Though it took Bioware almost a year, the company has finally released the enhanced PS2 version MDK2, the sequel to the stylish PlayStation shooter. Bioware has attempted to address all the issues found in the Dreamcast version of the game and has even tossed in a few graphical and sound enhancements for good measure. The result is a more rewarding and less frustrating version of what was an excellent Dreamcast game.
MDK2 begins only moments after the end of the first game. Aliens once again threaten the Earth, and this time mad scientist Dr. Hawkins, janitor and part-time superhero Kurt, and six-legged robotic dog Max must work as a team to eliminate the alien menace. As the game unfolds, you'll take control of each of these three characters and use their unique play styles and character strengths to progress through their particular levels. The game has 10 sprawling levels that star one of the three primary characters in rotating order.
Playing as Kurt hasn't changed much from the last MDK game. Outfitted in a special suit that features a sniper rifle, a chaingun, and a parachute, his levels usually focus on a combination of sniping special switches, gunning down enemies, and jumping and gliding to various platforms. Max is bipedal and can hold a gun in each of his four remaining paws. Max spends his time picking up guns and shooting his way through walls and through legions of alien enemies. Max doesn't use a lot of items, but occasionally dons a rechargeable jetpack that lets him fly to other parts of the levels. The weakest of the characters is Dr. Hawkins, who combines common items he finds to create weapons and better items that help him solve puzzles. Unfortunately, Dr. Hawkins often has to jump a series of small platforms, where one mistake can be deadly. Dr. Hawkins also has a different physics set from Kurt and Max, and it's difficult to adjust to his physics in midgame. Additionally, Hawkins has to solve a good number of puzzles, many of which don't have solutions that are immediately obvious or involve an extremely tedious process of finding and stepping on switches. Playing as Hawkins is a refreshing change from the run-and-gun nature of playing as Kurt and Max, but his levels could have used a bit more imagination.
MDK2 is set up in an extremely linear fashion. A quick in-game cutscene will set up the level, then you'll progress from room to room until you've reached the boss at the end of that level. The levels are usually a series of huge rooms or outdoor environments connected by tight corridors. This sequence is hardly noticeable at the start of the game, but it begins to get old quickly. At the end of each level is a huge battle with a gigantic menacing boss character. These boss fights are an excellent homage to the boss battles from classic side-scrolling action shooters and are easily some of the most intense parts of the game. MDK2 does feature a few deviations from the third-perspective shooter gameplay. For example, there is a minigame where you play as a runaway torpedo that has to dodge incoming asteroids, and there is another minigame where you play as a fish that must swim his way through a maze of look-alike tunnels. For the most part these minigames are a welcome departure, but some of them are pointless and tedious.
While Bioware has taken a generous amount of time to iron out the problems that plagued the Dreamcast version of the game, there are still some major issues. MDK2 Armageddon now features some obnoxious help animations to steer you in the right direction. Some of the puzzling aspects of the Dreamcast version, such as a tiny target on a boss character or a ledge that's not immediately obvious, now feature huge red arrows or blinking stars to help catch your attention. While these indicators are certainly helpful, they make the puzzles a little too easy at times, and it would have been better if Bioware had actually tweaked the puzzles instead of simply pointing out the answer. Additionally, the PS2 version features more save points than the Dreamcast version but still doesn't let you save anywhere. Oftentimes you'll have to progress through two or three extremely difficult parts in succession before you stumble across a save point, making certain areas of this game extremely tedious and frustrating. Also, while the game has some of the biggest levels found in any shooter, there's not enough variety in what the characters do--the game turns up the difficulty simply by making the targets harder to snipe, dumping more enemies on you, and making the ledges harder to jump to. Thankfully, the PS2 version features variable difficulty settings--a feature not found in the Dreamcast version. Unfortunately, the modes are a bit unbalanced--the easiest mode has pushover bosses but still features the same difficult platform jumping found in the Dreamcast version.
MDK looks and sounds fabulous. While the game doesn't have the graphical polish of games like The Bouncer, it still looks very clean and has a nice use of color. Unfortunately, the game is a bit too dark at times, and it's often not entirely obvious what's going on in certain levels. The game really pushes the envelope with several environments that are simply huge--some outdoor levels seem to have no end in sight. The frame rate is fairly smooth, but does suffer considerably when you're fighting a good number of enemies in one of the larger environments. The cutscenes are all done in game, and while the scenes are passable, they don't look any better on the PS2 than they did on the Dreamcast. The game features an amazing soundtrack plump full of original techno that really bumps up the excitement of the game. The soundtrack will often switch depending on the scenario and does a great job of providing atmospheric tension for the game. Unfortunately, the sound effects are a bit repetitive, and the aliens make all sorts of annoying and undecipherable noises as they fight. The game features exceptional voice work, and every bit of dialogue is voiced in the game.
It's a bit disappointing that the year of development time between the Dreamcast and the PS2 versions of MDK2 wasn't put to better use in MDK2 Armageddon. While the difficulty issues have been addressed to some extent, there are still areas that need work. Still, MDK2 Armageddon is a solid shooter with plenty of ingenuity and slick presentation. PS2 owners who haven't played any other version of MDK2 should be pleased with the game, and Dreamcast owners who couldn't muster the dedication to complete the game might want to see what they missed on the PS2.