Killing Floor (PC) review
"Killing Floor's amateur origins are uncomfortably clear, and there's no doubting that a little more polish would have gone a long way. Still, when you find yourself scurrying between cover in an open field at night, carefully aiming for the heads of a stream of mutated foes, before someone chimes in on the radio and makes a gag about liking "the big ones" the best, you'll understand. For all its quirks, inconsistencies and annoyances, you'll likely find something to love."
You know, there was a point where I was very seriously considering a 3 out of 10. Even now, I could happily pen a sizeable list of Things I Hate About Killing Floor, and mount a convincing argument as to why they completely ruin any semblance of an entertaining game.
Picking out items for the Things I Love About Killing Floor list would prove more difficult. There are things I like about it, certainly. The score at the bottom has magically jumped up a trio of points, so that should be clear enough. It's just that they're more deeply encoded, and more difficult to positively identify.
Okay, it's a co-operative monster shooter. That's something I definitely love about Killing Floor. It's a game in which up to six players use increasingly powerful guns to explode the heads of increasingly ridiculous enemies. It starts with pistols versus zombies. It ends with flamethrowers versus a giant semi-invisible stampy thing who screams "You took my babies!" I'm totally into that.
Its sense of humour is just mad. Patching up team-mates leads to cries of "I'm trying to heal ya, not shag ya!" in the most horrendous cockney accents known to mankind. The trader, from whom you buy weapons, ammunition and armour between onslaughts, is deeply addicted to knob jokes. When players leave the server, they splutter and die, and a text pop-up informs those remaining that, sadly, they suffered an aneurism.
Enemies, unleashed on the population after a cloning experiment gone haywire, take on the most bizarre of characteristics. Many can turn invisible, a la S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s most terrifying creatures. Others emit a piercing scream that intensely shakes and blurs your vision. Others still have an enormous light embedded into their chests and stomp around roaring. Some scuttle along the ground and pounce. One dramatically explodes.
It's all insanely, ludicrously silly, and perfectly suited to a high-octane arena shooter. Which, sometimes, it is. The smaller maps feel tight and restrictive, claustrophobic even, and it's almost too tempting to back yourself into a corner and fire away at the horde as it charges. In a sense, it's like a multiplayer Space Invaders, with you rooted in position while the opposition multiplies in number and velocity. That kind of works, though it begins to grow stale quickly.
But at other times, and in other ways, it's nothing like you'd imagine an obnoxiously stupid arena blaster to be.
The combat mechanism is an odd one. Killing Floor opts for a surprising blend of class-based teamwork and traditional survival-horror shootery. Despite the first-person perspective, there's no crosshair, so the only way to take aim is to zoom in with scopes or ironsights. Doing so completely restricts your peripheral vision, and trying to move while shooting leads to completely disastrous firing into the ether. Reload times are slow, and clip sizes painfully unforgiving. On the higher difficulty settings, every last bullet counts, and being forced to flail around with just a knife is an all too common occurrence.
To begin with, this contrast is irksome. Killing Floor often seems a little unsure of what it's trying to be, and the result is that it's initially difficult to judge how to play it. But after a while, it begins to click. It's still a perculiar mix of infantile humour and serious suspense, but the gunplay starts to make more sense, and the game takes on a sort of rhythm.
It's much less hectic and madly paced than the obvious reference point. Going back to Left 4 Dead after this is a serious shock to the system. Despite the clear parallels, the two games aren't so similar. Where Valve's masterpiece works through its omnipresent motion and sense of progression, Killing Floor abandons it. In Left 4 Dead, you keep running at all cost. Here, you stay largely still.
There are, unfortunately, plenty of overt problems. Its shoddy presentation is probably the most apparent. Killing Floor started its life as a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004, and honestly, there's not been a huge amount of buffing up since then. While most enemies are splendidly crafted, player characters run around in a crudely animated fashion. Voice acting repeats at an alarming rate, and begins to grow tiresome despite the humour. The interface is passable at best, and the now-dated engine doesn't exactly help matters. It's all a little lacking in sheen, constantly crying out for more careful attention to detail.
The environment's remarkably static and plasticky, too. There's certainly never any assertion that this chaos is unfolding in a real place. It's all a little too neat and sterile for its own good, and the occasionally awkward clipping issues don't help matters. Some levels are strong, but many restrict the group into small, claustrophobic mazes that don't at all suit the mechanics of play.
Something I found tremendously irritating, but an issue I wonder if others won't pick up on as much: you can't jump on top of things. In the event of a monstrous apocalypse - and, inevitibly, the first thing I do when a horde appears in the other co-operative zombie shooter - I'd immediately hop up to a vantage point. In Killing Floor, anything above knee-level is considered insurmountable. It means your jump button is almost completely reduntant, as it's by no means the type of game in which it's advisable to bunny-hop everywhere. It also, quite blatantly, just doesn't make any sense in this environment, and the atmosphere suffers further as a result.
Killing Floor's most infuriating quirk is an ill-conceived slow-motion mode. It's triggered by the game after you've demonstrated some particularly adept shooting skills. Or, for that matter, after anyone has demonstrated some particularly adept shooting skills. It triggers for everyone on the server, meaning you'll frequently be happily gunning away, or simply searching for a nearby enemy or even ammo supply, only for the game to inexplicably slow down to a fraction of its usual pace.
Yet more problematic is the fact that the entire game slows down, including your actions. Mouse sensitivity drops alarmingly, movement reduces to a snail's pace, and anything you're in the middle of doing - say, reloading, or aiming - takes an age. In effect, it ends up punishing players, rather than rewarding them for careful play, and its seemingly arbitrary triggering means it's just a random, frequent annoyance. Perhaps more than anything else, the 3 out of 10 urge comes out of the absolute, red-faced anger towards this one mechanic.
It's not a 3 out of 10 game. When Killing Floor clicks, it's devilishly addictive, brilliantly purile and plenty enjoyable. Special mentions must go to KF-Farm, far and away the game's best map, in which players dart across pitch-black fields between isolated buildings, taking fear-induced pot-shots along the way. It's at times like these, when the humour subsides and the panic kicks in, that Killing Floor really comes into its own. Staying on this map, with the right players on the right difficulty setting, might have bumped the number up even higher.
But no. It's a 6 out of 10 game. It's ugly, unpolished and more than a little curiously designed. Killing Floor's amateur origins are uncomfortably clear, and there's no doubting that a little more polish would have gone a long way. Still, when you find yourself scurrying between cover in an open field at night, carefully aiming for the heads of a stream of mutated foes, before someone chimes in on the radio and makes a gag about liking "the big ones" the best, you'll understand. For all its quirks, inconsistencies and annoyances, you'll likely find something to love.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (August 15, 2009)
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