The true decomposition of codename "MDK" used to be a legend of sorts in the game industry. Now, there's not so much as a hint of enigma around the latest letters appended to the game: MDK2 HD does indeed run in haughty definition.
Even if you're joining us from 2000's PC version of MDK2 (released alongside a Dreamcast version, and preceding a PlayStation 2 port), you'll be treated to a significant visual upgrade in MDK2 HD, care of Overhaul Games. What hasn't changed in the last eleven years, of course, is the incredulity that results upon playing a funny, frivolous and uncluttered action game from BioWare. Yes, that BioWare.
What's new this time around? The most obvious addition to MDK2 HD, and perhaps the most unintentionally unsettling, is a set of new character models to replace the trio of protagonists: Kurt Hectic, Max and Dr. Fluke Hawkins. The enhanced caricatures fit in well with the environments (read: they look nice from behind too), and seem to draw from the details you filled in mentally when viewing the crude originals. The new models still utilize the original cutscene animations, however, which can make them look like the servants of a puppeteer in the grips of a seizure. Little talking heads in dialog windows worked before, but now they're leftovers that only serve to highlight faces weirdly bereft of moving lips.
I don't want to describe it as sloppy, because that belies the amount of love required for an oddball game like this, but there is a certain unevenness to MDK2's revivification. The only graphical option negotiable at the outset is resolution. The game's presented mostly in widescreen, with a few cutscenes and some minigames reverting to a 4:3 aspect ratio. Despite featuring an image of an Xbox 360 controller on the main menu, controller support is an inconvenient matter of mapping buttons and directions to a "joystick." And one cutscene, whether due to a technical barrier or accidental oversight, preserves the original model for Max.
These are brief distractions amidst some of the other enhancements made to the engine: improved lighting on characters and surfaces, shadowing, sharpened textures and -- if you've been happily playing games made in 2011 -- a brisk framerate.
If you must ascribe BioWare games to each of its founding doctors, MDK2 is clearly a zany Dr. Zeschuk game (sorry, Muzyka, but you're the serious one). Inspired by cooky comics and sci-fi blunders of yesteryear, MDK2 starts with an alien invasion centered on BioWare's beloved Canadian HQ in Edmonton. Before Max, Doc and Kurt can enjoy a celebratory pre-sequel swig, they're off to save the world from a groovy, deep-voiced alien called Shwang Shwing and his vain emperor, Zizzy Ballooba. (That Zizzy Ballooba?)
Kurt's segments still offer a unique combination of fast precision shooting and platforming -- the benefits of wearing a coil suit that can glide across gaps and instantly turn his head into a comically oversized sniper rifle. MDK2 doesn't drag its feet over filler, throwing in new sniper gimmicks and bullet types for a few challenges and then moving on.
Max, a six-legged artificial dog, did "quad-wielding" before The Darkness 2 turned into a marketing phrase that must be encapsulated in scare quotes at all times. His sections exist to impart the obvious joys of having a shotgun in one hand, an uzi in the other, a magnum in the other other, and a gatling gun in the other other other.
Meanwhile, Dr. Hawkins thrives on charm and mechanics derived from adventure games. Depending on the items he has equipped in each hand, he can either forge useful tools (pipes and duct tape to create a ladder) or weapons, like atomic baguette missiles. His section also provides a brief tutorial on how to eat a piece of toast off the ground.
Together, the three characters form a fast-paced, delirious whole backed by an invigorating electronic soundtrack by Jesper Kyd (more recently known for his work on the Assassin's Creed series). MDK2 is still quite unlike any other action game, never mind every other BioWare game.
MDK2 HD is available exclusively through Beamdog for $15.