I've spent well over a hundred hours playing the original Killing Floor, a fact that I consider quite amusing given that I bought it by pure accident during a Steam Sale many moons ago. While I initially hated its guts due to the simplistic design and lack of any sort of story campaign, the Firebug class and its amazingly realistic flamethrower kept me from simply uninstalling it. But as time went by, and the pile of charred corpses grew ever larger, I completely forgot I was supposed to hate Killing Floor. I was having way too much fun to worry about such nonsense, and before I knew it, I was hooked!
Given how much I love the original I must admit I was rather ecstatic when I heard that Killing Floor 2 has finally left the confines of Early Access a couple of days ago. Could it possibly match the excellence of the original, what does it bring in terms of gameplay innovations, and more importantly, how glorious does the flamethrower look in these fancy new HD graphics? Well, let's go and find out!
In case you were wondering, the answer to that last one is: "pretty damn awesome!"
But first things first, what in the world is Killing Floor 2 anyway? To put it in the most basic terms, its a co-op shooter that pits you against ever-increasing waves of mutants and monsters. Since your enemies come in massive hordes of rather diverse beasties the focus is placed primarily on teamwork and positioning, as the team that can cover each other is a team that will live to see the light of day. With each and every monster you slay you will be awarded with a small bit of currency, which you can then spend on upgrades, new weapons, and explosive accessories in order to ensure you can dispose of the next batch with even greater efficiency! And that's pretty much it, you just fight waves of baddies until you either defeat the final boss, or make a colorful blood splatter on the floor.
Its a very simple concept, and one that was proven to work perfectly fine in Killing Floor 1, and as such I'm very glad to say that it works great in Killing Floor 2 as well. The only real complaint I have with the general concept is that Killing Floor 2 didn't add any new ZEDs (the aforementioned monsters) - its still the same bunch of creepy crawlies from the original. This isn't too big of a deal because the current roster of mutated abominations encompass pretty much the entire spectrum of video game enemies, but its still a bit disappointing to not see at least a couple of variations.
For example, instead of having dudes with giant flame-spewing rocket-launchers, perhaps they could sometimes lob poisonous grenades that create ground based hazards. Or in other words, have a certain percentage of the rocket-launcher guys spawn as the alternative, thus making the general gameplay much more reactive and chaotic, and conversely, much more enjoyable!
The current batch of Zeds is perfectly fine, I just want even more of them to mow down!
While the Zeds might be more or less identical to their Killing Floor 1 counterparts, the sequel has brought with it some rather drastic changes to the player classes. Most notably, there is now a lot more of them to choose from, and the classes that have made a return are much more complex than before. But not only are there more classes to choose from, each one also starts with their own unique weapon, so you don't have to rely on the boring ol' pistol for the first few rounds. The way the weapon system worked in Killing Floor 1 was absolutely brutal for new players as they would often get stuck with non-synergistic weaponry, so giving everyone personalized gear from the very beginning is a truly massive improvement! And best of all, seemingly every single playstyle has a class dedicated to it, so it doesn't matter if you enjoy being a melee berserker or a long range explosives expert, you will be able to do whatever you want from the get-go!
But even if you disagree with how the classes function, you can always go into the newly added talent tree and rather significantly push the entire class into your preferred direction. In the case of the Firebug, this means either focusing around ridiculous damage over time, or going with the more direct approach of constantly spewing out wave after wave of flammable liquid. It might not sound like much due to your choices being fairly limited, at least when compared to what RPGs might usually offer, but at the end of the day it allows you to play a single class in a couple of different ways, and that is always a great thing.
But while your talent choices might make for slight variations in one class, the differences between the classes themselves are much larger. A Firebug plays nothing like a Support, which plays nothing like a Medic, which plays nothing like a Berserker, and so forth. Each of them has a specific strength that makes them highly useful to any team, but also a massive downside that needs to be corrected by the other players. My lovely Firebug is able to easily dispatch hordes upon hordes of tiny monsters, but when it comes to the big guys the only thing the Firebug can do is run away, or... well, die, but that's obviously less than ideal! In order to deal with the fatsos of the mutant world you need either a Sharpshooter to shoot them in the head over and over again, or perhaps a Demolitionist to just set up some traps beforehand. But in order for them to do their business they'll need protection from medium and small enemies, and so the cycle goes.
