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Review: Killing Floor

What originally started as a total conversion mod for Unreal Tournament 2004 has become a fully realized game of itself. Simply put, Killing Floor is a six player cooperative survival horror game where teams of players square off against hordes of genetically spliced monsters that escaped from a laboratory. The gameplay is as straightforward as the premise, but still requires quite a bit of teamwork to battle through the waves of monster hordes. If Left 4 Dead is any indication, there's no getting tired of cooperative zombie games. Killing Floor is similar to L4D's Survival Mode, except it's not as frantically paced and there's plenty of room to move around. Killing Floor also offers variety of creatures provide an excellent challenge and players need to work together in order to succeed.

Gallery: Killing Floor

The concept behind Killing Floor is simple: A group of people come together to hold out against waves on oncoming monsters, all with various special abilities. In between each wave is a short reprieve where players have time to purchase new equipment and set up for the next attack. The game builds up to a final boss confrontation, and the team will need to come together to win. There's not much of a plot to speak of, and players run around in a single arena with no objective other than to do their best to end up near the weapons trader at the end of each wave. Consequently, the offline solo experience isn't especially fulfilling except for developing Perks and gaining achievements. The six character models, despite their amusing backgrounds, are really just the same two with minor graphical changes and feature the same lines spoken by a single actor. There are only five maps to choose from, so it's fortunate that the game comes with an SDK for players to create custom maps. Killing Floor doesn't have a lot of sophistication, but that's also part of its charm. When it comes right down to it, it's all about blasting zombies, and that's what it does well.

Although the concept is easy, the game itself is quite challenging. There are no crosshairs and getting head shots on creatures is critical to succeeding, so players will have to rely on iron sights and hope that the other teammates are watching their backs. Using different weapons earns points toward upgrading Perks, which grant players bonuses (such as seeing through stealth) during the fight. Additionally, doors can be welded shut to impede incoming groups or force them toward a bottleneck. The weapons trader is only available for a minute and a half between waves, so teams need to make their way over to it before wiping out the wave's final monster to make best use of that time. New incoming players and those killed in the previous wave enter in during the down time, so they'll have to run quickly to join up with the team and get time with the weapons trader. All taken together, much of Killing Floor's fun comes from the kinds of people you end up playing with. It can be very demoralizing to be repeatedly overwhelmed by zombie waves thanks to teammates that leave other players behind.

At the same time, being on a team that works well together lifts the game up high so that its flaws and straightforward gameplay can be easily overlooked. The graphics don't compare to more expensive games, but apart from the fact that it goes a little overboard with the film grain effect (making it very difficult to see anything in spectator mode), the visuals are generally done well. The screen blurring that comes from taking too hits is a nice effect. Killing Floor will also occasionally goes into a slow motion bullet time (referred to as "ZEDtime") so players can watch heads explode in detail. However, players trigger ZEDtime for the whole team with every head shot, so it's something that people will have to grow accustomed to happening at random points.

We have to admit that we initially had a very difficult time playing Killing Floor. The game uses a heavily modified version of Unreal Engine 2.5 as a foundation, which required some finessing to get working. In our case, we had to search the internet for solutions and fix our router settings to support the game. Even after doing so, we can only join existing servers and can't list our own privately hosted sessions online, so the ability to use custom mutators in our sessions is lost. However, it's safe to say that if you're among the people who have no trouble joining or hosting Unreal Tournament games, you probably won't have trouble with Killing Floor. Although the game features some Steam integration through persistent achievements and stats, those who have grown spoiled with Left 4 Dead's easy game setup could be in for a bit of a shock in returning to the manual method of browsing a server list and picking the best one.

Where gameplay is concerned, it would have been nice if the game offered more ways to keep track of teammates. It's far too easy to fall behind and get lost, making it very difficult to rescue them when they're in trouble. Players will need to stay close visual range and communicate in order to succeed, and it's fortunate that Killing Floor has a built-in voice system. The bad news is, it's the Caps Lock key, which is a silly thing to bind any command to, and it's not listed in the custom control settings menu. So, not only did we have to do a bit of research to find out which one it is, we can't rebind it to something more preferable. [Correction: We found it listed and apologize for the oversight] A 2D image of the player pops out whenever someone talks, which would have a stronger impact if the game didn't reuse the same few models.

With all things taken into consideration, it's Killing Floor's low twenty dollar price tag is the biggest incentive for picking it up. The game offers a strong challenge that forces players to work together and it also includes a number of flexible options that allows players to customize their experience. As stated earlier, the game is all about using heavy weapons to destroy waves on oncoming monsters, and the game does a great job in providing players with opportunities to do just that.

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