~400 hours and counting
Over the last year and a half, I’ve been playing a ton of Killing Floor 2 (just under 400 hours) during its time on Steam Early Access. It’s an in-staff joke at this point: if news about the game pops up, the team knows I want to read it and cover it. The number of times I’ve begged my co-workers to play with me is bordering on pathetic. I’m sorry that I wanted to play one of my favorite cooperative shooters ever with you, guys. How dare I want to share with you some of the most satisfying gunplay I’ve ever seen?
Of course, with it finally leaving Early Access, I have to separate the time that I’ve played from what’s actually being presented in the final product. I have to ignore the ups and downs during development, the numerous balance changes, the focus shifts. I’ll do my best, but I’m pretty sure you can already tell I love this damn game.
Killing Floor 2 (PC [reviewed], PS4 [tested on both regular and Pro])
Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Publisher: Deep Silver, Iceberg Interactive
Release: November 18, 2016
MSRP: $29.99 (PC Standard Edition), $39.99 (PC Digital Deluxe Edition, PS4)
A biotech company called Horzine went and created a bunch of horrible monsters, and now soldiers, mercenaries, and survivors are trying to clean up the mess. Killing Floor 2 follows a very simple loop, but it does it so well that I don’t mind. You and up to five friends have to fight ten waves of Zeds (genetically engineered monsters), earning money with each kill so you can buy increasingly ridiculous weapons. At the end of the ten waves, you fight one of two bosses. Aside from the Versus mode — more on that later — that’s it for now. Other modes will assuredly be added, as Tripwire Interactive supports its games for much longer than most developers.
If you need a campaign or multiple modes to keep your attention, this might not be the game for you. It’s essentially a horde mode turned into a full game. While that may sound repetitive, the insane tactility and attention to detail put into the weapons and combat has kept my attention for longer than I thought possible. There are ten perks (classes) to choose from: Berserker, Commando, Demolitionist, Field Medic, Firebug, Gunslinger, Sharpshooter, Support, Survivalist, and S.W.A.T. Leveling them up and gradually becoming better-versed in survival on the hardest difficulties just hasn’t stopped being satisfying for me.
There are eleven different monsters ranging from basic zombie-like creatures called Clots that shamble toward you to Scrakes, well-muscled menaces with a chainsaw for an arm. Some perks are better-geared towards killing certain enemies, so teamwork is more important here than most co-op games I’ve played. When you feel comfortable enough and move onto higher difficulties, the Zeds gain new abilities in addition to more health and damage. Due to the new tactics employed by your mutated opponents, playing on the hardest mode, Hell on Earth, is frantic and fast-paced, feeling like a completely different game than Normal difficulty.
After cleaving through the ten waves, it’s boss time. You’ll fight either Dr. Hans Volter, an emaciated sadist in an exoskeleton suit, or the Patriarch, the former CEO of Horzine who’s now an abomination equipped with a rocket launcher and a gatling gun. Both bosses can kill careless players in seconds, so it’s best to stay close to your friends and keep each other healed. Volter and the Patriarch can both heal themselves three times, which can make the boss battles feel formulaic at times, but there are now ways to prevent them from doing so. When Hans’ health is low, he has a forcefield and he’ll try to grab you and drain your life. If you can do enough damage, you can knock the shield off. The Patriarch will try to cloak and run away to stick himself with a healing syringe. If you block his exit or leave C4 on him and detonate it at the last moment — boom, you win.
Each perk has 25 levels, with two abilities to choose from on every fifth level. While some of these skills can’t compare to each other and there’s an obvious choice, it’s always exciting to find reach the next tier and further realize your perk’s potential. Most of the classes don’t quite feel specialized until you reach about level ten, but beyond that, you’ll be earning fun abilities that can help you narrow down your role. For example, Demolitionist can focus on being a crowd clearer with a larger area of effect per explosion, or honing in on taking out the big bads. Gunslinger and Sharpshooter, perks focused on dual pistols and ranged weapons respectively, get a skill later on that provides extra damage if you chain headshots, turning aiming into a sort of minigame.
The first fifteen levels go by rather quickly, but reaching the cap for each perk takes a looooong time. Again, I have about 380 hours in the game and I haven’t maxed out each one (though the tenth perk was only added last week). I’m almost there, but if you don’t plan on putting as much time into this game as I have over the last year and a half and want to reach the harder difficulties, I’d recommend focusing on a few perks instead of trying to do all of them.
A game this simple lives and dies by how satisfying it is to shoot all the things, and Killing Floor 2 has some of the most sublime combat I’ve ever played. There are about 40 different weapons, as well as original grenades and knives for each perk (aside from Survivalist, which can use everyone else’s weapons). Almost every weapon is unique and a joy to use, whether it’s based on a real weapon like a SCAR or is something more outlandish like the microwave gun, which turns every monster into popcorn, exploding in a shower of gore. The attention to detail with the weapons actually makes Tripwire Interactive’s staff seem like terrifying gun nuts. They all sound great, have fun idle animations that you can trigger when hitting reload with a full magazine, and all just feel right.
