Killing Floor Review: It Owns My (Bleeding, Still Beating) Heart
This game taught me that you don't need good graphics to make a great game.
Conceptually, I should already know this. But in a reality where ugly girls don't get asked to dance and awkward guys don't get the girl, sometimes you just don't take the time to realize it.
Tripwire Interactive, creator of the prize-winning Red Orchestra series, released Killing Floor, a six-man cooperative first-person shooter, first as an Unreal Tournament 2004 mod in 2005, then as a standalone retail release in 2009 on Windows, 2010 for OS X, and 2012 for Linux.
From the extremely utilitarian and arguably dated menus, maps, and character models - aside from the fact that you happen to be fighting zombies (that is, "specimens") - you can feel the nostalgia of old-school Unreal Tournament the moment you start it up.
And that is hardly a bad thing. Who among you honestly enjoyed the more polished UT3 compared to the somewhat dated UT2004? The competitive circuit definitely didn't.
Story? What story?
The story in Killing Floor is almost non-existent. There are no cutscenes in the entire game - the only glimpses of story you can find are single-paragraph blurbs in the map or character skin selection (for cosmetic purposes only).
Not that Killing Floor needs a great deal of story. Its strength lies in fantastic multiplayer gameplay - the only difference between single-player and multiplayer is that in the former, you happen to be alone.
Suffice to say, all you need to know of the story is that a Horzine Biotech in London was contracted to conduct military experiments involving mass cloning and genetic manipulation - and it all goes to hell, spitting out hostile mutations like a Pez dispenser. You are sent in as part of a team to a) kill them, and b) try not to die.
You fight through 10 waves of increasingly more difficult zombie hordes before the Patriarch appears and you have to kill him to complete the map. Simple. And fun.
Although Killing Floor crested on the commercial success of Left 4 Dead, it makes no bones about caring for story, and only about just how interesting you can make a map. Subsequent map releases have taken any attempt at story from the somewhat plausible to the absurd (e.g. any of the maps released in the "Twisted Christmas" series).
Christmas, Halloween, or even Portal 2-related Potato Sack events always shakes things up a little by changing the default monster skins to themed ones, and usually adding new maps and Steam achievements.
If you were looking for a scary soundtrack to fit the blood-soaked vistas, well, you won't find it here. No Japanese horror silence-and-string-instruments follows you on your journey through the multi-layered maps.
Instead, you get badass, pounding metal that makes you feel like the badass that you are, slicing and dicing through the hordes of mindless Zeds. The focus here is not on immersing you in post-apocalyptic London... it is about parodying it, and having as much fun while you're at it.
Gameplay & Replayability
I have since held [Killing Floor] as a gold standard for any other game that promises to turn class-based games on their ear.
The gameplay and the replayability of the game (in spite of its repetitive nature) is what really allows Killing Floor to shine. This is a game made for multiplayer.
When you first spawn, you drop into a map with a knife, a 9-mm pistol with about half of the full ammo capacity, a health syringe, and a welding tool - as you finish each wave, the door to the trader opens which gives you options to purchase more weapons, ammo, and armor. With every kill or heal you make, you get cash to replenish your weapon supply for the next round.
An important thing to note at this time is that Killing Floor uses iron-sights, not a targeting reticle. Those who have grown used to the floaty gun mechanics and targeted aim of Left 4 Dead (which many players graduated from when Killing Floor first came out) may find the learning curve a little steep. Fortunately, the beginner Commando gun, the Bullpup, helps you ease into this environment, where scoping in gives you a targeting sight.
The game uses a perk system, which allows you to level up in certain classes which each have their own benefits, and the more you use a certain weapon or tool, the more you will level up in each of these classes (to a maximum of Level 6).
Here's the thing though - and one that I absolutely love about this game. You are not bound by whatever class you choose.
There is no such thing as a dedicated "healer" in this game. You can choose to play as a medic and your healing will be much more effective than other players... but you are by no means weaker. You can choose to be a berserker, or melee specialist, with increased run speed, but you can also choose to carry a crossbow (sharpshooter weapon) and kill absolutely everything, near or far.
Furthermore, you don't have to choose a certain Perk in order to level up in that specific class. If you heal someone else as a Commando, you will still earn towards your next Medic perk.
This is something I absolutely love, and have since held as a gold standard for any other game that promises to turn class-based games on their ear. You can be effective either in a team (and, let's face it, playing in a random PUG on multiplayer doesn't always net you the best team synergy), or if they're making fools of themselves - cut your losses, and own it on your own. You can do it. Everything is situational, and that adds endless replayability all on its own.
For the rest, there are Steam achievements. And they can be such fun to get!
In the initial run, I got all the Steam achievements, earned all my Perks (back then, they only went up to 5), and promptly forgot about the game. If there wasn't something worth earning from your actions, it wasn't worth playing.
Maybe Tripwire caught onto that because very quickly, they doubled the available Steam achievements, added new maps... and have continued to add more new content almost every Halloween or Christmas season. I have never seen a similar game continue to see so many continuous content overhauls and additions even now, more than four years after release.
Moreover, if Steam achievements aren't your thing, the Steam Workshop ensures that there are millions of player-generated maps and mods that you can try out - though if they're not on the whitelist, you won't be able to earn anything towards your Perks either.
As much fun as it is, Killing Floor is hardly perfect. While it continues to impress with many free updates, the fact that it has sold over 1,000,000 copies and been a feature 75% off Steam sale for several years running has already begun to count against it.
Fewer people are buying the game, so where it began as a few dollars for some extra cosmetic character skins for $2, new character packs and gold weapon skins now retail between $4.99 and $7.99 for DLCs. Furthermore, where these originally began as simply cosmetic skins, they have now stretched to unlocking guns in the trader shop.
From a consummate DLC collector, even I have to say: ewww.
In-game gripes include the abrupt switch in strategy between 10 survival waves and the Patriarch's appearance, a slew of bugs (which Tripwire is quite good at catching and fixing), and the unfortunate time it takes to alt-tab in and out of the game. And while I have no problem with it and actually like it, newcomers are not a fan of ZED time, which causes widespread slow-mo for all players for a short span of time.
However these are small in comparison with the amount of enjoyment I have gotten out of what looked like a throwaway grindhouse humor game. This is my feel-good game, my vent-a-day-of-pent-up-rage game, and one of the most standout titles I have ever played.
I love it, and would definitely recommend you get it to play with friends whenever you have an hour or two to spare to simply jump in and out of something.
You can find Killing Floor and all its DLCs for 50% off right now on Steam, or you can get it for as little as $1 USD from the current Humble Weekly Sale. At that price, it is definitely worth checking out if you've always passed it by before!
Speaking of which, I have one code for Killing Floor and one for Dwarfs?! left from this week's Humble Weekly Sale... leave me a comment and see if you snag one!