in a sniper battle with a guy in a control room. That’s just the first level. In later levels, you’ll be sliding down ramps, using cannons to blast through a wall, snowboarding to James Bond music, and feeding snacks to a hungry boss.

The humor is also great. While they couldn’t fit in as many gags as the Earthworm Jim series, MDK is more coherent, and most of the gags come from the ridiculous weapons and situations you find yourself in. It’s rare to find a game that’s trying to be funny that’s actually funny, and MDK is.

What doesn’t hold up:

Who likes 3D platforming? Don’t all raise your hands at once! Yes, 3D platform jumping is here, and some of the jumps are supremely frustrating. You’ll think you timed your jump just right, only to find your character helplessly falling and having to start the jump sequence all over again. These sequences are also kind of frequent, which adds to the frustration.

There are also NO in-level saves. Since each level can take 20 minutes or longer if you take your time, it gets really frustrating to get far and then die. Add the fact there are no extra lives, and you have a recipe for extreme frustration. I don’t know how this game went out the door like that. There’s an easy mode available, but you’ll still die in easy mode.

The Final Verdict:

MDK is a great game with tons of ideas, lots of funny sequences, and really fun action. Too bad it’s marred by a frustrating difficulty level and some odd controls. Still, if you don’t mind working your way around those issues, you’ll have a great time.

Think About It