Zombies and horde modes go pretty damn well together. They’re like cheese on crackers, bangers and mash, peanut butter and jelly. Following on from the 2009 PC hit, Killing Floor 2 is all zombie horde mode, all of the time, sending up to six players off into a devastated Europe to fight against wave after wave of Zeds. It’s been in Steam Early Access for the last 18 months or so, but now it’s ready for wider release on PC and PS4.
Even by zombie game standards, this is a pretty dark game visually, both in terms of how dingy and grungy each map is and how it leans towards body horror with its enemy design, not to mention the amount of persistent blood spatter that paints the environment and the metal soundtrack that backs it all.
These aren’t traditional zombies, but the result of human experiments, with the basic Clots amounting to zombified Ken dolls, while the next step up bare their red, muscles and feature massive swords for arms. If being deathly afraid of spiders is more your thing, then the freaky, scuttling Crawlers will be the stuff of nightmares.
These are largely cannon fodder, but the game also throws other, bigger and more dangerous zombies your way. The Siren’s screams can be heard from the other side of a map, able to neutralise grenades that get too close to her, while the Bloat’s bulbous body ambles toward you, full of toxic bile. Most dangerous are the big guys that run at you with large chainsaws or spiked gauntlets for fists, who also just happen to be able to take the most damage.
The game throws dozens of these your way at a time, with the goal to survive one wave at a time on the way to the final boss fight. It gets very, very messy and chaotic at times, as Zeds come at you from all directions or you struggle to take down a deadly cocktail of the tougher enemies, but you’re regularly assisted by ‘Zed Time’, a few seconds of slow motion that’s randomly triggered when you land headshots.
Dr. Hanz Volter or the Patriarch are on hand to give each match its climactic boss fight, and they both take several minutes of constant gunfire to take down. They’re brutally difficult the first few times you encounter them, but you soon learn their patterns. When they take too much damage, they either run away or shield themselves to regain health up to four times, but you have to be careful towards the end , as they have devastating explosive attacks that can wipe out half a team of weakened players in a flash. The Patriarch’s minigun attack will kill someone in a matter of seconds if they’re caught out in the open, which can feel a little cheap.
You’ll want a good team by your side, preferably with a good mix of Perks – the simplified class system in the game. There’s fairly obvious ones like the Field Medic, Support and Commando, but the ten Perks also feature the bombastic Demolitionist and Firebug and the more nuanced differences of the Survivalist and SWAT. Each have their own particular sets of weapons, but if you want, you can mix and match, though you do so at the expense of any damage or stat boosts that using your own Perk’s guns give you.
Only a few of these really seem to be designed with team play specifically in mind. You can periodically grab ammo and grenades from the Support and Demolitionist classes, saving you a bit of cash to spend on better guns, while the Field Medic is a better all round healer than relying on each player’s medical syringe to heal up, but beyond that, they’re more geared towards dealing damage. You can switch Perk between waves, but I found myself pigeonholed as the only medic on quite a few occasions. Some Perks can be utterly dominant as well, with a team that featured three Demolitionists just tearing through the Zeds coming at us.
Levelling up a Perk boosts certain stats, like increased shotgun damage for the Support or stronger melee for the Berserker, but every five levels earns you a new tier of skills. These can be configured as you see fit, choosing between increased health or increased damage output as a very basic example. Each Perk tops out at level 25 with a final skill that triggers only during Zed Time.
You can level up fairly steadily, at a rate of around one level per match won, but I don’t relish the thought of having to step back to an unlevelled Perk. That’s especially true of hard difficulties, each of which has a recommended Perk level range, where I then feel the need to play with my highest level in order to simply survive. The zombies are more numerous, they take more damage, and the cash you earn is reduced. It’s here that you really want Perks that compliment each other, and feel the pain when someone dies as you can’t revive players and have to make it to the end of a wave for them to rejoin the fight.
Killing Floor 2 adds a new PvP mode, in which six human players have to survive waves that are assisted by six zombie players. Taking over a zombie, you’re a tougher version of one of the various Zed types and given their full range of abilities. It’s a fun mode, but brutally tough for the humans to make it through to the end. You switch sides afterwards and the former zombies now have a crack at surviving longer and posting a higher score to win the match.
Update: The below paragraph erroneously compares pricing of the standard edition on PC to that of the PS4 version, when it is actually priced in relation to the PC Digital Deluxe Edition that costs £26.99 and features a number of additional cosmetic characters and items. Given the regional variation, pricing was not a factor in our score.
As a final note, I want to talk about the price. It’s £19.99 on Steam but £34.99 on PS4 in the UK and while there are added costs that go into publishing on console, that’s quite a step up in price. In Euros and Dollars it’s €26.99 to €39.99 and $29.99 to $39.99, which make much more sense, even with the current state of the Pound. It’s also rather stingy with the number of cosmetic unlocks that are handed out, which are backed up by microtransactions.
If you’re looking for a new horde mode game to enjoy with friends (or randoms), you can’t go too far wrong with Killing Floor 2. I feel it misses out on some of the deeply ingrained teamwork of other co-op survival games, especially on lower difficulties, but if you want a challenge, it brings it in spades.
Version tested: PS4 Pro