MDK2: Armageddon Hands-On

MDK2: Armageddon is less a sequel than it is a revised and enhanced version of the Dreamcast game. We sat down with the game to see what makes MDK2: Armageddon different from the original.

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Bioware is currently working on an enhanced PS2 version of its solid Dreamcast shooter, MDK2. Titled MDK2: Armageddon, the game will feature the same basic plot and layout as the Dreamcast game, but it will address some of the problematic issues that arose in the previous version. We had a chance to sit down with the game, and we found that MDK2 looks and plays better on the PS2.

The storyline is exactly the same as the first game's. Aliens once again threaten to destroy Earth, and this time around, Kurt (the coil-suit powered janitor), Dr. Hawkins (the eccentric inventor), and Max (the gun-wielding, six-limbed robotic dog) must work as a team to eliminate the alien menace. As the game unfolds, you'll take control of each of the three characters at different times, using their unique play styles and character strengths to progress through their respective levels. Kurt snipes baddies and switches in most of his levels, Dr. Hawkins collects objects and combines them to solve puzzles and make useful items, and Max holds a gun in each of his four paws and powers his way through his levels. MDK2's level structure is extremely linear, and it's something of a throwback to side-scrolling platformers - a cutscene will explain why a character is where, and then you'll progress through the location, passing checkpoints until you reach a huge boss. Once you've beaten the boss, another cutscene will start the next level.

MDK2 is well known for its off-kilter humor. Bioware has filled the game with funny pop-culture references - such as an alien disturbance in sector 867-5309 - and the game does a good job of poking fun at the characters. The main bad guy is a huge purple alien that wears red sunglasses and asks Earth, "Who's your daddy?" and each of the three good characters has plenty of jokes and funny moments. While MDK2 is not as obnoxious as the first game, evidence of Shiny's influence can be found. Certain guards break wind constantly; a floating brigade of troops watches as you perform a difficult platform-jumping bit, cheering and booing at your ability; and Max drops in on three characters doing what can only be described as the alien version of the Macarena. And while most games fail in their attempts to be at least slightly funny, MDK2 actually provides some good laughs and keeps you interested in how the plot will develop.

The biggest complaint about the Dreamcast version was that it was just too relentlessly difficult. Kurt spent a good portion of his time sniping an unprecedented number of switches, Dr. Hawkins had to perform a tedious amount of precarious ledge jumping, and Max was often so horribly outnumbered that even the most hard-core strafing couldn't keep the pup alive. Additionally, the game had plenty of confusing moments where it wasn't immediately obvious what you were supposed to do - sometimes you had to shoot a boss in a place you wouldn't normally or reach a certain ledge in a level. Bioware is addressing all of these issues in MDK2: Armageddon. Kurt will still have to snipe a good amount of switches, and Max still faces legions of aliens head-on, and Dr. Hawkins will still have to jump onto plenty of ledges, but now the switches are bigger, the aliens aren't as tough, and the ledges are considerably wider. And now the game features pretty obvious hints to help you along in the confusing parts. Flashing red arrows mark the important parts of huge levels, and flashing circles point out where to shoot certain bosses.

Bioware was quick to point out that the development team responsible for the Dreamcast version is handling the game's conversion to the PS2. The team is zealous about its product, and it's working to make the PS2 version of MDK2 as perfect as possible. This is obvious in the minor touches and tweaks that have been added, which make the PS2 version of MDK2 more fun and less frustrating than the Dreamcast version. The team has designed a completely new front-end interface for the game, and it has tossed in a ton of different control schemes to appeal to every style of control.

MDK2's graphics look much better on the PS2. The levels are just as large and expansive in MDK2: Armageddon as they were in the Dreamcast version, and the colors and lighting have all been touched up by the PS2's graphical muscle. The PS2 version is less dark and shadowy than the Dreamcast version, which really allows you to see the detail in all of the levels. Also, the load times have been dramatically reduced. The game will contain the same voice acting as the original, and the popular techno music soundtrack that pulsed through the Dreamcast version will make a return in the PS2 version.

MDK2: Armageddon may not be different enough from the Dreamcast version to warrant a purchase from those who've played MDK2 on Sega's system. Still, what was a great game has been made even better with enhanced graphics, almost nonexistent load times, and gameplay that is considerably less frustrating and confusing. People who haven't experienced Bioware's futuristic adventure should definitely check out MDK2: Armageddon, and those who were too frustrated to continue playing the Dreamcast version might want to give this version a look.

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