This was also the case in Killing Floor 1, so I can't say I didn't expect to see it make a return, but I must admit I'm still quite surprised at how balanced all of the classes are. I've only invested a around a dozen hours so far, so I could obviously be overlooking some massive imbalance that appears later on, but as of right now I don't consider any of the classes a clearly superior choice. Each one brings something unique and useful to the table, and most importantly, each one appears to be just as enjoyable to play as the rest of them!
I love my Firebug, but I can't deny how enjoyable it is to blow Zeds into smithereens with the Demolitionist
The main reason behind this is the weaponry. As I've mentioned before, the original Killing Floor initially hooked me with its incredibly satisfying flamethrower, but the arsenal in Killing Floor 2 just blows it away... both figuratively and literally. Out of all the weapons I've tried out so far I haven't found a single one I didn't enjoy using, thought there were more than a couple whose entire existence felt like a gimmick. For example, the Firebug's final weapon is a microwave gun, which is as amazing to use as it sounds, but its actually incapable of doing the one job the entire class was designed for - cleaning out the riff-raff. As such, the microwave gun is a weapon you're probably going to use once or twice and then never again, which is a real shame given how satisfying it is to straight up boil enemies from within!
Thankfully there are plenty of viable weapons that are equally as satisfying to use, most notably the larger caliber rifles as each of their bullets is capable of tearing visible chunks of flesh from some of the smaller enemies, and greatly pissing off some of the bigger ones. This sort of visceral feedback might be a bit more gory than what you're used to seeing from your average FPS, but I sure does make you feel like an absolute badass!
Things are even better on the more... non-traditional side of things as the flamethrowers, rocket-launchers, and chainsaws are way more fun to use than I would ever dare to admit. The flamethrower is slightly less realistic than its Killing Floor 1 counterpart, but its still a giant nozzle spraying fiery doom upon anyone that dares cross your path, and given how the improved graphics have made the flames even prettier I think that's a compromise I'm willing to accept. As for the rocket-launchers and grenade-launchers, shooting them at hordes of enemies is probably going to give you one hell of a power trip, especially when the "Oh shit, you did something awesome" slow-mo kicks in and gives you a couple of seconds to enjoy the carnage in relative safety.
But all of that aside, I must give a special mention to the most unlikely of all candidates - the Berserker class and his sawblade-throwing gun. Not only is it so ridiculously large that you shouldn't be able to even carry it, let alone use it, but it allows you to launch rocket-powered buzzsaws at the enemy! The results are, as you would expect, absolutely hilarious as the quickly-moving blade makes short work of the smaller enemies, essentially cleaving them in half before bouncing off the nearby wall and continuing its rampage. And if that isn't enough, you can always just stop pretending you know how to aim the damn thing and instead go in there to personally take care of business by shoving your chainsaw-blade directly in the enemy's face. As for the results... let's just say they're not for the feint of heart.
When even the bloodthirsty mutants are covering their eyes, you know you're wielding a fucked up weapon!
The weapons don't just look and feel good, they also tend to sound pretty good, though I must admit that this area of Killing Floor 2 is still in need of some improvements. Its not that firing the weapons sounds bad, that part is actually quite exhilarating, its more so the fact that non-headshot hits don't resonate as well as they should given how visibly impactful they are. When you headshot an enemy you get to hear an audible pop and watch the shower of giblets fly all over the place, but if you hit them in the chest your only real piece of feedback is the sound of gunfire and a rather generic "hit" noise. I would prefer it if the Zeds made a bit of a groan when hit, or if the bullets made a significantly meatier sound to really give you a feel for the damage you're making. But don't get me wrong here, the shooting in Killing Floor 2 is pretty damn satisfying as is, but it definitely has a couple of avenues for even further improvement.
While I do have a couple of gripes with the weapon sounds, the Zeds themselves sound brilliant... though that might be the wrong choice of words given that they're mostly gibbering madmen. Even the lowliest of the lows, the common Clot, is actually terrifying to encounter when alone in close quarters because their signature move is to grab you by the head and more or less scream down your throat. Things aren't any friendlier the higher up in the hierarchy you go, because the noises the Fleshpounds make when they spawn are the stuff of nightmares. Its difficult to describe what it sounds like, but imagine if you're fighting hordes of enemies in the middle of an unnaturally dark forest and suddenly all other sounds get drowned out by a manic scream. All of the gunfire, all of the explosions, all of the mutants getting cleaved in half by a chainsaw - every single of those noises is nothing more than a silent whisper when compared to the Fleshpound's grand entrance. Just from this alone you should know that they mean business, and if you ever hear two screams in short succession you better hope you made sure your friendly neighborhood Demolitionist considers your ass worth saving!
