Why Killing Floor 2 is great comfort food?

What is this game all about?

An outbreak of blood-hungry grotesque humanoid mutants has caused governments to collapse. Global communication systems to fail.

The still standing communities of people are trying to organize ragtag teams. Teams of surviving army soldiers and special branch police officers. The job of the teams is to fight back against the never ending hordes of zombies. Or Zeads as they are called in the game.

In KF2 you will play a character who is part of a 7 man team. The team’s job is to partake in never-ending Zed killing around the world. All it takes is to take a gun and shoot as many hordes of Zeds as you can.

The good: As a game — KF2 is like comfort food. KF2 does not ask too much of your free time. It is easy to get in and out of a match. KF2 has cool gun play, grotesque enemies and a lot of heavy metal music mixed in between. In other words — I love it! It is a lot of fun.

It is hard to not get pumped when something like this starts playing at the very start of the game:

Clip from StrikeUnleashed

From a design standpoint. KF2 has all the necessary building blocks to create a good survival (even horror) game. There is a lot to learn from this game.

The bad: As comfort food, KF2 is a bit too simplistic and lacks content. The gameplay is too repetitive. When you get used to the guns, the different enemy types, etc., then a lot of the tension and difficulty decreases. You want to squeeze more out of the game, but there is nothing left to squeeze.


1. THE STORY

There is no story.

The only plot element to this game is the reasoning on why all these Zeds are rampaging around the world.

Simplified: There was a biotechnology company. They did experiments on humans. They fucked it all up. The patients started to mutate and became hostile, and got out of the facility. They spread across Europe killing anyone in sight.

Okay… standard story line. What would I like to know is can I change the story? Affect it in any way? For example, can I infiltrate the biotech company? Can I re-establish the fallen governments?

The answer to those questions is, no. No, you can not!

Takeaway: A game can be fun to play around with at the start. Yet at some point that is not going to be enough anymore to keep you coming back to it. Thus, you need something in the gameplay itself to motivate you to do so.

In KF2 it is the combat that motivates people. The feel of the weapons. Exploring what the different characters can do. Overcoming the challenge. For some people that is enough. Overcome the “Hell on Earth” difficulty for some will be motivation enough to keep playing and improving in the game.

For some, not that much. I need something else.


KF2 is lacking any goal-based reward system.

A goal-based reward system, where players are rewarded for accomplishing in-game goals, could fix the before mentioned problem.

KF2 does have a goal. Yet, it is the same for everyone and it never changes . You kill Zeds. 
When you kill Zeds > You gain experience points > When you gain enough points, you reach a new level > For every 5 levels gained you gain a special ability. Rinse and repeat.

It is not a bad reward system.

The is a problem with it. That I have 0 personal reasons on why I am running around the map and shooting the never ending hordes of Zeds.

There are no personal motivations for the player character to be there.

We are not trying to reach our family members and get them out of the Zed infested locations. Or trying to do a secret CIA aim that only the player is aware of — all the other players have their own secret goals. At the end of a match, the player does not move the plot further. We are not re-establishing governments or losing more and more government support. Nothing changes.

For some people being able to shoot stuff is enough. For me… For the very first couple of matches, it was enough.

Now I need something to motivate me to keep playing and return back to the game. Story objectives could have done that.

Takeaway: Since the gameplay is good enough. Since the matches are short, the game can be your comfort food. It can be a good game to come back to from time to time for a quick match. After long days of work…

For board games, this is the same. If setting up the game is fast, a match lasts only for 20 mins or so, then people are going to be more willing to play the game. Thanks to the speed and ease of gameplay.

Takeaway: As mentioned before, this game is lacking a goal oriented mode. The goal could be not only killing Zeds, but also saving survivors. Special solo story missions. Secret objectives… Even basic stuff like this could have made the game better for me.

Another thing I thought would not be bad. Give players, who have died in the middle of a Zed attack, the ability to take over some of the Zeds and attack the players. Then death would not force you out of the game to sit as watch other people play.


The game opens in the midst of action.

In other online multiplayer team games, there is an opening or a build-up phase. Where everyone is running around. Trying to earn money. Waiting for the right moment to strike.

In other words, players are waiting, positioning themselves and nothing interesting is happening. Yet, in this game not so much.

When you start a match the game throws in the map and Zeds start attacking you. Not after 5 minutes. No. INSTANTLY!

You spawn, you start hearing metal music in the background and then you hear the sounds of Zeds coming closer and closer.

This video from Sips is really good at showing how two new players react to the game throwing them both into a match like that.

There is no time to get accustomed to the map, no time allowed to test how your perk works and look at how nice the guns look. Nope.

Metal music starts playing. Zeds come from all the corners and you better be ready to aim and shoot.

Takeaway: Starting the game in media res means that the game is shorter. The reason for that is that by doing this we are evading the boring build-up phase. It is a good way how to start a game if it is possible to design the game to do that in the first place.


2. THE CHARACTERS

Image source from RobinOlsen2011

Characters (and their classes) are called “perks” in-game.

In KF2 you are playing as a very-important-special-soldier person who has a “perk”. A perk is a character class. Each class determines certain things that your character will be able to do in-game. There are 10 perks to choose from. Perks determine your abilities. Starting weapons, how you gain experience points to make your character better etc.

All the classes seem cool on paper. They have cool starting weapons. Some classes can do unique things that other classes cannot do at all etc. Like set traps at the doors. Heal others… Because of that, you feel like a valuable member of the team.

Generally, I like the perk system.

