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8:08 PM on 02.26.2011  

Groundhog Day: The Killing Joke

This isn’t a blog post. It’s a cry for help.

It all started during the last Steam holiday sale. Dozens and dozens of games for less than ten bucks, and suddenly my iron grip on my wallet loosened. For $5-$7 apiece, I had no problem buying dozens of games and then shoveling them directly into my already massive backlog. Most of them I had heard of, but opted to pass over because I wasn’t interested enough to buy them at full price (and because in all likelihood, they would end up not getting played for months, maybe years).

This time around, though, I happened upon a little game called Killing Floor.

“It's more of a steel grating that allows material to sluice through so it can be collected and exported.”

Killing Floor started as a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004, but was so wildly popular that it became a standalone game in 2009. The gist of it is that Horzine, a sort of Anglo-Umbrella Corporation, was secretly making dangerous mutants when wouldn’t you know it, they escape. Now, you have to step in and push these “specimens” out of what’s left of England. You do this by surviving wave after wave of specimens, with breaks in between to buy weapons with money you’ve earned from the bounties on each specimen.

A few months prior to the big sale, Steam held one of their free play weekends for Killing Floor, but I never got around to trying it. Multiplayer in general has never been that important because I can rarely get enough people I know together to try a game, and trying to cultivate a good team of players from all the random jagoffs on the internet tends to be a long, unrewarding process. Why then, I wondered, should I pay any attention to Killing Floor? Because it’s only $7!

So I got it and installed it. Didn’t play it right away, oh no. Had to give my new purchase time to breathe. Also, I had forgotten about it. A few days later, though, I spotted the icon on my cluttered desktop and gave it a shot.

There was an option for “solo”, so I gave that a shot first, setting up a short, 4-wave game. This was during their big Christmas event, I found out, so all the monstrous specimens were decked out in yuletide attire. Even so, it turned out to be a surprisingly intense game, fleeing from one group of specimens only to run into another, and having to desperately shoot my way past while hoping that there wouldn’t be an even bigger group beyond. Things were going pretty well, until I was murdered by a giant roaring nutcracker wearing a suit covered in festive lights.

When that light turns red, guard your bunghole.

And so, I was treated to a giant “Your squad was wiped out” message and a few seconds of monsters chewing on my mangled corpse just in case there was any confusion about what had just happened. I tried again on another map and did a little better, but it still ended with me being pulped by angry mutants. Well that stinks, I thought to myself.

But wait, what’s this? I’ve upgraded my “Commando” perk. Now I can deal a little more damage with assault rifles, and those very same guns are cheaper now, and I can see the enemies’ health bars! I wonder what I’ll get for the next level...

And that was the beginning of the end.

Just 2000 more headshots ‘til Rank 6...

I was hooked. Since then, I’ve racked up almost 200 hours playing the damn game. What started as mere fascination with the perk leveling system grew into a genuine affection for the game.

The specimens no longer seemed like shrieking monsters as I documented their different behaviors like some kind of armchair biologist. I knew each sound they made and what each one meant. I knew what sorts of things made them angry. I knew where they were likely to appear in any given map. Also,
I knew the best way to kill them, but that was less interesting to me than knowing how long each one could survive after being decapitated!

I spent time exploring the different weapon combinations, getting to know the different weapons as though each one was a friend of mine. Where I had scoffed at the idea of a sniper being forced to use a crossbow and an old lever-action rifle, now I saw the possibilities that each one represented. Fifteen hundred pounds for a couple pipebombs? I knew the best place to put them for the best return on my investment. And the achievements for the different weapons, my god... There’s an achievement for scoring 25 headshot kills IN A ROW! I balked at the idea of popping that many heads consecutively, yet one day I happened to glance at my own achievements and there it was. When did that happen?

The Patriarch: World’s most dangerous never-nude.

Each set of waves would conclude with a visit from the Patriarch, a mutated mad scientist with a chaingun/rocket launcher arm and a trio of healing vials neatly cuffed to his enormous jean shorts. And he can turn invisible. He once loomed larger than life, his bum eye looking at me sideways while he mocked another abortive attempt at shaming him into putting on a shirt. Now, I wonder about how many pipebombs I can make him walk over before his shins say “enough!”

It’s not all good. The relatively small number of maps means I’m glad I don’t have a stat showing how many times I’ve played each one. In online games, the “kick” feature is disabled all too often, forcing you to carry the additional weight created by AFK’ers, trolls, and players who are all heart. Most annoying of all, there’s a bug that occasionally pops up in which a grenade, no matter how far you throw it, will explode as though you pulled the pin and dropped it into your underwear.

I’ve actually gotten quite good at the game!

So why do I keep coming back? If it’s a co-op survival horror game I’m after, why don’t I just play Left 4 Dead?

As I mentioned earlier, the perk system is what drew me in initially. What can I say; I’m a sucker for xp systems like that. It adds a certain something to what would otherwise be an ordinary case of pouring boxes of bullets into hapless mutants. The multiplayer adds to it as well, as every new group of players means even a map played over a hundred times could unfold in any number of ways. Did I just jump into a match with experienced teammates who will play to their perks’ strengths and watch each other’s backs, or will I be picking up the pieces after a near-wipe on the second wave? There’s also the distinct British flavor to the whole thing, which you don’t often see in FPSs. I particularly enjoy the voiced insult component of the quick chat system (who is Wayne Rooney, and why is he smarter than me?).

To be fair, he did know “football = soccer” before I did.

The thing that really grabbed my attention about this particular horror-survival type game is that even in multiplayer games, it’s possible for a player to strike out on his own and actually help out his team. I’m not really sure how to explain this bit all that well, but let me see if I can break it down a little better than that: the typical squad-based shooter stresses that you stay with the group and focus on working together. You can ditch your teammates in Left 4 Dead, but you’ll more than likely wind up being a dick that gets killed and ruins everyone else’s good time. In KF, straying from your teammates means you’ll be fighting off a much larger number of specimens alone, but it also means there will be fewer will be assaulting your teammates. And even if you get killed, one of your teammates can swing by and drop a grenade on the mutants that are chewing on your “lone wolf” corpse.

At least... that’s what I tell myself when I realize how I keep turning back to this game at every given opportunity. Do you know how many times I stopped in the middle of writing this to play more Killing Floor? Four times! Oh sure, I told myself it was because I needed to get some nice screenshots to illustrate my points and break up the wall of text. When I bought an AA12 and starting unloading fully-automatic shotgun fire onto a crowd of freaks whose only real crime was walking slowly toward me in a straight line, I knew what was really going on. It’s got me. It’s got me so bad...

Steam ID: Flea_Friend if you want to play some Killing Floor. :(

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