Fifteen or so years ago, there was a running joke in the PC Gaming World about the proliferation of World War II First Person Shooters. If you liked firing virtual 70-year-old rifles at virtual Nazis you had a veritable cornucopia of choices in front of you. In recent years, the joke has shifted to zombie games. If you enjoy putting virtual bullets into the brains of the virtual undead, you have just as large of a range of choices as the World War II shooters of yesteryear. One could argue that the “Zombie Game” market is oversaturated and perhaps even played out – there’s zombie shooters, zombie strategy games, and even zombie bowling.
In the Summer of 2014, we were given the “End of the Line” Update which neatly tied off the story and set the stage for the upcoming sequel Killing Floor 2. The content of the update, the apt choice in naming, and the announcement of Killing Floor 2, heavily implies that Killing Floor will not be receiving any more significant content patches – and that’s perfectly fine with me. This marks the end of nearly five years of solid support and updates by Tripwire Interactive for a game that’s on an engine that’s at least two generations out of date (Unreal 2.5). Few companies can be said to have such a solid track record for updating and maintaining a (mostly) multiplayer shooter.
Killing Floor is, at its core, a very straightforward and simple game. Select your map and map options, choose from one of five difficulties (ranging from “Beginner” to “Hell On Earth”), and select one of seven classes (called “Perks”). You and your fellow survivors alternate between waves of killing oncoming monsters (called “Zeds” in the lore) and purchasing ammunition and weapons from a Trader with bounty money you’ve earned from your kills. At the conclusion of all the waves, you face a boss called The Patriarch. Defeat him, and you’ve won.
The game has nine standard types of enemies and the same boss at the end of every single map. How could a game with such seemingly limited variety in opponents maintain a healthy community five years after its retail release?
To start, the game features over 40 different weapons (and a further 13 that can be added via purchased DLC). Each of the seven Perks has a healthy selection of choices for how they decide to slay the hundreds of Zeds you and your team will face. While any Perk can equip nearly any weapon, each Perk typically gives bonuses to weapon types associated with them. You’ll gain advantages such as cheaper buy prices for the guns, cheaper ammo, more ammo in a magazine, more reserve ammo, and more damage for perk-specific weapons.
Furthermore, each Perk has their own unique abilities that can change how the weapons work. The Support Specialist, for instance, specializes in Shotguns and receives bonuses to pellet penetration, and the Commando benefits from an overall faster reload speed regardless of what weapon they may be using. These bonuses can also allow for interesting weapon choices – a Commando can make good use of the M32 Grenade Launcher (A Demolitions weapon) thanks to the reload bonus.
Unlike many modern war shooters, this game does not give you crippled versions of guns. The AA-12 Automatic Shotgun has a 20-round drum magazine as intended instead of a pitiful 5 or 10 round box magazine. The right Perks can carry an absurd amount of ordinance – A Demolitions Perk at the maximum level of 6 can carry an M79 single shot grenade launcher, M32 “six pack” grenade launcher, 8 Pipe Bombs, 11 Frag Grenades, and several dozen rounds for both launchers. The Support Specialist is the game’s pack mule – you gain additional carry weight with each successive Perk level, and this allows for some of the most interesting combinations of equipment.
Perks start at Level 0 and are leveled up in a simple progression system that often boils down to “Do X amount of damage to progress to Level 2”. Certain Perks have slightly more specific requirements, and some of them can be frustrating – a Support Specialist will face the tedious task of welding and unwelding doors as well as doing shotgun damage in order to progress, and a Commando will have to kill hundreds of a specific enemy type as well as doing Assault Rifle damage.
There is a healthy number of maps available in the finished product. While the game launched with around half a dozen maps, it now boasts over 30 maps that provide sufficient variety while you’re Zed Killing for fun and profit. There are many more available maps created by a dedicated community, ranging from ports of maps from other games (such as the first level of the classic FPS DOOM II), recreations of beloved locations in fiction (such as Mos Eisley from Star Wars and a detailed rendering of the Winchester and surrounding area from Shaun of the Dead), and many more original creations. There’s also a choice between the standard gameplay mode and a newer “Objective Mode” that mixes up the gameplay by giving you simple objectives to complete.
