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.)