There are many things that shooters do well. Titles like Bioshock Infinite expand the way video games approach narratives and mechanics, games like Crysis push the graphical limits of what modern hardware and engines can accomplish, and Battlefield continues to expand the definition of “large-scale maps,” but few games really understand the simple joy of play as well as Killing Floor.
Originally a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004, Killing Floor got its own standalone release in 2009 under Tripwire Interactive, resulting in a game that was part shooter and part tower defense. Players in Killing Floor could choose between six classes, each specializing in different weapons and skills, and were tasked with defeating waves of biomechanical creatures called Zeds until the wave of enemies was cleared. Each kill and surviving the round netted the player some income, to spend on weapons, ammo, and armor for the coming waves. Each successive wave brought increasingly diverse Zed types and amounts, which culminates in a boss fight in the final wave.
For how simple a formula it was and how much it lacked in a narrative or real purpose, Killing Floor was a success. The graphics were simple, the voice acting was the right kind of schlocky and ridiculous, but it was a profoundly fun game. Where other games had better polish, Killing Floor was unrepentant in confronting you with a constant barrage of cannon fodder. It was a game about blowing off heads, shooting bigger and louder guns, and all the visceral excitement explosives, assault weapons, and chainsaws can provide. Killing Floor 2 is more of the same, just bigger, louder, better, and more polished by most conceivable metrics. The voice work is a lot cleaner, the guns all make very satisfying noises and feel suitably punchy, and the Zeds themselves are a lot more polished in action.
Where Killing Floor had certain atmospheric implications, little nods to existing horror properties and concepts, Killing Floor 2 is much more its own experience. The sterile, metallic corridors all have lights that can get blown out, backgrounds are accompanied by clanking machinery or outdoor weather, the flickering screens and swiveling advertisements are constantly implying movement in the background. Taken on its own, it feels claustrophobic, unsettling, active, and haunting. After waves of specimen, the walls are painted in viscera, the screens are shot out, the lights are flickering or dead, and there are bodies of the dismembered specimen have piled at choke points.
It’s also a gorgeous game – depending on your taste for blood and bits – and the Zeds are nothing to sniff at either. Their bodies twist and contort in weird ways, their limbs pinwheel off of their bodies when shot enough, and their headless bodies shamble momentarily before collapsing into boneless piles on the floor. Tripwire created their own system for dismemberment, giving the specimen several parts where they can be shot up and ripped apart. Clinically, acknowledging the dismemberment system feels very systematic, but in practice, the viscera is oddly satisfying.
In large part, it’s due to stage design. The background visuals, rotating advertisements, displays spouting company mission statements, and background machinations help the place feel frantic even in the relative silence of between-wave trading sessions. When waves start, specimens start to flood in from all directions, dropping from overhead catwalks and stumbling erratically through doorways. They trip, stumble, surge, and jump as they move around. Although they walk in predictable patterns, the short sight lines, tight corridors, and numerous spawns means the waves of Zeds never feel rote.
Killing every specimen always feels urgent. Behind every blood splatter and airborne arm is another creature, waiting to crawl over the deceased to take a bite out of the player. Because of the fast pace, every wave survived comes with a sense of accomplishment and elation, despite the cyclical nature of the game, each wave taken on its own is rewarding.
Currently, there are four classes available to the player, each with various strengths and abilities in their roles. The available classes are Berserker, Commando, Support, and Medic.
The Berserker class specializes in melee weapons. Their class passive bonuses are geared toward making Berserkers more able to survive being close to the specimen, and bonuses to their melee damage to enable them to square off against larger creatures with team support.
The Commando class specializes in assault rifles, including the highest damage weapon currently in the game, and exist to provide supporting fire and damage output for small and large creatures alike. They also tend to be a little meatier in health and ammo than the support classes. At higher levels, they grant allies the ability to view enemy health bars and see cloaked creatures.
The Support class specializes in shotguns, and give bonuses to welding doors. Their shotguns are powerful if aimed well, but they have difficulty engaging at many distances other than close. At higher levels, they also gain benefits such as carrying extra ammo for teammates.
The Medic class specializes in a weapon that fires healing syringes, allowing them to heal teammates at a range. The class also provides bonuses to healing recharge rate, healing potency, and levels can increase the healing and damaging abilities of the class for area of effect support.
Medic and Support classes are a little bit slower to kill, and are less powerful overall, but their abilities are very useful when the specimen waves start coming in at a faster and more demanding rate. Commando and Berserker classes are largely aggressive, but that role makes them indispensable when it comes time to defeat the larger, stronger, faster, and more terrifying Zeds.
Unfortunately, Killing Floor 2 hasn’t seen it overly necessary to improve the story beats from the first game. There are a few more customization options for each player character model compared to the first game, but beyond that, the formula hasn’t changed significantly. Players wait for waves of enemies to appear, they shoot until there are none left, replenish and upgrade their weapons at the trader, and do it over again. Although the spirit of Killing Floor 2 is being playful, it’s also the only thing the game currently has to offer.
For what it’s worth, Killing Floor 2 is chaotic fun. It’s messy, fast, gorgeous, frantic, and entertaining. All of the classes have their strengths, none of the weapons feel underdone or like they underperform, the details are carefully observed, and with the exception of the very rare bug or two, everything is polished to a mirror’s shine. Players who enjoy PvE shooters will probably find something to love out of Killing Floor 2, assuming they don’t mind the repetition.
Set to release on Steam Early Access on April 21, 2015, Killing Floor 2 promises to be everything fans of the first game hope it could be, but it probably won’t convert players that were unconvinced by the first.