A bevy of entertaining features notwithstanding, the original Killing Floor rose to popularity by being the only game in town. Tripwire Interactive's title was routinely featured on Steam's super sales, which flooded the game libraries everywhere. In my case, 19 out of my 49 Steam friends own the game today. Back in its heyday, if you wanted to play games with your friends, you'd pretty much have to play Killing Floor.
All of this puts Killing Floor 2 in a precarious situation. In 2016, on Steam in particular, it's not the only game in town. Not even close. Doesn't matter what box you try to put it in, (First-Person Shooter, Co-Op, Zombie, Online Multiplayer, etcetera), there is another title right next to it jarring for position. So the question becomes, does Killing Floor 2 stand out on its own, now that it's not the only thing to look at?
Zed Dead Redemption
Part of the success will hinge on Killing Floor 2's ability to improve on the pitfalls of Killing Floor, which, despite being immensely popular, was far from perfect.
The most obvious way Killing Floor 2 has improved is in its look and feel. Operating upon a modified Unreal 3 engine, Killing Floor 2 has come a long way from its microbudget predecessor that too-closely resembled old Source games. While draw-distance and lighting still leaves something to be desired, the Zeds (zombies) themselves look loads better and the gore has become even more satisfying than before. I'd go so far as to say the sheer carnage Killing Floor 2 exudes, in the form of blood and guts, rivals, and even surpasses, that of the sleeper-hit Shadow Warrior 2.
Killing Floor 2 has added three new classes, known as "Perks," further increasing the depth and variety Tripwire offers with every player's preferences kept in mind. The Gunslinger class is definitely a highlight, giving zombie-killing a nice Western flair to it. Each one of these perks brings a different element to the team composition, which is surprisingly important in a game like this.
With Killing Floor, many detractors were those of the game's progression system, which required the player to play the game longer before they could really become effective - taking the emphasis off pure skill in favor of grinding.
I'm happy to report that the progression system in Killing Floor 2 has been almost entirely reworked, finding a way to emphasize both retention and skill while adding passive abilities on each level. For starters, rather than requiring you to do a certain thing a certain number of times in order to level up, Killing Floor 2 introduces a revolutionary concept called "experience." What a concept.
Let's use the Demolitionist Perk as an example. In Killing Floor, you would have to deal a progressively ridiculous amount of damage in order to level up - a set amount of damage for each level, and more damage for each level following. In Killing Floor 2, the Demolitionist gets experience for doing damage with Demolitionist Weapons and bonus experience for killing Fleshpounds with Demolitionist Weapons. Likewise, the Gunslinger Perk will get bonus experience for landing headshots with Perk weapons.
This change rewards skill and attention to detail in leveling, not just mere grinding, and since each Perk levels up at the same experience gained, it's a lot less about grinding.
That being said, you'll still find that it's difficult, if not downright impossible to beat a boss at early Perk levels, but I'd argue that has more to do with how teammates play the game and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each boss, not to mention, of course, team composition (how do you expect to win if you don't have a competent medic?). And, at least this time, you won't have to play forever before you really start feeling effective.
This level progression isn't the only major change. A new skill system has been built from the ground up on each Perk. Every five Perk levels, you get to choose between one of two passive abilities that can have game-changing effects on both how you play and how well you do. These abilities are Perk-specific, so every Perk will have their own skills. This also helps you to become more effective at early levels, as you'll start earning bonuses at level five (max Perk level is 25).
As a Gunslinger, for example, who wields two pistols as his primary, you can choose between a bonus that removes recoil penalty on hipfire, or removes movements speed penalty for aiming down the sights. As a Medic, you can either increase your total health and gain bonus health for healing teammates, or you can increase your damage resistance as your health goes down.
These are just a few examples of how you can specifically tailor your abilities to your playstyle and become more effective beyond simply grinding bonus damage out of pure repetition. As I said, you may still be a wet noodle in the early going, but, with core gameplay as viscerally satisfying as this, I don't see the problem with being asked to play more of it.
All this being said, there is still an element of variety missing from the core gameplay. Much like the flesh of the Zeds walking the game, Killing Floor 2's intrigue starts to decay.
Killing Floor 2, despite adding a Versus Survival Mode, has really only one premier game mode (Versus Survival is the only alternative). At it's core, outer core, mantle and crust, Killing Floor 2 is a wave survival game. It doesn't even have the distraction that the Left 4 Dead series offered by giving you an objective (get gas in the car, i.e.) each round. You just shoot Zeds until there are no more Zeds. In between each round, you purchase ammo, armor and new weapons, and then you do it all over again until the Boss fight comes and destroys all your faces.
I found myself only queuing for short matches, those that last four rounds, instead of 10. This made the experience feel all the more brisk, and I was able to play multiple games in a row without feeling like a day had passed. But even then, if you die in the boss round, you're going to be stuck watching your teammates dwindle slowly down to one person who will inevitably kite the boss for 10 minutes before dying. One boss will often remark "Your dead friends want you to join them," and you know what? He's right - so we can get on to the next game.
The Versus Survival mode is a nice change-of-pace, but it feels under developed, so, more often than not, I will simply play a round as a different Perk to get a fresh experience.
Killing Floor 2 had a tall order, being asked to recapture the attention of an audience that was either too jaded or too burnt out to give it a fair shake, all the while attempting to improve upon a beloved-yet-flawed low-budget title. Sporting a mostly-overhauled progression system, a built-from-the-ground-up skill system and improving on the grisly gore we've grown to adore, Killing Floor 2 has made a triumphant return. It will likely keep you engaged for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of Zed-killing.