Gamers can’t get enough of zombies; there is just something so eminently…killable about them. After all, it’s not homicide, but guilt-free malicide! Of course, game developers are tapped into this craving and have begun to deliver a steady diet of gore-laced zombie mayhem. All things considered, this is a good thing.
The latest entry into the blood-soaked world of the “co-op survival horror” genre is Tripwire’s Killing Floor. While technically not a game about zombies but about rampaging “specimens”, Killing Floor offers it own unique nightmare that is well worth a look by anyone with a hankering to make the streets safe for “normals” again.
Killing Floor arrives from rather humble origins. Originally created as a mod for Epic’s Unreal Tournament 2004, Killing Floor ultimately caught the attention of Tripwire Interactive, the guys whom brought forth such polished uber-mods as “Mare Nostrum” for Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45. Providing guidance and support, Tripwire helped the Killing Floor’s mod team polish it into a product that could stand on its own two zombified feet. The result is Killing Floor, the standalone product now available via Valve’s Steam.
Don’t let its origins put your off. Even though Killing Floor is built upon the Unreal engine, it is a highly tweaked version of the 2.5 engine that manages to deliver crisp graphics, nice animations and gratifying physics without bringing all but the newest PCs to their silicon knees.
The gameplay itself is rather straightforward: Horzine, a biotechnology company that seemingly specialized in hiring mad scientists, has created a bunch of militarized “specimens’ which have escaped from and begun a murderous rampage around London. The specimens come in nine nightmarish variations, including the spider-like Crawlers, the muscular Fleshpounds, and the wailing Sirens. Leading the pack is the walking tank known as the Patriarch, a monstrous brute who has had deadly weaponry grafted onto its body. The player’s mission: survive wave upon wave of zombies until the Patriarch appears…and then kill him too.
To get started, the player picks from six different profile pictures, depicting suitably outfitted soldiers and policemen, and then a “perk”. Perks are a clever component of Killing Floor as they allow players to specialize in different abilities, from being a “Field Medic”, which confers bonuses such as a faster healing syringe recharge rate, to a “Sharpshooter” that gets an accuracy bonus with different weapons. As the player works through successive waves of zombies in multiple games, these perks level up, conferring greater bonuses to the players.
With such formidable opponents, the gamer is going to need a lot of firepower, something Killing Floor provides in abundance. The game comes with over twelve weapons, covering everything from machetes to flamethrowers. For the most part, I have found just about all the weapons to be satisfyingly realistic, from the spiffy mechanism animations, to the gratifying sense of power when a well-aimed shot blows of a zombie’s limb. Adding to the realism is the fact that there are no HUD crosshairs; all in-game aiming is done via the weapon itself, just as in real life. As such, the challenge factor is kicked up a notch over other games; something I find adds a greater sense of achievement when you manage to blow the head off of a Clot at a distance.
Of course, Killing Floor is all about the combat and in this regard the game does not disappoint. Prior to each wave of specimens, the players - up to six at a time (modding allows more) - have a few seconds to find an area that they believe will be the most defensible. To help them gain the upper hand, Killing Floor even allows some strategic welding of doors, something I discovered needs to be done with caution as it is quite possible to weld shut your only escape route! Once the countdown timer runs out, the specimens in all their putrid horror show up in waves that could number a hundred or more. At this point, Killing Floor becomes a madhouse of gunfire and spraying blood as the players fight for survival. As with all “co-op” games, cooperation is the key to survival as going it alone, while distinctly possible in this game, often winds up isolating the player when he most needs assistance. Eventually, each session of Killing Floor becomes a totally wild session of “running and gunning” in a terrifying fight for survival.
Adding to the combat experience is “ZED Time”. Basically ZED Time is a slow motion mode that is triggered whenever a player pulls off an especially impressive shot. When it kicks in, all players enter ZED time, giving them a chance to appreciate the skilled kill, or just to use the slowdown to catch a quick breather (it only lasts for about five seconds or so). While some players may find these periodic breaks in the action to be disruptive, overall I enjoy them and appreciate the chance to uncramp my trigger finger.
If the players manage to survive the current wave by killing the last specimen (wave lengths and difficulty can be nicely customized), then a sort of mini-game begins where the players rush to find a randomly located trader. The players earn cash for piling the bodies which they can then use at the trader to purchase additional ammo, body armor or even weapons. The trader only hangs around for roughly sixty seconds or so, so the pause between waves becomes a madcap scramble to find the trader via the assistance of an arrow and distance tracker or the glowing red ribbons (for lack of a better term) that flow to the trader's location. Once inside, the player has to hurry and purchase all his weaponry needs and then rush off to find the next zombie-resistant Alamo. Yeah…this is a game all about time pressure.
Once the timer reaches zero, the specimens start coming from all directions (including the ceiling!), but this time in bigger numbers from the last round and incorporating decidedly deadlier variations – such as the dreaded Patriarch. The player immediately knows this guy is different as he is introduced with his own cut scene and bit of dialogue. Sporting a grafted Gatling gun, rocket launcher and a whole lot of bad attitude, this fella takes a bunch of teamwork to overcome.
Killing Floor comes with five maps, from the requisite creepy farmhouse, to the streets of London itself. All the maps provide plenty of places to make a last stand and, for the most part, encourage a bit of exploring to find the best defensive points. Again, while graphically-speaking the maps might not be up to the current high standard, I found them nicely detailed with more than a little creepiness. What is more, all are cleverly thought-out and provide a distinctive set of defensive challenges.
So What’s Not to Like?
I believe the biggest flaw found in Killing Floor is the repetitiveness. Ultimately, every game seems like time spent on a crazy, “through the looking glass” shooting range where the targets are coming to eat you. The lack of any greater purpose than just surviving the next wave by pumping out round after round quickly makes the whole experience feel quite futile. Instead of just dropping the players into the middle of a zombie warzone, I wish Killing Floor would provide some sort of greater goal, such as escaping to safety or hunting down the mad scientists or Horzine corporate officials who are responsible for unleashing this horror. As it is, the gameplay gets old fast, especially with just five official maps.
Other than the above, there are a bunch of minor flaws. For example, the repetitive cockney dialogue, from the female trader’s suggestive teases to the oft-heard “can’t you see that I’m reloading?!?” utterance, all get annoying fast. Also, the fact that some weapons do not automatically reload after firing the last round makes the fight for survival all the more difficult. What is more, why only certain weapons mount a flashlight, such as the smallish pistol, is peculiar.