Killing Floor Review
It may seem silly to release a cooperative zombie-killing game anywhere within a year of the launch of Left 4 Dead, but it turns out that these kind of games have been in development for far longer than just Valve Software's iconic shooter. Multiplayer-based zombie mods have been around for years, mostly based on the Half-Life games, and Tripwire Interactive has finally released their new game - which has evolved over several years from being an Unreal Tournament 2004 mod - for $20 on Steam. Killing Floor pits six players against hordes of AI-controlled zombies in a cooperative environment, and it does it in a way that may seem like it borrows a bit too much from Left 4 Dead, but that ends once you've played a couple of rounds.
In Killing Floor, servers officially support only six players but many operators have increased the limit, sometimes up to 32, and the game handles it fine by just throwing more zombies at the players. They'll have to survive waves of zombies on a large map that usually has both a big outdoor area and some tight corridors and such for close combat. Players earn money by getting kills and surviving through each round, and can buy new gear from the Trader that pops up between waves to sell arsenals. The weapons range from several melee weapons (the most powerful of which is a chainsaw), pistols, an assault rifle, a couple of powerful shotguns, a crossbow to snipe with, a flamethrower, and yes, a rocket launcher.
The enemy host is a solid mix of classic zombie types, called Specimens here as the story is the usual "evil biotech company has an accident that lets their sick creations loose on the streets". You've got your regular shambling zombie called a Clot, straight-jacketed Sirens with a sonic attack, quick-moving Gorefasts with blades attached to their arms, the intimidating Flesh Pound with powerful melee attacks and a penchant for getting angry when hit, the fat, vomit-spewing Bloat, near-invisible Stalkers, and a bunch more. It all leads up to the Patriarch, who appears if at least one player survives to the end of all waves (by default, seven, but some servers turn it up or down) and everyone will have to fight pretty much just him. And in most cases so far, he wins - he's got a chaingun, rocket launcher, impressive melee attack, cloaking ability, and syringes to heal himself with.
The players can heal themselves, too - unlike with Left 4 Dead, you can use your medkit as often as you want, but it works much better on other players, making it much more effective if there's some teamwork or at least a working medic running around. There's a recharge time on it, though and while it can get you out of a scrape if you're out fighting alone, you can't rely on just that to save your hide if you start getting cornered by overwhelming numbers of zombies.
The game even includes an RPG system where you can progress in one of six "classes" by hitting certain requirements. You'll get to choose one of those classes, like the Sharpshooter who gets bonus headshot damage and discounts on accuracy-oriented weapons, or the Commando who gets extra Bullpup assault rifle damage and can eventually see stealthed zombies from further away and even see enemy health bars. There's the Berserker who gets bonuses to melee damage and some key store discounts, the Field Support who can carry more and use shotguns better, and the medic who is much more astute at healing. The nice part is that you can contribute to your levels in all of these perks simultaneously (by, say, getting headshots with the .50 Desert Eagle-style Handcannon), but of course you'll only be able to make use of the benefits of one perk at a time. Luckily, you can switch perks between rounds to cover the team's needs.
And those needs are important - if you just have a bunch of Sharpshooters, you're going to have a tough time keeping them alive as they don't have the carrying capacity for a good range of weapons and they won't be able to heal each other well. Plus, once the monsters get in close range, having a Berserker around to soak up a bit of damage and hold out a chainsaw is extremely helpful.
Through all this, you'll find that Tripwire Interactive (they're the creators of the WW2 action game Red Orchestra, also available on Steam) has done a good job with pretty much all aspects of Killing Floor, but it still feels a lot like a really good mod - which, admittedly, is pretty much what it is. In some ways, it lacks the kind of spit-shine polish you expect from a retail game. Still, the focus here was put on fun, and there's plenty of it to go around as players increase their levels, beef up their arsenals, and plow through zombies at super-fast rates. And what I do like is that you can survive by welding a couple of doors shut and making a stand if you've got the skills to keep the enemy at bay; you always know how many zombies are left to kill before the next wave and the goal is getting kills, not traveling from point A to B like in Left 4 Dead.
Playing with others is generally a lot of fun in Killing Floor. It's got a distinct feel and good hit feedback on each of the game's weapons, and getting into a cooperative match - yes, there's a solo mode, but it's not the way this was meant to be played - is a lot better than I was expecting. Most of the people I've encountered were good sports who help each other out and so far understand teamwork pretty well, something that you can't always rely on in a multiplayer-based shooter where some fanbases are ridiculous crybabies who play because they hate themselves, not because they're having fun. But there's none of that here, and so far I'm having a blast. If you've enjoyed zombie games of the past and want to see a different take on what cooperative zombie horror games should be like, then I think you will enjoy Killing Floor too. It's available on Steam for $20.