There’s no shortage of co-op shooters, or zombie shooters, or even zombie co-op shooters, on the market these days. Left 4 Dead 2 is still used as a high watermark, but there are also games like DayZ, H1Z1, Dying Light, and countless others. So what does a game like Killing Floor 2 bring to the table, why should you care, and is it worth getting over its inexpensive and still widely played predecessor?
Like the first game, KF2 is six-player survival shooter. Enemies spawn in waves, with each wave increasing the number of enemies and the amount of tougher foes thrown at you. Players are tasked with surviving these waves using a wide variety of weapons, earning cash to upgrade their kit and experience to unlock powerful class-specific perks. There are four different difficulty levels to increase the challenge, and enemy spawns are randomised to keep players on their toes.
Progression is tied to the ten different perks you can choose, acting as the player classes. Each has its own role from frontline assault to point defense, team support and crowd control. Each perk tree also comes with its own load-out of weapons, as well as unlockable mutators every five levels up to the max level 25. There’s some wiggle room with these mutators that let you customise your perks into more specialised roles, and working towards unlocking the next level serves as a decent enough incentive to keep playing the game.
The shooting mechanics of KF2 are fantastic, possibly outclassing other shooters from this year like DOOM or Shadow Warrior 2. Controls are smooth and responsive, with plenty of ways to customise them to your liking. Each weapon handles a little differently, and trying them all to find out which is your best fit really helps work the player through the first few hours of the game. Regardless of weapon, lining up a shot and pulling the trigger is satisfying the first time, and remains that way kill after kill and round after round.
Where KF2 outclasses any shooter, perhaps ever, is in its weapons. There’s a huge variety of guns across the perk trees, ranging from ordinary shotguns, pistols, and assault weapons, to the unusual, like home-made flame throwers, nail guns, or crossbows, to the downright weird with microwave laser cannons and gauss rifles. Every single gun has its own unique look and feel, down to the animations, and it’s well worth the time to examine each one. The weapons are animated at an astounding 200 frames per second, which gives them a level of detail you don’t often see. The game knows this too, and particularly amazing kills earn the team “zed-time”, where the world goes black and white and you get the chance to watch the weapons in slow-motion.
Of course cool guns are only good when there’s something to shoot them at. Again, in this regard KF2 raises a new bar, and the enemies it throws at you are downright terrifying. From the fleshy pink and disturbingly human-like clots that swarm you or the flayed skin of the Gorefast, the shrieking horror of the Siren or the stealthy Stalkers, all the way to the massive chainsaw wielding Skrake or the aptly named Fleshpound. KF2‘s horror element is mostly derived from the gruesome and horrifying design of these creatures, and the sight of a full on swarm is enough to give any player pause as they check their weapons and pray to survive.
Unlike Left 4 Dead, KF2 constrains its action to single levels, albeit levels large enough to give the players freedom. There are obvious choke points that groups tend to gravitate towards, but no level is easily defendable; and that’s the point. To further complicate the matter, killing enemies grants you money which you’ll need to spend, and the shop at which to spend this money moves location, usually to the other side of the map from where you are. Rarely is there enough time to make it to the shop, upgrade your kit, and return, so you’ll need to decide on uncomfortable running battles or creating a new line of defense where you stand. This does a great job of making the team move and it goes a long way from making matches grow stale too quickly.
Not everything in KF2 is perfect, and there are some areas that need improvement. First, the amount of grinding to level characters up can often feel like a chore, especially when it can be easy to level the wrong thing. Healing players doesn’t grant you XP as a Commando, it levels your Medic, and welding doors only levels the Support class. It’s a minor complaint, but it makes it less attractive to level multiple classes, and the better option is to grind one class over and over again until you grow bored of it or hit max.
On the topic of the classes, another issue is that with ten different classes to choose from, some are notably less useful then others. There’s a level of personal opinion here, but it’s likely you’ll see less Firebugs, SWAT, and Gunslingers because their roles are often filled better by other classes. It feels like it would’ve made more sense focusing on a smaller number of classes and giving players more freedom to play around with them, instead of ten classes that often overlap effectiveness.
Graphically, KF2 looks and runs fairly well. Its biggest strength, aside from the insane level of detail in the weapons, is its clever use of lighting. None of the levels are quite bright enough to be comfortable, and it forces players to use their flashlights, which have limited power. Inevitably the map is lit by muzzle flash and it goes a long way to create a sense of horror and dread in an otherwise fairly normal game. As for the rest of the technical stuff, KF2 runs at an amazing framerate on a mid-level PC with high settings, all the more impressive given the full physics on enemies and gore flying around. Frames rarely dip below optimal levels, even when the screen is full of other players and enemies running around, swinging wildly, or getting exploded into paste.
The good news continues on the audio front, and KF2 is an audio masterpiece. Weapon audio is top-notch, with every weapon from the lowly 9mm handgun to the RPG sounding satisfying to shoot. Weapons are weighty, bass-y, and full of oomph that makes pulling the trigger insanely enjoyable. Similarly the audio work on the enemies is great too, with each type of zed sounding unique and terrifying, with the boss monsters announcing their presence with ear-shaking howls or the revving of a chainsaw.
Voice acting is decent enough, although there’s a limited amount of dialogue that appears to trigger even less since the 1.0 patch dropped. There’s a good variety of characters to choose and they all have their own personality. It’s unfortunate that there’s so little inter-character banter, but what’s there is decent enough. The music, on the other hand, is perfect for the situation, with a wide array of heavy metal songs donated from real bands. Shooting mutant zombies to the whine of a power-solo is just as enjoyable as blasting them in time with a double bass kick. Here’s hoping the soundtrack is eventually released separately so a proper head-to-head against DOOM‘s can be done for which is the more metal.
Killing Floor 2 is porn. It’s gun porn, with its amazingly detailed and fun to use weapons. It’s gore porn, with its terrifying enemy designs and barrels of blood and viscera. Most of all it’s co-op, zombie shooting, mutant hacking, pants wetting fun, and a definite must for groups of players looking for a good challenge. Kill some zeds, kill some time.