The simple joy of playing as a mutant abomination in Killing Floor 2

Killing Floor has been a cooperative, wave-based FPS for a decade. But last week developer Tripwire Interactive added a versus mode, transforming the gory, gun porn game into a six-on-six fight between humans and horrors. It’s a major addition to Killing Floor 2, which went into Early Access one year ago this month.

Playing against man-controlled monsters makes Killing Floor 2 much tougher. At higher difficulties against AI, Killing Floor 2 already takes plenty of attention—you need a combination of smart backpedaling, marksmanship, and team coordination to herd zeds effectively. As it turns out, that playbook of techniques doesn’t hold up against humans.

In the right human hands, basic enemies like Clots and Gorefasts are suddenly agile, unpredictable threats. When a Gorefast randomly leaps to avoid a headshot, or a Bloat waits in ambush behind a corner rather than lumbering straight at you, it throws off whatever expectations and instincts you’ve developed in KF2. I like that the man-controlled monsters are marked with a unique texture—it immediately signals that they’ll be trickier to take down. It also has the side-effect of creating ‘VIP zeds’ that I found myself prioritizing as targets.

Altogether, the versus mode is a welcome shake-up that experienced players and groups of friends should welcome. The zeds have an upper hand at the moment, but it’s understandable that when monsters who are generally slow pathfinders are imbued with finer movement skills, they become much more threatening. Also in the zeds’ favor are a few new abilities, like the Siren’s Vortex howl, which roots players in place, or the Bloat’s bile mines.

The zeds won every versus match I played but one, where I faced a premade team of max-level humans that provided a unique perspective on what it's like to be on the other side of the meat grinder. Against experienced groups like the one I faced, the zeds' awkwardness of coordinating really shows. You don't spawn together in space or time, and you don't control which zed you spawn into, and your instinct is to just join the herd and push headlong at the ball of humans and do as much damage as you can.

I'm not looking for a deep, tactical experience as a zed. KF2 isn't trying to be Left 4 Dead 2—its monsters don't throw the humans players into physical predicaments that they have to solve, they're meant to chase you around and whack your HP. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to see how Tripwire tunes its versus mode over time—one of the hardest parts of balancing a game with a competitive and cooperative format is that you don’t want weapons and movement to be tuned noticeably differently in either mode.

In the meantime, playing as even the most basic zed is giddy nonsense.

Controlling them is simple, and with infinite sprint available, they all handle like mutant racecars. You mainly have to worry about where and when you drop your abilities, some of which stop your movement in place. A lot of the waves I played devolved into frantic, Benny Hill-style chases around the map, with the humans backpedaling furiously and bunnyhopping to dodge melee swipes. It's a messy, untactical affair, but for me it's a pleasant break from the precise marksmanship of being a human in KF2.

As a zed, I love that I care more about creating a scary, surprising moment for an opponent than I do about staying alive. Depending on which type of monstrosity you spawn into, you’re fragile, but unlike Left 4 Dead 2’s versus mode you don’t feel pressure to stay alive and lurk. It’s liberating to feel so disposable (you’re almost instantly respawned into a fresh decaying body when you die), and even in death or defeat, there’s a lot of fun in being a boogeyman in someone else’s horror movie and having permission to play recklessly. On the Farmhouse map as a Husk, I hung out on a patio like some sort of zombie farmer picking off rodents with his .22, calmly sniping my flame cannon at survivors in the backyard as they fled my friends.

Versus mode is a novelty that has promise as a more prominent fixture within an otherwise polished game, especially with the addition of a couple of new guns and map that last week’s update brought with it. It’ll be interesting to see how Tripwire tunes and balances the playable zeds this year as KF2 chugs along in Early Access.


Raised by a Team Fortress Classic clan, Evan can only communicate using multiplayer FPS jargon, sort of like that Star Trek: TNG "Darmok" episode. 2fort, when the walls fell...
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