The shooting mechanics are solid, although they feel a bit dated at times. There are no crosshairs in Killing Floor – you can either fire from the hip or aim down iron sights (much like Tripwire’s Red Orchestra series). While a handful of weapons require you to aim down sights to fire at all (such as the L.A.W. rocket launcher), there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable difference in accuracy between firing from the hip and aiming down sights other than the ease of having a guide for aiming. Experienced players can land headshots in most encounters without having to aim down sights.
Speaking of headshots, the hitboxes for landing headshots on each different type of Zed are different and sometimes unintuitive. They are usually around the area of the mouth with the notable exception of The Patriarch – you must land a hit on his frustratingly tiny eye in order to score the bonus headshot damage. Reloading on an empty magazine happens automatically when you try to shoot and getting stuck in an uninterruptable reload as a result is a weakness of the game.
Regardless of the difficulty, strategy will boil down to one of two choices – move through the map and kite the hordes, or stay in a static position and send a wall of lead in the general direction of your assailants. While this is somewhat dependent on the map, most maps allow for both strategies to reasonable degrees. Doors can be welded shut, although they take damage over time and the barricade will have to occasionally be repaired by one of the team. Closed doors can be opened by any Zed, but if a welded door is broken through it is destroyed for the rest of the wave. Smart players will be sure to keep the welded door at the back of the hallway maintained (and they’ll have an escape plan in place if it fails).
Graphically, the game feels a bit dated compared to modern shooters which is unsurprising for a game released in 2009 on the Unreal 2.5 Engine. While Killing Floor is nowhere near as dated as Half-Life or Deus Ex in the graphics department, it is noticeably simpler than modern shooters. You nonetheless have plenty of options for tweaking your graphical choices (as you should on any proper PC game).
The voice acting work is on par with cheesy B-Movies but technically sufficient, and the sound effects do the job just fine. The most outstanding part of Killing Floor’s sound is the awesome metal soundtrack that accompanies the action. It compliments the game’s aesthetic well and is excellent listening for metalheads like myself in its own right. The only downside is that the “Abandon All” track by zYnthetic, which plays for The Patriarch boss fight, tends to get repetitive after the hundredth time you’ve fought him.
As with most shooters, ping can be a factor in your enjoyment of the game. It operates well enough at pings up to 200ms like most other shooters, but anything higher will start to present sync issues, such as missed shots and strange reloading behavior. Some players (myself included) have noticed a stutter when new groups of enemies spawn outside of the viewable area – whether this is a bug or an unavoidable technical issue is unknown to me, but it’s a mild inconvenience at worst and rarely results in any serious consequences in-game.
One of the most prominent features of the game is something branded “Zed Time” which is a randomly-triggered, game-wide bullet time. Everything slows down to a fraction of normal speed. Some of the perks have options to extend the Zed time, but there are no real benefits to it other than more time for precision aiming.
A handful of players (including a friend I purchased the game for as a gift) feel that Zed time makes it difficult to get into a groove, and while it doesn’t bother me too much I’m hopeful that Tripwire will add an option to turn it off in the sequel. It’s a gimmick (and it can be a fun gimmick at times), but it can and does spoil the game for some and it’s not critical to the Killing Floor experience in my opinion.
Tripwire has previously funded continuing development of this game through skin packs released concurrently with free content updates (and I’ve bought more than a few myself just to support their efforts). However, in the later years of the game’s development they took to selling Weapons as DLC. The DLC Weapons are largely community created and so I imagine they are receiving a fair portion of the money, but I would have much preferred the DLC weapons to be free and have alternate cosmetic skins for the DLC weapons sold as a way to keep players short on cash from missing out. Thankfully, anyone who owns the DLC can purchase a weapon from the trader and drop it for anyone to use regardless of whether or not they have the DLC.
Despite its age, Killing Floor still holds up as a solid entry in the Zombie FPS category and is one of my personal favorites. It’s not the most beautiful or technically impressive game (especially with what modern gaming PCs are capable of today), but it is packed with so much style, challenge, and over the top metal music that it’s a solid purchase. It holds a special place in my heart for being a shooter that proudly represents the FPS old guard – a rockin’ metal soundtrack, the ability to carry more than two guns, and a decent variety of community created content. If you enjoy co-op zombie shooters this game is a must buy for you.
Did you enjoy Killing Floor as much as I did, or is there another zombie shooter that has your attention? Tell us about it in the comments below!
This game was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on the PC Platform.
Although it's getting on in years, Killing Floor remains a solid co-op zombie shooter that shouldn't be missed by fans of the genre.