Aliens have invaded the world one time too many. This time, they have come in giant minecrawlers, leveling every city on their path. What’s a common janitor to do? Well, he could don a coil suit, with arm machinegun and head-mounted sniper rifle, and go hunt some aliens! That’s the basic premise of MDK, which appears just as weird as it sounds. There’s no time for no-nonsense and Hollywood plots: everything in this game is subtly and deliciously insane.
Even the underlying concept of MDK is strange. Shooters were obviously very popular in the 90’s, coming from the stratospheric success of Doom and the cutting-edge visuals in Quake. But many of these games seemed to actually rely on their multiplayer aspect: after all, what’s better than blasting a few cyberdemons in company of a friend? Perhaps just blasting said friend in deathmatch. Single player shooters were of course popular, but they seemed to have already become more niche. MDK then: a third-person shooter with no multiplayer whatsoever? If only it had the adventure elements of Tomb Raider maybe, but it’s just a shooter! Well, that’s a recipe for disaster, isn’t it?
Perhaps not, with about 500 thousand copies sold very quickly and eventually achieving cult classic status. A lot of the merit is to be attributed to Shiny’s great marketing. But a big part also goes to the quality of the game itself, which is undisputable.
Kurt controls very smoothly, which is quite an improvement over the Tomb Raiders of the time, but the addition of usable items and especially a sniper rifle really shakes things up, as the player can choose himself whether to take enemy from a distance or from up close. Sniping is extremely satisfying, with headshots counted in the tally screen, but the normal machinegun is going to make everything go up in flames. Tough choice. There isn’t quite the finesse of surviving a level in Quake with a sliver of health, but that’s probably done on purpose, as every shoot-out becomes a riot. We also get a bit of platforming, some vehicle sequences, crazy rides… the fun never ends.
And if the action is a riot, the design doesn’t lose either. Not only you get such items as The Most Interesting Bomb In The World, or little dummies with a badly drawn Kurt that somehow fool the aliens just fine, but the levels themselves are completely bonkers, colorful and with jokes aplenty. What about the music? Perhaps recognizing that silly tunes would suit the tone of the game too much, Tommy Tallarico outdoes himself and gives MDK an epic orchestral score. This contrast between visuals and sound is the last touch MDK needs to become, in one word, crazy.
Playing today: the game was released on PC and PS1. I can’t say much about the console version, because I have never played it, but it sounds like it’s a worthy port. Unfortunately it’s not available on the PSN Store, which limits its availability today. The PC disc is a common find, but you might have trouble running it on modern systems: luckily GOG and Steam are also selling the game on their websites (it was, I believe, one of the first games to appear on GOG.com). Overall, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding ways to play it.