Yet, when you pick a perk you most likely are forcing yourself to do and repeat certain strategies. Over and over again. Especially if you wish to be efficient in the game

For example. When playing the field medic who has the ability to fire special darts from his weapons that heal teammates? You will do the following strategy:

1. You will find yourself always trying to stand as far away from the Zeds as possible. Usually, you will try to be between all the other players.

2. Since your weapons are not the best at dealing with Zeds. You are not going to attack them unless you know you can kill them.

3. You will spend the whole game firing darts at players who are moving hectically around the map to heal them.

What could be wrong with that strategy? As a strategy, nothing, it works. The problem is that at some point it started to feel like I was a babysitter. Running around. Healing little children that are trying to stick their little fingers in places they should not be sticking them.

Well, then pick another perk.

I could have. I could have chosen the “Survival” perk that has the ability to use the most types of weapons and is very versatile. Yet, at higher difficulties, it is very important for people to commit to their roles. Also, choose a versatile team.

Takeaway: It is a good thing that classes are unique. Yet, if players are forced to pick classes they do not like only for the sake of the group, then that can stop being fun.

A good thing about the class system that should be used more often in other game design. Is that using weapons that are not meant for your class does not punish you. Many times in RPGs you would like to use those big flame throwers, but you did not choose the flame-thrower-guy class hence you can`t use them. 
In this game, you can be a flamethrower-medic if you wish. And that is cool.

Yet, it does not work that well in KF2. Since the most efficient way to play is to play the role and not mix and match. But it is a better way how to design the system than the alternative.


3. ENEMY DESIGN

Image source: Gamespot

At the end of the day, they are all zombies.

Sure. The enemy design is nothing innovative if you have played other zombie hoard-games. You have the slow, overweight puking ones, the fast crawling ones, the cloaked ones etc.

What is good in KF2 design is that as the difficulty goes up from “Normal” to “Hell on Earth” the enemy does not gain more stat increases. For example, more health. That would mean that more bullets would be needed to take the enemy down. No.

When the difficulty rises, the health amount stays the same. What changes are the Zed behaviors. The Zeds will become increasingly dangerous thanks to new behaviors, added abilities, and new attack variations.

That is good game design. Nobody wants to sit in a match for a longer period of time, wasting more ammo, only because the enemy has more health. That does not add anything fun to the game. That is not a challenge I would welcome, that is a nuisance.

Takeaway: In general, the enemy design is not amazing. It does what it needs to do. They force you to spend ammo, they take away your health, they force you to move… and that is all they need to do.

But, that element of gaining new skills and attack patterns is a great idea.

This is what tabletop RPGs suffer from a lot. In many RPGs, if you want to make the game harder the designers increase the amount of enemies and gives them more health. Done!

It does not mean that the game is more challenging now. All it means is that you will be wasting more time. Wasting it on a thing that took less time before to do. That means more dice rolling, more time spent in combat. If you only have 4 hours of play time, then spending all the time rolling dice in combat is not that fun. At least not for everyone involved.

As a side note: The main reason why the game is not a horror game is the enemy design. Since there are so many Zeds in-game they become commonplace. There is nothing disturbing about them. Yes, their appearance might be shocking for the first time. But repeated the shock goes away and they all become regular game enemies.


4. THE GAMEPLAY

Players start the game with melee and ranged weapons, a healing syringe, and a welder. The welder is used to block passages.

Gameplay consists of players fighting through waves against Zeds.

After every wave, there is a limited time to get to a trader pod. There, players can buy new items, sell owned items and refill ammo. When the time runs out, the next wave comes forth.

As waves pass, the enemy count, which scales with the number of players in the game, will increase. Also, different enemy types are introduced as time passes. The final wave culminating in a boss fight.

The mission is failed if all players die.

As a side note: In the previous article about Resident Evil 7 I talked about resource management. My comments on KF2 resource management are the same that I have Resident Evil 7.

Flashlights could have been more important.

In the game, you have a flashlight. It does not add anything in particular to the game. It only helps you see the Zeds better in darker places.

The catch is that it runs out of batteries. When that happens, it turns off and you have to wait for a while for the batteries to recharge to use them again.

I’m liking the idea. That I could be trapped in a dark, dark place where I could only see where I was going if I would have a flashlight on. I like it, but these moments rarely happen in the game.

Takeaway: For KF2, I wish there were locations where I would have to rely on my flashlight more. Like this:

Image source: Tripwire Interactive

For my game design. I will put in place something like this. Now, “Flashlight” is never going to be a resource that needs tracking with a complex system, but a rule. That “ignored to see things in the dark you need a functioning flashlight”. By doing so I could get rid of all those annoying moments that I sometimes get into RPGs. Moments in which people are arguing. Arguing about whether it was bright enough for them to have noticed the enemy sneaking past them.

Time pressure.

If they can, then players in an RPG like to take their time planning their choices. This can take a lot of time. Time, that could have been spent doing something else in the game.

The same can happen in any other game. In KF2 the players could have taken their time on many things. For example, running around the location finding extra resources. Spending a lot of time buying stuff on the trading pond, etc. But this game does not allow that.
The buying process is timed. You have x amount of time before the next wave comes. The game does not wait for you. You are either ready or you are not.
This makes the game move faster and be tenser at the same time.

Takeaway: For KF2 I wished that the time between waves would have been shorter to make it even tenser. Or that more timed events would happen in the game. This would be better because after some matches you get used to the time factor. You get efficient with so many things that the time factor becomes less and less of an issue.

Time pressure is a great way how to add tension in a game. Horror games need to utilize this more. Now there are many ways on how to do that. But that is a different discussion.


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