Killing Floor 2 Review
A bloody good time
The original Killing Floor was the epitome of a simple concept well executed. You and up to five teammates shot a variety of mutants who arrived in waves, which earned you money to spend on better weapons between the waves. That was it. That was the entire game. However, it got the basics of great gameplay mechanics, great map design, and a meaningful set of difficulty options that tied in with the progression system so very right, that it remained compelling. Everything I just wrote could be applied to the sequel as well, but with all of the standards brought up to a modern level, with the possible exception of map design. Killing Floor 2 is once again a very simple game, but it also excels in the area of gameplay mechanics, good progression and a good level of challenge, even if overall it plays things a bit safe.
The area Killing Floor 2 excels in the most is its shooting. I struggle to think of another game that meets the standard set here in terms of weapon animations and the detailed reaction of enemies to getting hit. In other words, the guns feel amazing and enemies die in spectacularly bloody fashion. Developers Tripwire Interactive dubbed their proprietary gore technology the M.E.A.T system, which stands for Massive Evisceration and Trauma, which is suitable for the gore level that is truly something to behold.
Each enemy has a huge number of dismemberment points causing limbs to detach in different ways or heads to explode dynamically rather than with a pre-set animation. The results feel incredibly organic as limbs fly, heads pop and viscera gets thrown through the air, with the returning bursts of slow motion that randomly triggers on headshots really letting you see just how over the top, and in my opinion glorious, the M.E.A.T system is. Blood is persistent between levels, and rooms that see a lot of fighting will literally become painted red as the round progresses, and body parts will litter the ground after each wave.
Of course, all of this blood and gore wouldn’t count for much if the weapons weren’t fun to use. Fortunately, Tripwire reassert themselves here as the masters of gunplay, with a large arsenal of weapons spanning 10 classes, or ‘perks’ as they are referred to here, ranging from fairly run of the mill military grade weapons to some more creative offerings. Many perks return from Killing Floor 1, along with some familiar weapons. As before, each perk can be leveled up to increase weapon damage and decrease upgrade costs for the weapons they specialize in.
The assault-rifle wielding Commando and shotgun-focused Support classes make it over pretty much unchanged in terms of roles and available weaponry, but the shotguns in particular are really satisfying to use, with the double-barrel shotgun and fully-automatic AA-12 being two of my personal favorites in the game. Other returning classes have seen significant tweaks; the Berserker has been much improved with melee combat now being quite satisfying, and some really fun new weapons such as an explosive charge-powered sledge hammer. The Medic has access to a series of modular guns which can shoot bullets or healing darts. The Firebug perk gets access to the Microwave gun, a beam weapon which causes enemies to inflate and explode in a morbidly comical manner.
In addition to returning classes, several new ones have been added. The Gunslinger is a pistol specialist, duel wielding powerful side-arms with impressive results. SWAT specializes in SMGs which are quick to reload and are great for clearing out groups of weaker enemies. The Survivalist is a generalist perk, able to gain damage increases with all weapon types but to a lesser extent than any of the specialists for their respective weapons. Of course, the weapon specializations are only suggestions, and any class can use any weapon, though off-perk weapons will cost more and do less damage than perk-specialty ones. Grenade variety has also been improved; now each class gets a different grenade type, such as enemy stunning flash-bangs for SWAT or half-sticks of dynamite for the Demolition perk.
Regardless of which perk you use, character customization has also been fleshed out, letting you select a base character and then further customize them with different items. I personally used the Scottish Priest, but adorned him with a gas mask for safety purposes. Another change is that perks now have twenty five levels compared to six in the original game. The bonuses to damage and cost decreases for perk weapons aren’t as dramatic between levels, but every five levels, you get to choose a perk-specific ability that might let you resupply teammates with ammo, speed up reload times, or further increase damage. It still takes a while to level up perks, but you certainly level up much faster compared to the original game, and it is satisfying when you hit each five-level milestone that grants you a tangible improvement beyond minor stat boosts.
As you increase your perk level, you are also better able to take on higher difficulty settings. One of the most impressive aspects of Killing Floor 2 is how meaningful the difficulty levels are. The normal difficulty option makes for a more laid-back co-operative experience as enemies are relatively slow and can be easily kited as you run off to recover health and reload your weapons. Once you start increasing the difficulty, enemies speed up, become better able to protect themselves, and make co-operating with your teammates essential for survival. Once you get to Suicidal difficulty, the third of four levels, things become incredibly frantic as enemies sprint towards you and perform leaping attacks that make them difficult to hit.
