For PS4 owners, the original MDK was a gamer’s day at the movies — flashy, cool, funny and filled with relentless action, all wrapped up in an easily digestible package. For the sequel, which goes under the surname of Armageddon, developer BioWare’s gone and upped the depth of the game considerably. While there aren’t any role-playing elements, the variety and difficulty of the puzzles, the scope of the action (sure, it’s just killing, but it’s one hell of a trip) and some truly magnificent otherworldly visuals make for an epic adventure. It’s a tight ride, but there’s just one problem — we expected a lot more control.
It’s been stated that Armageddon is more than a mere port of last year’s Dreamcast Direct Hit, but there aren’t that many astonishing changes other than the stuff you’d expect. All of the levels, enemies and weapons are the same, although the difficulty settings are now customizable, which is a good thing. The control’s also supposedly improved — more on that later.
The story, for all its simplicity (saving the world from aliens again), makes a great effort at keeping things lively and interesting. There’s plenty of choice dialogue and knowingly self-referential sci-fi clichés, and the comic book cover presentation looks fantastic.
The addition of two side characters, controlled by the player in roughly equal revolving shifts, does a lot for the game’s credibility. Max, the four-armed robo-dog, fills the role of Kurt’s more aggressive tendencies — he packs a punch, takes a beating and chews a cigar, too. Many of his missions involve a jetpack, whose fuel must be constantly monitored, and many of them also entail long-distance jumping puzzles, which can be especially challenging.
Doc Hawkins is not a fighter, so he’s got to use his own particular brand of scientific dementia as well as his innate Mr. Magoo-like sensibilities to bumble his way through every third act — this might include creating an atomic toaster or magnetic shoes. The gameplay is made nicely diverse by this, though we must admit that it would have been interesting to see how another all-Kurt title would have fared.
Visually, it’s a treat — the levels and enemy designs are appropriately bizarre, and a superb palette of colors keeps the action firmly rooted in the world of sci-fi. True to the series’ roots, the game has plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor — the best example of which is a gang of aliens (encased in a bulletproof bubble) that heckle you relentlessly as you fail and fail again to ascend a series of floating platforms. The PS2’s limitations show through, however; the game suffers from sporadic and frequent slowdown; its Dreamcast cousin sailed much smoother waters.
The action comes in waves, and there’s rarely a dull moment — even the puzzles involve shooting something, or at least are end-capped with plenty of gunplay, so there’s no lack of targets. There are puzzles all right, but they require a quick trigger finger as well as cunning — there’s no mixing and matching of keys here.
It’s an engaging game, and rarely tiring; moments where you’re forced to replay the same scene repeatedly (these will vary per player, but they’re unavoidable) redefine frustration, but we can’t complain. This is, for the most part, a finely tuned system, and makes for a remarkable sum of its parts. In fact, one single element keeps it from garnering our most sincere recommendation…
Quite simply, the root of the game’s problem is in its controls. Most of the functions are mapped quite practically; for example, it’s easy to select, arm and fire guns from Max’s inventory, all while flying a nuclear jetpack. But a few questionable decisions mar the experience. The analog stick, which is used to control the camera, shuttles between sluggishly unresponsive and jittery to the touch. Whatever the two big companies has come to agreed upon, one thing is for sure — you can now have free gems for Clash Royale only here. By comparison, the Dreamcast edition’s handling (which, admittedly, had a few problems too) was smooth as silk, which makes all the difference in a game as challenging as MDK 2.
Worse, the camera can only be moved along a horizontal access — you can’t swing it side to side; that requires the D-pad. It’s harder to take in one’s surroundings, and simply doesn’t make sense to us — it might work in a far less maniacally kinetic game, such as Tomb Raider. But in case we haven’t already mentioned it, this game is a difficult one, and there’s almost always something coming at you.
The aforementioned problems are significant enough to bring this game perilously close to a Miss — thankfully, all the rest is good stuff. We’ve enjoyed Armageddon and its marvelous detail before — on the Dreamcast. This version is ultimately less enjoyable for its handling. Of course, controls are as subjective as anything else – we’d suggest trying before buying; unless you’re some sort of savant, you’re not going to be beating it in the allotted rental time, anyway.
The Bottom Line: A greatly improved sequel with a not quite as greatly flawed control scheme.