Killing Floor 3 looks like essential co-op carnage and I can't wait to jump in with friends

The first time I see The Impaler, it's exploding through a door frame and barrelling straight at Killing Floor 3's game director Bryan Wynia. Described as equal parts M1 Abrams tank and Gorilla, with a giant blade embedded in his face, the game's first boss sets the scene perfectly.

The first thing I notice is the giant gorilla-tank hybrid barrelling towards Wynia, obviously. But after that I spot the winking red lights, armoured plates and biomechanical technology. It’s not sleek. Things look bolted on and welded together. If this is truly the future—Killing Floor 3’s biggest twist is the jump to science fiction—then it’s more Aliens than Star Trek. 

(Image credit: Tripwire Interactive)

Killing Floor has always been a franchise about mowing down genetic freaks with heavy firepower, but the sci-fi setting has brought upgrades to evil megacorp Horzine’s stable of Zeds. They're meaner now, with even the simple Clot being given an upgrade to make them intimidating. The Xenomorph-ish Crawlers can now climb along walls to ambush you from all angles, but the real terror is the chainsaw-wielding Scrake. He's kept his chainsaw despite the wealth of new technology, and instead added a grapple hook into his arsenal, all the better to pull you across the map and fillet you with an oversized hedge trimmer.

“It used to be that there were tons of Zeds but they were all very similar in height and so you could just line up heads and start shooting," Wynia says. "It’s something players love to do, and it’s something we love to do too. But we wanted to increase the danger, and so Zeds now more like unique challenges, chess pieces that we’re serving up to players. 

“There are less Zeds now and the pace of combat is a bit slower, but now you’ll have to deal with problems like the fact Husks can fly now, and they’re shooting down at you from various rooftops.” 

(Image credit: Tripwire Interactive)

That’s when Killing Floor is at its best, when you’ve got just a few rounds of ammo left and you’re wiping sweat and blood off your brow.

Bryan Wynia

Individually, Those armour plates are covering up a selection of weak spots across the beasties you'll be fighting, and it's a testament to the design of the game that even at this early stage it's easy to read even in frantic firefights as the metal plates will ricochet bullets, while flesh will get shredded under gunfire. 

It’s gnarly. Damage persists until monsters finally die. The chaotic firefights, gaping messy wounds and chunky-looking weaponry turn Killing Floor 3 into a spectator sport, and indeed every few minutes another developer comes in to watch Wynia carve his way through wave after wave or die trying. 

Express elevator to hell 

Players worried about the franchise moving to science fiction needn't be. As mentioned above, it takes more from sci-fi action like Predator or Aliens than it does hard sci-fi. 

“Aliens and Predator are really overused reference points,” admits Wynia, “but as a kid of the '80s and '90s I loved the Dark Horse Aliens and Predator comics and there’s one in particular, Aliens: Rogue that really plays into this science gone wrong theme and trying to create biological weapons.

“The other element from those universes is this idea you see with the Colonial Marines, or with Dutch and his men. There’s a group of well-trained badasses with all the firepower in the world, and they’re barely surviving. That’s when Killing Floor is at its best, when you’ve got just a few rounds of ammo left and you’re wiping sweat and blood off your brow.”

That’s the vibe Tripwire Interactive is going for, and it's using these thematic tools available to give players cool toys and give the universe a kick up the behind to introduce new elements. This means those upgrades on the now formidable Zeds, new locations around the globe, sentry guns and, yes, even a laser gun. But it's a really cool laser gun, promise. 

(Image credit: Tripwire Interactive)

As the Zeds get more dangerous, players have new tricks up their sleeve too. The biggest and most controversial change will likely be that specialists—named characters that replace the class system of the previous games—can only buy guns designed for their specialty rather than the earlier “buy what you want” philosophy of older games. 

“Each specialist has a unique set of weapons specific to them,” Wynia explains. “As Mr. Foster, I’m that classic well-rounded Commando, and I'm going to have a variety of assault type weapons to suit me. This could be anything from a bullpup-type design to something that is almost like an LMG. But those guns are going to be well-suited and kitted out for him.” 

“You go to our Firebug, and she’s going to have various flamethrowers, heat and energy-based weapons that work for her.” 

Inspecter Gadgets 

While this might feel limiting to Killing Floor 2 veterans that are used to having a backpack full of things that go boom, there’s a tradeoff. These specialists each get their hands on a gadget, which most players will recognise as being akin to one of Overwatch’s ultimate abilities. 

If you want to use a sniper rifle and you want something that will allow you to shoot from the hip more? We have mods that allow you to do that.

Bryan Wynia

I prefer Wynia’s description: “the oh shit button,” a piece of equipment that can be unleashed to clear the screen. For Commando Mr. Foster this is an acid belching drone that will carve a path through a horde, but my favourite is the Engineer’s sound cannons which pop up from your shoulders and let you turn opponents into jam. This power respawns fairly quickly, and in the current iteration it seems like you can use it once a round or so. 

There are also a range of new movement options. There's the ability to use zip lines and ladders letting players freely move around the maps and perfectly complimenting what looks like a fairly generous vaulting mechanic, meaning your character seems—at least from from what I watched—to be much more agile than before. 

Finally, the addition of a crunchy weapon modification system has meant the weapons you have access to can be tweaked to make sure they're working how you want. This is a system I'd want to play with before passing judgement, but items like foregrips, drum mags, and optics are all present and correct, in addition to a few more unusual options that I'm excited to take for a spin myself like grenade launchers and under barrel shotguns.

(Image credit: Tripwire Interactive)

Up The Arsenal 

“Weapon customisation is a huge addition to Killing Floor 3, and it’s something that our community has wanted for a long time and something we’ve wanted to add for a long time too. The thing that’s awesome is that it allows you to take a gun and play with it the way you want to,” adds Wynia. 

“We’re not going to let you redesign the gun: you can’t take a shotgun and turn it into a sniper rifle. But if you want to use a sniper rifle and you want something that will allow you to shoot from the hip more? We have mods that allow you to do that. If you want to have a longer range scope, load the magazine with heavier rounds? We have a set of weapon mods in the game to allow you to play that way.”

Wynia adds: “when I’m playing as Mr. Foster, his tier 2 gun is a really well-rounded type of assault rifle, but when you put an ACOG scope on it, put it on single shot and whack a silencer on it, it kind of blurs the line and allows me to use the weapon in a whole new way.” 

(Image credit: Tripwire Interactive)

Killing Floor 3 feels like the dials marked gore, carnage and gunplay have been turned up to 11, This Is Spinal Tap style. The move to Unreal Engine 5 seems to have empowered the team to make things beautifully gory and I'm told there are dozens of ways a Zed head can implode after a headshot, but the thing I'm most excited for are the many features that will bring Killing Floor into the modern era: weapon customisation, more complicated fights, and even a bigger sense that i’m inheriting a character with meaningful progression as opposed to the more inert specialisations of previous games in the series. 

Usually I come away from hands off sessions desperate to try the game for myself, but I came away from a couple of days of looking at Killing Floor 3 desperate to rope a few friends in and fight a horde together. I'll be thinking of the bloodstained maps of Killing Floor 3 until then.