After 18 gore-splattered months Tripwire Interactive’s co-op zombie shooter, Killing Floor 2, has officially come out of early access on PC and launched for the first time on PS4.
For the uninitiated, KF2 is the follow up to the impressively successfully Killing Floor, an indie PC game that has gone on to sell around three million copies since its commercial release in 2009 and that still enjoys a dedicated hardcore following and modding community seven years later. Not bad for a game that began life as a free mod for Unreal Tournament back in 2005.
It’s certainly not undeserved. If you can look past the ropey visuals, hammy voice acting, cringe-worthy innuendo, and clichéd monsters, the first Killing Floor is a surprisingly intelligent, well-balanced, and highly-addictive class-based co-op FPS that delivers intense and rewarding action while putting a critical emphasis on tactics, teamwork and communication. In other words, a great game to play with friends.
Killing Floor 2, however, is less a sequel than a straight-up remake. The graphics, sound, and interface may have been brought into the modern era, but the core gameplay remains virtually identical. As before you and up to five other players must work together to survive a sequence of increasingly difficult waves that comprise large swarms of randomly spawning “zeds” – all the same guys, bar a few minor variants, from the first game. The team can set both the number of waves (4, 7, or 10) and the difficulty, which determines the number, speed, and strength of the zeds.
Each player chooses from one of the 10 perks, seven of which will be familiar to players of KF1. These grant increased proficiency with certain weapon types and bestow specific buffs and skills. A brief reprieve between waves allows for dead players to respawn and for everyone to head over to the saucy French trader woman (who’s actually remarkably subtle compared to the “I like the big ones, don’t you?” lady of KF1), where you can spend your hard earned “dosh” on restocking and upgrading. Players are also able to share weapons and money with one another. If the whole team gets wiped during a wave, it’s game over, but if you make it to the end, you’re rewarded with a tough boss fight.
Big boys aside, individual zeds generally pose minimal threat. The danger lies in how they all combine together to overwhelm and lock you down in order for the larger specimens to turn your team into mince meat. Crawlers and clots constantly harass, the invisible stalkers flank, gorefasts charge you down, husks hurl fire balls from long range, screaming sirens damage you through the crowds, and bloats shield anything behind them with their grotesquely oversized torsos and blind you with their vomit (nice!).
A squad that is unable to efficiently deal with the smaller zeds will get eaten alive once the scrakes and fleshpounds start appearing in later waves. And this is why it’s so important to have a good balance of perks and for everyone to know their role. For instance, the assault-rifle toting commando excels in taking out the trash, zerkers are melee specialists that can hold the front line, sharpshooters can concentrate on the largest threats, demolitionists love a bit of unsubtle crowd control as well as gibbing fleshpounds, shotgun-spamming supports are great for panic moments, and the medics can, well, try to keep everyone alive.
That said, Tripwire have been toying with the formula over the past year or so, generating much heated discussion on the official forums. Though I can’t imagine too many people being upset by the range of quality-of-life improvements such as the introduction of a much-needed communications wheel, improved VOIP, a basic tutorial for newbies, healing darts that home in on their targets, and icons for locating distant teammates. Another welcome addition is the expanded range of melee attacks and the ability to parry, which makes the zerker more interesting to play as, whereas a second possible boss creates variety, even if a deranged Nazi scientist is hardly pushing the boundaries of creativity.
More debatable is the overhaul to the progression system. Instead of six levels for each perk there are 25, with progression now primarily based on XP gained from kills/assists using on-perk weapons. They’ve also introduced a skill tree, allowing you to choose an extra ability every fifth level. These include mundane but essential things like health, damage, reload bonuses, etc., and more fun things like random zed explosions and poisoned bullets.
Personally, I think it provides greater role customisation while being more encouraging for newer players – maxing out a perk still takes roughly the same amount of time that it did in KF1 and continues to teach you how best to play the classes before moving on to tougher difficulties.
However, I’m less happy with the introduction of the new perks, as I just don’t see the need for them. SWAT is a pointless variation on the commando, whereas the gunslinger feels like a watered-down version of the sharpshooter. I like the idea of the survivalist, which is supposed to be a “build your own perk” type class, but the arbitrary and binary choices in the skill tree don’t really allow you to mix and match in a way that’s pleasing or particularly useful.
