Even if it kills me.
I didn't expect much out of Killing Floor 2, the sequel to the original zombie-murdering multiplayer title developed by Tripwire Interactive in May 2009. This wasn't because I was selling the game short; despite a mixed critical reception, Killing Floor was an incredibly popular shooter that nearly sold three-million copies. Besides, who doesn't like blasting zombies in the face with a couple of friends?
The trouble is that I respond ambivalently to gratuitous gore, freakish zombies, and ultra-violent sadism. I certainly don't dislike or shy away from these things, as I find Mortal Kombat fatalities, Metalocalypse, and Condemned: Criminal Origins all rather amusing. But undead creatures splattering, squirming, and convulsing into bloody chunks of environment-staining entrails—which is what Killing Floor 2 is unapologetically about—doesn't particularly grab me like I imagine it does for hardcore Killing Floor fans. I have the same tepid reaction to the likes of Splatterhouse and Madworld. And so I half-expected to take the game in stride and approach it in a purely objective way.
Luckily to my surprise, Killing Floor 2 is much more than that, and by the end of an hour session in a team with five other journalists, I was hooked by its co-operative play and unflinching difficulty (and yes, even the blood). As you might suspect, Killing Floor 2 challenges your team to conquer wave after wave of “zeds” dripping with bloodlust; specifically in the mode we played (described as an alpha build that's extremely close to beta), which you will have the opportunity to play in Steam Early Access, that meant clearing seven waves of progressively difficult hordes while navigating between open environments and tight corridors. Reach the end and you'll face the final boss, which unlike the original title, will be selected completely at random from a cesspool of badass monsters.
The action in Killing Floor 2 strikes a fine balance between team-based strategy and run-and-gun movement. For the most part, your main job will be checking all four directions to make sure your team isn't flanked and shooting zeds every which way and preferably in the head, whether they are standard grunts, screamers, crawlers, or hulking beasts. Your team will need to become familiar with the full environment, since each wave takes place at different points on the map, with blue arrows leading your team to a different vendor in between waves. Knowing which areas have multiple chokepoints will be key to surviving each wave, especially on the harder difficulty settings. And it goes without saying that communication between team members, calling out if you need a medic or more cash to purchase ammo or body armor at a vendor, is as imperative as staying alive.
Of course, your chosen class will influence your personal strategy. Out of the four classes available in the build—the melee-focused Berzerker, the gun-specialist Commando, the ammo-supplying Support, and the cure-all Field Medic—I was chosen as one of the two Field Medics, a class that has access to weapons which can fire both regular bullets and restorative healing darts. As a squishier unit, I rallied behind more aggressive Berzerker and Commando, providing secondary fire and occasional healing. Every once in a while I would throw out a grenade that poisoned zeds and unleashed a healing mist, and upgraded my starting pistol to a healing SMG, shotgun, or assault rifle as the match progressed. And in between waves, I would help the team weld doors shut for some light defense against the oncoming horde.
All classes earn experience points based on their performance, for which Tripwire Interactive gave us the opportunity to try both a starting build and a character maxed at Level 25. Every class can earn five perks—at every fifth level, you have the option between two of them—all of which are extremely helpful. My medic soon had the ability to poison zeds with healing darts, start a match with full body armor, and have a chance at causing panic on zombies. Berzerkers can receive damage bonuses based on their total health lost, Commandos can share their ability to see cloaked foes with other players, and Support characters can provide additional armor or health for players like a standard buff.
Taken altogether, the entire system is tailored for cooperation, and our team was able to reach the boss level on normal and the third wave on Hell on Earth difficulty—a performance that the developers noted was better than previous sessions that included IGN and PC Gamer, just sayin'. One developer told me that I seemed to have a knack for the medic class based on everyone else's performance throughout the day, so he was surprised when I told him that I never played Killing Floor before. At any rate, I'll take the compliment.
The Early Access build for Killing Floor 2 will release on April 21 for $29.99. It will include 11 zed types, 27 weapons, and a mod SDK, but the full planned version of the game will have more than 50 weapons, more game modes, plenty more zed types and bosses, more classes and perks, and incorporate player feedback from the build. GameRevolution will have access to the Early Steam beta, so you can expect a GameRevolution Live stream of Killing Floor 2 very soon.