After an extended period of time spent in Early Access on Steam, the PC version of Killing Floor 2 is now emerging alongside the release of the game on PlayStation 4. It's been a steady evolution, with new maps and classes releasing over time, building on top of what was always a solid base. Apart from the inclusion of microtransactions for cosmetic items, this is an example of Early Access done right.
All told Tripwire Interactive has built a near-perfect wave-based shooter, and there's a huge amount of detail hidden away in what on the face of it looks a very straightforward affair. Players band together in small groups, taking on waves of increasingly hardy enemies, unlocking better weapons as they go, and come the end try to take down a boss in an epic battle that, when balanced properly, just as often ends in defeat as it does victory.
That's the game in a nutshell, but there's a lot more to it than that. Let's start with the levels, which are numerous and detailed. They're all large, and there's plenty of places to roam in search of zeds to kill. Each wave includes a set number of enemies (this number scales depending on how many people are playing), and once the last enemy drops you're invited to a pod that lets you restock your supplies and, if you've earned enough credits, upgrade your gear.
The maps are great, each one is atmospheric and full of interesting little touches. They're varied too, taking you through a selection of locales, from research labs to desolated city streets via creepy caverns and foreboding forests. Perhaps they could have been made a little bit more interactive; you can weld doors shut, smash the odd window or dividing wall, but it doesn't get much more complicated than that. That's a minor gripe, though.
Another thing that we'd have liked is a little more story. It could have been embedded in the different environments via text and audio files, or we could have had cutscenes or lore-filled art between matches (especially since the loading times, on both a decent PC and a PS4 Pro, aren't that quick). There's just not enough substance to the characters to make you really care about them, and a bit more backstory would have gone a long way towards remedying that. On the bright side, there are quite a few, and you can tweak their appearances via cosmetic changes to make them feel like your own (you can differentiate them even more if you're prepared to open your wallet/purse).
That's our main complaints out of the way, now let's move onto the major positive: combat. Simply put, Killing Floor 2 offers some of the most satisfying gunplay that you'll find in a video game. There's a huge range of weapons, and nearly every one of them is great fun to use. There's tangible differences between each one; pros and cons that'll mean it won't take you long to find your favourites. Hit detection seemed really good overall, and every couple of minutes the game slips into a brilliant slow-motion sequence where the screen drains of colour and you can line up your headshots.
In fact, the slow-mo flourish isn't the only visual trick that Killing Floor 2 has up its sleeve: this is one of the most gory games we've ever seen, largely because the bloody viscera is persistent for the whole match. Levels soon fill up with the red stuff as entrails and blood splatters everywhere, and it can even effect lighting in the latter part of a game. (It should be added that not everyone gets the same level of gore, and AMD graphics card owners on PC miss out.)
Combat is fast and furious and frequently gets the adrenaline pumping. At times you'll feel glorious panic setting in as waves of enemies descend. Getting trapped in a corner or against a piece of scenery while you back-peddle furiously is the single most common cause of death. We'd have liked melee attacks that pushed the zeds out of the way a little during moments like this, to open up a possible avenue of escape, because most of the time your only option is the chuck a grenade down and hope it doesn't kill you too. Sometimes your many enemies will overwhelm and kill you, leaving you to watch the rest of that round from the sidelines while your team struggles on (and worst of all, if you've upgraded your gun, you lose it and have to spend some credits to buy another).
There's a decent selection of enemies to line up in your sights, although after a while the element of surprise does wane a little. Early rounds are mostly made up of cannon fodder like Cysts, Clots, Stalkers and Slashers. Although Crawlers ain't that tough, these Venom lookalikes scuttle across the floor and can easily catch you by surprise. Bloats are slow but vomit acidic bile that obscures your vision, and Gorefasts are tough and tall and come wielding a sword.
Towards the end of a match you'll get more dangerous adversaries. Sirens not only wail, but the charge that they release can nullify a grenade. Husks shoot great balls of fire, and Scrakes will massacre you with their chainsaws. Worst of all there's Fleshpounds; they're just plain nasty and will happily charge into you fist first while soaking up your bullets. With so many different enemy types, players have to employ a variety of tactics if they're to come out on top and attempt the boss fight at the end. There's two of these super-charged enemies available at launch - Hans Volter and the Patriarch - and even though another would have been nice, it's not a deal breaker.
And that brings us to the beating heart of Killing Floor 2. Teamwork. Sure you can play the solo mode (it's a well-balanced challenge), but this is a game that's at its best when there's a group of you working together in harmony. Tripwire has cemented its cooperative nature by introducing a decent range of classes, each with their own perks that unlock at regular intervals. Teams will do better with complimentary abilities and weapons working in tandem, for example Medic classes can heal their more potent comrades, while Supports feed them ammo during the hairiest moments.
The classes are built around the weapons you use and the equipment you carry. Progression takes time, and the higher your level, the higher the difficulty setting you'll need to earn the XP required to rise further up the ranks (there are four difficulty tiers, starting at normal and working up to something that's borderline suicidal). Each class is capped at 25, and it takes a fair while to max out each one, thus determined players will have plenty of unlocks to grind towards. Some of the classes are more useful for beginners (Commando, for example, which lets you see enemy health bars), while others don't really come into their own until they hit level 5 and the first unlocks become available.
There's a handful of modes to keep you busy, including the aforementioned solo option. The main course is Survival, and that seems to be where most players like to focus their efforts. There is a versus mode, where player-controlled zeds are thrown into the mix, but numbers are relatively low on PC (which is the platform we spent most of our time on), although it should be said that it's a different story on PS4, where the asymmetrical PvP is enjoying more action.
Overall it looks great, largely thanks to the carefully designed enemies and the brilliant level design. Whether playing on PC or PlayStation, you're getting a grizzly feast for the eyes, and Tripwire has done a fantastic job with the overall tone and atmosphere. The soundtrack is decent as well, with crunching metal riffs and dirty beats underpinning every pulsating encounter, and the screams of your enemies will drown out the comms chatter that buzzes in your ear throughout. They've not pulled their punches in any one area, and it feels like cohesive experience.
It's not going to be for everyone, though. If you're not a fan of co-op shooters and/or wave-based modes, this probably isn't for you. It's also a little limited in that it doesn't offer anything beyond swarms of enemies and a constant grind through the levels. That could be construed as a negative, but it depends how you look at it. We'd rather say that Killing Floor 2 is a focused and deliberate game, one that knows its strengths and sticks to them. It might only do one thing, but it does it brilliantly, and if you're after some cooperative action, this is a bloody good alternative to the wealth of quality shooters that have landed in 2016.
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