Version tested: PC
Is Killing Floor the Tesco Value baked beans release of Left 4 Dead? Well, it's cheaper, contains many of the same ingredients, and isn't as nice, so perhaps yes. At the same time though, it's a game with a different approach, a fine Unreal Tournament 2004 mod heritage, and some great ideas that may not provide the fine-tuned wonderfulness of L4D, but at least make me feel guilty about beating it with a stick and screaming 'You're not Valve! You're not Valve!' while openly weeping. As such we'll kill the comparisons for a while. Sure, both games have pallid fat men that spew on people, but it's a spew of a different consistency and intent.
Essentially, you and up to five internet chums are fending off wave after wave of increasingly powerful, and numerous, dead-heads in various UK-based locales. Your shambling foes are encouraged to take a bite of peach with increasingly powerful weapons bought from a sultry lady who runs a gun shop, which opens up between the ten onslaughts of zombies on each level. Much like the pirate 'What're ye buyin?' man in Resident Evil 4, she's mastered the power of teleportation as well as a nigh-on arcane protection from the horde. At the close of each battle her shop opens its doors in a different part of the map, a part of the map that you and your team will have been working towards while battling the zombies - meaning that you're often on the move and rarely defending the same corridors from the same angles.
There are staggering zombies, crawling beasts, naked invisible wench ladies, huddled witch-types with screams that blast ear-drums and turn the air bright red, and a chap with a giant LED stuck in his chest who you won't like very much when he gets angry. It's a limited yet balanced menagerie, and one that looks great when limbs start getting detached. The constant Painkiller-esque rock riffs that accompany the action are an acquired taste, as is the game's strange insistence on slowing affairs down for a spot of bullet time to coincide with someone's particularly well-taken shot, but anyone with a taste for chaos and carnage is likely to be able to overlook both. Said slowdown allows you to deftly take a few heads off and cast an achingly slow gaze over wall textures in equal measure - but the satisfaction garnered by the former outweighs the inconvenience of a bit of slow-motion furniture surveillance.
As for your boomsticks, there's a strong whiff of Counter-Strike about the way in which they're purchased (and while we're on the subject, clutching your knife makes you run faster, which always prompts a warm personal glow). What's more, coming from the creators of Red Orchestra, it's hardly surprising that each weapon is satisfyingly meaty. Killing Floor may be rough around the edges in some departments, but in its arsenal it really shines. Searching for a spectacular headshot with its hand-cannons and rifles is never anything but a brutal delight.
Meanwhile, the stats of the damage you deal out, the number of heads you shoot off, or the health you bless your allies with, are recorded, and raise your profile through five levels of six different perks - Field Medic, Support Specialist, Sharpshooter, Commando, melee-obsessed Berserker and Firebug. There's a tangible sense of advancement as the hours of playtime clock up, especially as the highest difficulty levels are genuinely nightmarish. Games like Battlefield 2 have been there and done perks before - but in the close-knit confines of Killing Floor's dank environs it's still a system that works really well. The health system too, in which you can self-administer small recharging doses of life but get far more if it's done by a fellow player, is another simple and clever way of prompting teamwork.
There are currently five Tripwire-originated maps, although with the SDK already doing the rounds new maps and user-fiddles are steadily trickling into the bloody pool. Some arenas, such as that set in an underground lab and another in an office block, are very much tight and shadowy corridor affairs (very much touched by the torch-bearing hand of Doom III). Others mix it up with open areas - such as an excellent foray onto darkened farmland and a stroll through the streets of West London - complete with overturned red buses - where the game's longer-range weapons are of far greater use.
Because yes, Killing Floor is set in dear old Blighty. And if that isn't evident from the 28 Days Later scrapes in our fair capital, then it most certainly will be through the repeated cockney barks of your team-mates. Highlights? "I'm trying to heal ya! Not shag ya!" and "Christ! It's like Croydon on a Friday night!" Often it's all quite fun, but some lines grate from the first time you hear them - reload-based ammo barks get very tiring, but the most notable irritation is the weapon lady. She's absolutely fascinated by 'big weapons' and goes to great pains to let you know at every opportunity. COCKS! Lay off.
There's little doubt either that Killing Floor is rough around the edges - it certainly still feels like a mod, albeit one of high stature. You can leave your fancy physics objects and clever-clever lighting routines at the door. Instead it's the sort of game that isn't fussed about frippery like polished presentation, and will quite happily throw in a few user-unfriendly interfaces in the knowledge that, as a PC gamer, you'll have come up against worse. Likewise, at the time of writing there are still a few connection issues and in-game exploits, like blocking the gun-shop doorway, for petulant 12-year-olds to annoy their fellow gamers with, although an ever-evolving game like Killing Floor should be expected to iron them out soon.
It isn't perfect. It's not the sort of game that future generations will gather to celebrate, linking hands and singing sad songs of fond remembrance. It is, however, clever, boisterous, faintly silly and relatively cheap. So to return to my opening question, Killing Floor's relationship with Left 4 Dead certainly isn't equivalent to that of Tesco Value baked beans and Heinz. It's more complex and nuanced than that. I think it's up there on a par with a tin of HP.
7 / 10