c_rakestraw's MDK (PC) review

"MIssion: Deliver Kindness" is go! ...Aaannd done.

To say that MDK is "quirky" would be an understatement. Accurate, but understated. It looks simple enough on the surface -- a typical third-person shooter of the '90s -- but underneath that veneer is an assortment of oddities and an off-kilter sense of humor. If you're familiar with Shiny Entertainment's work, they're involvement will come as no surprise to you, their penchant for whimsy being clear. If you aren't familiar, what you get is an eccentric, underwhelming, though cheap and entertaining shooter perfect for an afternoon's worth of fun.

MDK follows janitor turned reluctant hero Kurt Hectic on a mission to save Earth from an invading alien force that's mining the planet for all the minerals its worth. Many large cities have already been destroyed as a result of the mining, the Earth's military forces being in disarray. A scientist named Dr. Fluke Hawkins, having flown up to space on a research project so many years before, foresaw the invasion and concocted a plan to counteract. The plan? Send his janitor, who's equipped with state-of-the art gear developed by the doc himself, onto the alien vessels to assassinate their leaders and thwart the attack, otherwise known as "Mission: Deliver Kindness."

All of that is explained in the game's manual (the story doesn't actually rear its head in-game), along with other goofy details and insights, such as how their six legged dog, Bones (or "Max," as he prefers), who assists Kurt in the field from time to time, was created. It's a fun read. It's a wonder why the developers didn't sought to bring that same personality to the game itself, whose own story efforts consist only of cursory debriefings before and after each level, naming only the location that is under attack and whether you succeeded in saving it or not (you're on a time limit, you see). Nothing from the manual is alluded to even slightly, instead acting like it doesn't exist.

MDK's whimsical nature permeates itself elsewhere, then. Its weapon assortment, for instance, which consists of the typical inclusions such as an automatic rifle and sniper rifle (which are in the same gun), sees some... interesting creations such as "The World's Smallest Nuclear Explosion" crop up. Or health packs that get up and run as soon as you approach them, screaming like a banshee all the while. One level joins in the fun also, with a bright, colorful, cartoony aesthetic decorating a few rooms providing a strong contrast against the otherwise prison-like setting. Other levels don't go to such lengths, rather focusing on less eccentric designs like that of a military base or one covered in reflective surfaces.

Its whimsy inclinations don't seep greatly into the gameplay, however, content instead with taking a more conservative route. It's very basic. Linear levels are populated by legions of foes and are all easily dispatched with your automatic rifle, circle strafing making dispatch that much easier. Enemies are streamed in via stout spawn points, fallen adversaries being replaced almost instantaneously. You're goal in MDK is to get to the end of the level as fast as possible. A time limit -- settled in the lower-right corner of the screen, encircling the small oval that displays your hit points -- exists to hasten your run through, for you've only so much time before the alien invaders destroy the city you're charged with saving. No severe consequences surface if you fail, nor do any bonuses. It's effective at getting you into gear, though, regardless.

Auto-aim is much to thank for the simplicity of the action. Unable to be disabled, the auto-aim function removes almost any measure of skillful combat in favor of the "one-man army" approach. The sniper function of Kurt's rifle is kept from the front-lines, taking a specialized role solely for enemies that are just out of your automatic rifle's extensive reach. You aren't forced to use any one weapon, granted (except in rare cases where you are), but with the speed at which MDK moves when engaged by the estrange robot infantry of the alien forces, standing still lining up shots from afar is seldom worthwhile; the rain of bullets pelting you make it impossible to employ any level of precision.

It's a shame. The sniper function of Kurt's rifle is gratifying to use. Picking off foes from great distances is satisfying and appropriately brutal, particularly so when head shots are achieved, pints of green substance -- oil, maybe? -- gushing out. It's very tame violence, yes (it's Teen rated game from the late-'90s; of course it'd be tame), but murderous enough within its limitations to be pleasantly savage.

The power of a sniper rifle is well captured. To wield such strength is definitely empowering; less so against bosses, who are, frankly, a bunch of pushovers with easy to recognize and exploitable patterns, but especially so against grunts. Standard ol' vanilla ammunition is quick to make impact and slays lesser adversaries effortlessly. Other types of ammo -- explosive types, specifically -- are far more the ones to see more use, though only because the game often calls for them. Mortar ammo is especially popular with the game, supplying you with it constantly and presenting many an instance where it's heavy payload is needed. Homing bullets and explosive variants on the default ammo-type round out the ammo-types, but seldom see use unless you're heavy with the sniping.

Running-and-gunning, simple as it may be, has its highs. Most every encounter is met with much opposition. Bullets fly everywhere, enemies constantly being strung in through spawn points, grenades or far more destructive weaponry (a tornado, perhaps?) being thrown about -- it always remains manageable, but the hectic spectacle of it all keeps every encounter engaging.

Interspersed with all the shooting is some light platforming. One of the most unique features of Kurt's suit is its stealth parachute. Though using it seems impossible based on its design -- it's just four evenly spaced lines with nothing between them -- it's integral to any sort of areal movement. Kurt isn't the athletic type, nor is he capable of leaping to great heights, hence the parachute. Platforming is effortless, with the hardest jumping puzzles being cases of ascension, as Kurt's lacking jump ability can prove a touch frustrating.

MDK isn't a difficult game, nor is it a long one. Containing only six levels, each of which can be completed in 15-20 minutes at the very least, MDK is best described as quick afternoon entertainment -- or weekend entertainment, depending on your shooter prowess. (For what it's worth, I didn't notice any significant differences between the three challenge settings. The quantity of certain side-arms decreased, but foes still wrought the same margin of damage, their accuracy consistently straddling the line between marksman and drunken.)

MDK is light on replay value. It lasts a few hours at the most, ending abruptly almost as soon as it suddenly began, offering no immediate reason to jump back in. Still, you get what you pay for. The $5 or $10 it retails for on most digital PC storefronts make the game akin to today's downloadable offerings. MDK's age shines through all over, from the blurred textures and blocky character models to the fact that Kurt is just a superimposed image rather than a polygonal model, but the action is still frantic and the world kooky. As a shooter on the cheap, MDK satisfies.

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