Some of this satisfaction is due to the games’ M.E.A.T. (Massive Evisceration and Trauma) system, which makes it so Zeds can be dissected in 22 different ways. By the time you leave a room, it’s going to drenched with persistent blood that remains until you finish the level. Popping off limbs and heads should be horrifying — and the game definitely isn’t for kids — but it mostly provides great feedback for each shotgun blast or melee slice. Using weapons like katanas and shovels is especially fun, feeling more tactile and solid than melee combat in most first-person shooters. Directional combat, power attacks, and a block and parry system help to flesh the fighting out.
The other main mode, Versus Survival, divides players into Zeds and humans. It plays similarly to Left 4 Dead‘s Versus mode. When Tripwire introduced this mode earlier this year, it wasn’t met with a ton of fanfare. It was initially poorly balanced, and though it was actually pretty damn cool to play as the monsters, the playerbase gradually dwindled. I hadn’t played it for awhile until recently, but it’s a lot more fun than I remembered. I’m hoping that it’ll find more players on PS4. It needs some more tuning, as you sometimes feel rather weak as some of the smaller monsters, but I do like the idea. Playing as the Scrake and the Fleshpound (a hulking monstrosity with spinning mallets for arms) and terrorizing the humans gives me hope that a fresh infusion of players will give Versus Survival new life.
At launch, Killing Floor 2 has twelve different maps ranging from the streets of Paris (with the Eiffel tower burning in the background) to the catacombs under Italy. Each one has its spots that are best for hunkering down and holding out, but you can play in a more mobile way if you like. Despite red being the main color you’ll see in the game, almost every map uses vibrant colors that helps to make them stand out. For instance, the snowy Outpost level has a glowing blue/green aurora borealis floating above, and the Prison map has a purple sky with what looks like the Paleblood moon from Bloodborne staring down at you from the heavens.
While it may be overshadowed graphically by games like Battlefield 1 due to still using a modified version of Unreal Engine 3, Killing Floor 2‘s strong art direction, use of vibrant color, and great animations make it one of the smoothest games I’ve played, especially on PC. I’ve been testing it on both the PlayStation 4 and the PS4 Pro as well, and while it still looks great, the frame rate isn’t consistent. On the Pro, it uses checkerboard rendering at 3200×1800 for a 4K experience and gets the added benefit of the PC version’s Ultra textures. While it looks similar to the PC version on higher settings, it ranges from 40-60 frames per second, which might be jarring for some players. For me, staying at 40 and above is fine when I’m on a console, but I still vastly prefer the look of the PC version (especially with my 144 Hz monitor….mmm). Plus, Hell on Earth requires such precision and coordination that I’m not sure I’d be able to pull it off on a controller. Some of you probably will do just fine, but the game feels much faster with a mouse and keyboard.
Since we’re talking about treats to the senses, I have to mention the audio. The gun pornography I mentioned earlier is especially effective because each weapon just sounds so powerful. The Zeds, which didn’t have voices at the beginning of Early Access, emit horrible noises now, and it makes them much more menacing. All of this mayhem is set to the music of metal bands like Demon Hunter, Impending Doom, and Living Sacrifice and the more industrial stuff is done by zYnthetic, who did music for the first game. While I prefer zYthetic’s stuff overall, the metal gives it that this is a goddamn video game feel that Doom does. You can turn on the vocals as they’re disabled at the start, but I really didn’t get on with them.
On PC, there’s a large amount of content such as maps and gametypes already available via Steam Workshop. Tripwire has expressed interest in keeping the PC and PS4 updated side-by-side, but it remains to be seen how it can achieve that without the Workshop being available on console. What is in both versions is the Zedconomy, which is a system that has weapon skins and wearable cosmetics drop daily. These can be sold and traded on the PC version, but it’s not yet live on the PS4 so I can’t determine how it’ll work. I imagine you’ll just be able to buy those items as microstransactions if you’d like, but that’s purely speculatory for now. I get a kick out of getting some of the more bizarre cosmetics (especially when they drop for free daily), but players who don’t like this should know that it’s completely optional and doesn’t affect gameplay in any way. There are no stat bonuses or anything like that here.
Killing Floor 2, like its predecessor, is something I’ll be returning to for a long time. It’s not often that I stick with a multiplayer game for any length of time, but this one has its hooks in me deep. At the end, yes, you’re fighting the same enemies with the same weapons over and over again, but the level of challenging chaos keeps me coming back. Just know that as high as my score is, this is a repetitive game by nature. However, as previously mentioned, Tripwire updated the first game for years with new weapons, maps, modes, and enemies, too, so this is like an investment that I’ve already broken even on and will continue to reap benefits from. If you need something simple where you can jump in and shoot some of the best guns ever, Killing Floor 2 is your game. Now fucking play it with me, Jordan (and all of you guys, too!).