Or you can always go with the tried and true method of just being faster than your slowest 'friend'
And speaking of dark forests, I have to say that I'm genuinely impressed by how well designed Killing Floor 2's maps are, especially considering that some of them have been made by the community! Despite my love for the original, its level design was rather atrocious given how nearly every map featured locations that were stupidly easy to defend. And since we as humans are naturally inclined to go towards the most optimal route to victory, even if this means being bored to tears in the process, I spent a lot of time in Killing Floor 1 just huddling in a tiny room with only one entrance, endlessly mowing down anything that comes near it. In Killing Floor 2, however, this is no longer the case! It is also possible that I'm just too dumb to actually find these locations, but either way I'm pleased with the end result - being forced to actually play the game 'properly'.
Instead of hiding in a corner like some sort of spineless coward, most of my time in Killing Floor 2 was spent running from one defensible location to another, each time closely pursued by an always-growing mass of Zeds. Not only is this more exciting for those without explosive weaponry, but it also allows you to explore and fight across a variety of locations, all within the same map! Killing Floor 2 might not be as technically advanced as The Witcher 3, but it still is a rather fetching game with vibrant colors and detailed environments spread across a variety of different maps, so being 'forced' to wage war across all of it is a lovely thing indeed.
I swear I had nothing to do with this... the flamethrower is just for show!
This is also where the newly added Versus multiplayer mode comes in to play. Since it is essentially the multiplayer mode from Left 4 Dead, i.e. monsters vs humans, there is a much greater need to keep constantly on the move, never hanging around the same spot for too long as the player-controlled Zeds can easily start tearing through your defenses. What this means is that each match feels much more intense than when played against the AI, because the opposing players will not simply meander around aimlessly - they will beeline straight for the medic and attempt to lop his face off! Success, even more so than in the standard mode, depends purely on your teamwork and cooperation... as well as on the enemy's inability to coordinate a proper assault.
Take the following with a grain of salt as I've only played a couple of VS matches so far, but it really does feel that its the Zeds game to lose. If you're playing as one of the Zeds you'll probably spend the first round or two getting mowed down over and over again, mostly because you can only control the smaller enemies, but as time goes on and some of the more dastardly specimens enter the field things start to swing in the opposite direction. If you ever get the Skrake, the big guy with an even bigger chainsaw, its almost impossible to die without killing at least one of the humans. The entire monster was designed with a certain AI behavior in mind, but if you replace that with the level of cunning and bloodthirst only a human can muster, you'll get a nearly unstoppable juggernaut that will easily destroy the entire enemy team, given the sufficient distraction.
This might sound terribly imbalanced, but given that both sides take turns in order to see how far they can go before dying, its actually not that bad. If nothing else, it at least keeps the matches short and action-packed, because each time one of the these bigger Zeds shows up its like a checkpoint - either the humans will manage to overcome the challenge set before them, or they'll lose a player or two and slowly fall during the next few minutes. Its not a game mode I see myself playing for long periods of time, mostly because I use Killing Floor to unwind after a long day, but if you're looking for a short burst of pure action its pretty much ideal for just that.
Killing Floor 2 set out to do exactly one thing - to modernize and improve upon Killing Floor 1 without actually straying too far from the original formula. In this regard I would consider it an absolute success. The classes are much more balanced, the weapons are somehow even more enjoyable to use than ever before, and the new map design philosophy has managed to make each match feel all the more exciting. So if your wish for Killing Floor 2 was to get a new and improved version of Killing Floor 1, then by all means, consider it granted!
On the other hand, if you don't enjoy horde modes or if you find Killing Floor 1 to be a bit too bland, then there is very little waiting for you here. There are almost no new gameplay mechanics, no new significant additions - its mostly more of the same. For me this is perfectly fine because more Killing Floor is never a bad thing, but for you this might not be the case, so do make sure you're aware of what you're getting into with Killing Floor 2 before pulling the trigger.