Killing Floor is one those franchises that always seems the most poised to turn the zombie-shootout formula on its head. The original Killing Floor (2009) wasn’t in itself revolutionary by any measure, with rudimentary graphics, thin plot and somewhat repetitive gameplay compared with its contemporary FPS games. Despite this, the game managed to become a stalwart best-seller following its rollout on Steam, won several awards and to this day has sold over 3 million copies. How? Because for all of its flaws, Tripwire Interactive’s original Killing Floor managed to capture a niche in the crowded zombie sub-genre and work with what it was given. That niche was the all-out, no-holds-barred survival shooter that throws you right into the action and doesn’t let up. Not only did it work, but it helped to create the grittier and more think-on-your-feet zombie genre in video games that is now being replicated elsewhere. So, Killing Floor 2 has some big shoes to fill. After spending some time with the game and trying out its various new features, I think it’s safe to say that this latest installment has put in some effort to address the shortcomings of the original, while keeping the winning Killing Floor formula intact.
Gameplay is very similar to the original. Playing solo or cooperatively with up to six players, you are dropped into a map to survive waves of the undead. The style is just as the original was: loud and fast, with plenty of blood, guts and general monstrosities to go around. Outside of the character you play as, Killing Floor 2 seems to have abandoned any pretext of a plot or single-player story, in favor of strictly focusing on the multiplayer aspects of the game. There is a class system, each with its own perks, skill boosts and upgrade path. You can also customize your favorite character with different outfits and unlockables, making them feel a bit more personal. Through gameplay you gain experience points, which can later be redeemed for class-specific upgrades, including those that can benefit team members.
In game, different types of zombies (called “Zeds”) can appear depending on which wave you’re on, and enough successive waves culminates in a boss fight. In addition, the enemy count scales with the number of players in game, and since a patch released earlier this year has introduced “dynamic difficulty”, meaning that the computer can determine the strength of the next wave depending on your team’s performance in the current one. Random weapons and armor can be found throughout the levels, though there is a limited amount you can carry at once. Finally, if you are killed during a wave, you cannot respawn until that wave is defeated. If your whole team is killed during a wave, its game over. Music-wise, I hope you like rock and metal, because there is a lot of it here. The soundtrack certainly sets the tone for the frantic survival gameplay.
That’s all well and good, you might think, but is the game actually worth buying? Well, Killing Floor 2 isn’t perfect. The game’s overall fidelity is clearly designed with more powerful PC’s in mind, meaning those with normal consumer computers will probably be disappointed. The graphics, online matchmaking (I often found myself getting dropped into dead-end lobbies and lobbies that were already full), and general little details still aren’t perfect, but I think if you enjoyed the original Killing Floor and have a more performance–oriented computer, you will probably get the same kick out of 2.
The number of improvements the game brings over its predecessor is notable though, such as more maps, a new player-vs.-player mode, breakable objects, integration with the Steam Workshop, higher frame rate and more detailed animations. Further, the new progression system makes for less grinding for upgrades and more customization. Also important is the unranked multiplayer setting, allowing for open use of mods in Multiplayer. Although there are some micro-transactions available in the game, they don’t seem to affect gameplay.
So Killing Floor 2 isn’t re-inventing the wheel as I thought it might. It has its key improvements, as well as its fair share of drawbacks. Like its predecessor, it isn’t itself especially remarkable, but it and games like it will continue to set the tone for the zombie genre games to come. It comfortably occupies the run-and-gun niche Killing Floor did, and that same basic formula that made Killing Floor successful in the first place is definitely here. At $30 on the Steam store, I’d call it a good buy if you are looking to scratch your co-op survival itch. Provided, of course, you don’t mind a little gore.
Killing Floor 2 is currently in Early Access on the Steam store. It is due to be released November 18th.