One of the most controversial updates relates to welding. Doors now break, no matter the integrity of the weld, after a hidden threshold is reached. Moreover, they no longer regenerate at the end of waves. What was once a key, though albeit slightly overpowered, tactic from KF1 is barely used beyond trolling squad mates in KF2. On top of this, the game generally feels harder. Maps are smaller and darker, and zeds not only spawn from more locations, but the stragglers will teleport to positions directly in front of you. This means straight camping is much less of an option, but so is “kiting”.
The increase in challenge is not necessarily a bad thing, squads certainly need to be more adaptive in their strategies. However, Tripwire’s incessant tinkering has meant that the difficulty keeps going from one extreme to the other. For me the balance is not far off the mark in the latest build, though the smaller and medium specimens are still too bullet-spongy for my tastes (especially now that the cheeky buggers try to shield their faces), and I think the jump from “hard” to “suicidal” is too great.
The last big addition is the “versus” game mode. In short, it’s a poorly implemented six-against-six clone of Left 4 Dead, the master of the asymmetrical multiplayer. It lacks L4D’s precision and purpose – the cleverly interlocking and complementary roles of its zombies, and the tense drama moments fashioned by the very deliberate nature of the level design. In KF2 the survivors have no objectives other than to survive, so they can just find a nice spot and camp there, meaning there’s little opportunity for well timed and co-ordinated ambushes. Sadly, hardly anyone plays it. A real shame, as with a bit more thought and some bespoke maps, it could be really good.
In terms of presentation Killing Floor 2 is incredibly polished and feels so much more fun, immersive, and frantic than before. The sound design and positional audio are simply superb. Each zed can be instantly identified and located by their characteristic sounds, whereas the player avatars chat and banter with one another, subtly alerting you to nearby threats and the status of your squad, as well making a million-and-one geeky pop culture references (many of which will be lost on younger, non-British gamers). The varied industrial/metal soundtrack fits the mood and tempo perfectly, and most of the weapons look and sound awesome – the neat little flourishes in the firing and reload animations are the icing on the cake.
At present there are 12 official maps: nine by the developer, three by the community (and a tonne of unofficial ones thanks to Tripwire releasing an SDK for aspiring modders). In general, the environments are atmospheric, purposeful, and full of detail that alludes to a narrative that both follows on from and expands upon the first game. Not that a narrative is really necessary, but it adds a splash of colour and some twisted humour to the KF universe.
The real magic though is in the thick of the action. Once the zeds starting pouring in, pure, unadulterated carnage ensues. Guns roar, blades slash, monsters screech, mangled corpses pile up. The gore has been ramped up to 11 in KF2, so heads pop, bodies are torn apart in exaggerated sprays of blood, limbs and entrails go flying everywhere, weapons and survivors get caked in putrid goo, and after a few waves entire areas of the map are completely drenched in a sticky sea of red.
But the most memorable sequences tend to come from zed time, sporadic short-lived moments highly reminiscent of bullet time from the Max Payne games when time slows down and the world fades to monochrome and rouge. The sound grinds down to distorted bassy tones, zombies lurch towards you in slow-motion, bullet trails zip by, blood and gore hang in the air. There is nothing more satisfying than taking advantage of these opportunities to line up a succession of head shots to clear a path through the horde.
I suppose the real question is: Is Killing Floor 2 a better or worse game than its predecessor? Both titles have their pros and cons, but overall I’d say KF2 is an improvement. It looks and sounds great, and the gameplay is just as tactical and satisfying as before, if not more so. But like its predecessor there’s a steepish learning curve, and it’s definitely one to play with friends. Not that squadding up with randoms can’t be fun, but the experience is far more hit and miss.
A key factor in the sustained popularity of KF1 was the developer’s continued support for the game through numerous free content updates including a host of new maps and the annual Summer, Halloween, and Christmas-themed events – I mean, what’s not to love about slaughtering an army of psychotic elves, gingerbread men, and Santas? If Tripwire support Killing Floor 2 to the same extent, and they look to be following the same cosmetic microtransactions model in order to do so, then this will be a brilliant co-op FPS that’s around for many years to come.
Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Platforms: PS4, PC
Release Date: 18th November 2016