I can forgive you if you haven’t heard of Killing Floor before today. You see, while it has previously enjoyed a strong following in the niche market of mods, it was only recently brought to the attention of some big names in the PC gaming industry; that being Valve, of course. The gist of it is: small team of four releases mod for Unreal Tournament 2004 back in 2005.
The mod is popular and gains a devoted fanbase, and the mod continues to improve, expand and grow until it reaches version 2.5 in 2008, at which point the guys behind it grab the attention of a company by the name of Tripwire Interactive, who strike a deal with the mod team and Valve to release the mod as a standalone game via Steam.
You may be wondering why Valve would have any interest in a game like Killing Floor with its tagline of “6 player co-op survival horror”, considering that it sounds strangely familiar and reminiscent of a little game released late last year by Valve themselves which similarly pitted four co-operative players in a similar survival horror environment. I too wondered why Valve would care, let alone encourage what appeared to be an obvious competitor in the genre; however, once you play Killing Floor you can see why there is little worry of overlap between the two games’ fanbases.
The game from the outset looks as you might expect it to: good, but not great. As it is based on the Unreal Tournament 2004 engine, the graphics are a little dated. Texture resolution, model complexity and environment detail are all somewhat lacking in comparison to modern titles, but it is made up for in part by some improvements in the way of motion blur, bloom lighting effects and film-grain effects similar to those found in Day of Defeat: Source and of course Left 4 Dead. The model animation is also somewhat disjointed in appearance; the walking animations seen from a third-person perspective when you are dead really highlight the deficiencies in animation suffered by the player characters and the enemies. If you ignore this, the other graphics issues are minor, do not detract from the gameplay at all.
The sound effects and music in Killing Floor are great. The weapon effects are not generic retreads and sound as you’d expect them to. The various sickening sound effects emitted by specimens are enough to make your spine crawl and your stomach churn; hearing the squelch, fart, gurgle of a bloat as he approaches is actually quite sickening. The music is heavy metal, but with default volume options it’s definitely only background and sets a good mood and pace for the gameplay.
Killing Floor is based on pretty much every zombie apocalypse movie rolled into one: a secret government research facility creates cloned super-soldiers, a problem “surprisingly” occurs and the facility is told to shutdown, as the monster soldiers rebel and all hell breaks loose. You, as part of a specialist team of survivors who managed to come through the first wave of attacks alive, have been tasked with neutralizing the threat of the rampaging specimens (note: they aren’t technically zombies, but the results of extreme bio mechanical engineering experiments gone wrong).
Once you fire up the game and jump into the multiplayer menu, you can configure your player character model and find a server. Each player character has a little bit of background information, which is a nice touch as you often do not see in this type of game where the focus is entirely on gameplay and/or content. Additionally, and surprisingly for a game in this genre, it is quite amusing at times. As you perform various actions, the player characters will self-narrate or make observations with a dry wit. There are several different difficulty settings (easy, normal, hard, suicidal) and game lengths to choose (short, medium, long); which is all outline nicely in the server browser for you along with other information information about the individual servers.
The militaristic approach to gameplay enables the implementation of a perks system, whereby you are able to choose a specialty at the start of each map which grants you advantages over other players with certain elements of gameplay. There are five different perks of which you may choose one, each granting a percentage of increased ability or decreased penalties with various weapon types or utilities. For example, the Support Specialist is granted 5% extra damage with the Shotgun along with other improvements. Using abilities that the particular perk grants will grant you experience points with that perk and enable you to level up that perk, further increasing its benefits.
Occasionally your team will be graced by ZED time; a “dramatic death sequence” during which time slows down for a short period and enables you to not only see your most recent gory kill, but also to line up the perfect shot for the next. At present, there is no way to manually trigger ZED time, as it activated out of its own accord. Though there is some correlation between decapitating a specimen and the corresponding trigger of ZED time, by no means is it a guarantee. One of the best uses for ZED time I have found so far is to showcase the great quality of the weapon animations in the game, but I’ll talk about that later.
One of the most touted features of Killing Floor is the variety and realism of the weapons which are at your disposal. Three different melee weapons, two pistols, rifles, shotguns and missile launchers are all available – for a price. Each map starts with all players having only a knife and a pistol. As you kill specimens, you earn money. At the end of a wave of specimens, you are able to purchase upgraded weapons and ammo.
Holding true to its angle of realism, all weapons fired from the hip do not have an aiming cursor on-screen – you must hold the weapon to your face and look through its sights to have any chance of firing accurately. This is one of the main differentiating factors between this and other survival horror titles.
While the range of choice in weaponry is impressive; each weapon has its pros and cons. Further enhancing the militaristic feel of the game is your loadout screen, where you are able to choose what weapons to buy and use, but within reason: each weapon you buy counts toward your weight, and the amount of weight you can carry is limited. So you cannot for example buy all three of the top-tier weapons, and more importantly, using one of the top-tier weapons prevents you from carrying anything else but small arms, such as a pistol.
As mentioned earlier, the ZED time feature gives you a chance to really appreciate the awesome weapon models and animation in this game. Contrary to the player character and enemy animation, the weapon animations are simply superb. Watching the pistol hammer slide back and the shell casing eject in slow motion as a raging specimen’s head explodes in front of you leaves you with a sense of satisfaction and achievement, not to mention a new found understanding of the mechanics of the pistol you’re holding.
As a result, I really do rate the range of weapons and their contribution to gameplay quite highly. It’s obvious the developers made a particular point to make things realistic, but not so much that it detracts from the experience.
There are many types of weird and wacky creatures that you will encounter during each wave; and as you progress further you will find the number and variety of specimen increases. I won’t mention specifics to save from ruining the surprise, but the ways in which you can be killed in this game by biomechanical mutants are numerous!
My only criticism of the different zombie types in the game is that they often do not have much of an effect on you other than to do damage you. Drawing an inevitable comparison to Left 4 Dead, where a smoker may pull you away from your team mates, there is no such interaction between yourself and specimens in Killing Floor. The special specimens do have special abilities to make your life hard, but I never felt as though they had as huge an impact on me as the impact of the special infected in Left 4 Dead.
Thus, we need to discuss the L4D comparison. Despite the fact that this game has been kicking around on the mod scene since 2005, its release into the “mainstream” so soon after Left 4 Dead has drawn inevitable conclusions between the two. I hope from my review so far that you can tell there is very little to compare. Yes, there are some similarities between the two, but they are minor.
While both games share the same concept, they go about achieving a result very, very differently. I believe that to compare the two games would be rather pointless, as they are aimed at different markets. As I’ve been hinting all review, Killing Floor aims at a more hardcore/true-to-life gameplay style (playing on suicidal is REALLY, REALLY hard), whereas Left 4 Dead avoids realism where necessary to achieve a more wholesome and rounded movie-like experience.
To sum this review up: Killing Floor is a strong game in its own right. The core gameplay is rock solid and has lasting replayability. The variety and detail of weapons are outstanding. The sound effects and music are great. The number of different zombie types is impressive, but still lacks something. Despite its flaws and considering its cheap price, this game isn’t one to pass up. If you have enough trouble finishing a Left 4 Dead campaign on normal, then maybe give Killing Floor a miss. If you’re a Left 4 Dead pro or you’re just after another survival horror title, definitely give Killing Floor a go!
Overall – 8/10
The game contains updated graphics on an outdated engine, which is a shame, because it really deserves a new one.
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Killing Floor contains solid FPS gameplay, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Killing Floor delivers quality sound effects and a score that suit the game.
You'll have a blast messing around with your friends, Left 4 Dead style.
It has its flaws, but it's cheap, and definately worth your time!