The varied enemy behavior is fortunate because the actual set of enemy types make it over from the original game with very few changes. The gang is all here, with early waves comprised of the weaker Clots, Gorefasts and Crawlers, eventually being reinforced by screaming Sirens who cause grenades to fizzle, damage-soaking Bloaters and rocket-firing Husks. Eventually, the tougher chainsaw-wielding Scrakes and fiersome drill-armed Fleshpounds show up, with their presence on the map being announced by a horrifying roar, and on anything higher than normal difficulty, requiring a concerted team effort to bring down. Despite the enemy types mostly returning from the original game, their behavior has been revamped sufficiently that it’s not too much of an issue, especially on higher difficulties where they will protect their weak spots forcing you to time your shots carefully.
What is something of an issue is the lack of boss variety. Each game ends with a final boss encounter, and there are currently only two present in the game. They are both good, challenging bosses who can bring down unwary players quickly, but these final waves start to feel repetitive as the strategies for taking them down never vary, especially since one of them returns from the first Killing Floor. Tripwire have a history of releasing free content updates for their games for years after launch, so hopefully this is one weak area they will address.
The seemingly biggest addition to Killing Floor 2 is the all-new versus survival mode. As a fan of asynchronous multiplayer in the likes of Left 4 Dead 2 or Natural Selection 2, I thought this mode had a lot of potential, but it isn’t as compelling as you might hope. For one thing, balance is a problem, as players' perk levels carry into this mode, but the zeds don’t appear to become stronger to accommodate for this. Also as a by-product of the game’s design, the zeds can’t pin players, and they can all hole up in a small area and rather easily defeat the attacking zeds. This mode is a fun distraction; I particularly enjoyed running around as a bloater vomiting on players, but honestly I think the development resources that went into this might have been better used to create a different co-operative mode that plays to the game’s strengths, especially as very few people are actually playing versus.
One of the high points of the original Killing Floor was its map list, with a huge number of extremely high quality maps that varied dramatically in size and design. Many of these maps were added after launch however, and unsurprisingly, the list of a dozen maps present in Killing Floor 2 at launch doesn’t compare favorably to the current, ridiculously long list of levels that exist in the first game. That isn’t to say what is here is of poor quality – there are some great maps in the sequel, with the hell-themed Infernal Realm and atmospheric Volter Manor being my personal favorites. However, there isn’t as much variety here, especially when it comes to equivalents to the bigger, more open maps like Farm or Mountain Pass that were some of my favorites in the original game.
This issue is alleviated by mod support and the presence of servers running custom maps, many of which are quite good as a result of the game’s long stint in early access. In fact, the above referenced Infernal Realm started life as a custom map, and was added after winning a custom map competition. I look forward to seeing what maps are added in the future, but at this point, the map list is the only area that doesn’t compare favorably to the original.
In contrast, the biggest area of improvement to the sequel in addition to the ridiculous gore system is the increased level of visual fidelity. Killing Floor 2 uses a heavily modified version of Unreal Engine 3, and is by a wide margin the best looking game Tripwire have made to date. The game has a sharp, vibrant look with great lighting effects adding to the atmosphere in a meaningful way, and effects from explosions and fire, especially when seen in slow motion, are glorious. Performance is also quite good, with the frame rate remaining generally stable regardless of how crazy the action becomes, though you will need to endure a very long initial load when first starting the game. The action is once again set to a banging soundtrack of metal and industrial music that goes perfectly with the bloody action on display.
Taken as a whole, Killing Floor 2 feels like a fairly conservative sequel as it doesn’t really touch the core formula of the original game. It gets the basic gameplay mechanics so very right though that it remains a satisfying and highly enjoyable co-operative experience. It is a shame that the versus mode is a bit underdone, and that another more interesting co-operative experience wasn’t added in its place, but at the end of the day, if you are looking for a game that will satisfy your craving to kill stuff in the bloodiest possible way while hanging out with some mates, this is a very solid option that will likely keep you playing for a long time.