Of Virtual Violence, Killing Floor and Steam Holiday Sales

Two years ago, I purchased Killing Floor during one of Steam’s infamous Holiday sales. If you’re not familiar with this sale; it’s a time where Steam has a new selection of games on sale each day (for a period of around ten days total). The sale, of which there is one going on right now actually, is a good opportunity to spend next to nothing on all sorts of video games and still manage to do incredible damage to your credit-card (and backlog), so be warned. Back in 2009, at the time of that particular sale, I was living on campus – it was nowhere near a University, but the random assortment of plastic shacks on the edge of Amsterdam was indeed housing students – and that meant a campus internet connection, for which tech support came in the form of some guy from Ireland. Needless to say, online gaming was a no-go, which is less than desirable if you’re actually into that sort of thing. Nothing worked, except for World of Warcraft, though that doesn’t necessarily say much. After all, Blizzard made damn sure WoW works even if you’re dialing in using a campfire and smoke signals. At some point though, even WoW gets boring, and it was then that I vowed to make my escape from that wretched place of internet purgatory. And so I went, off in search of greener pastures and 21st century comforts, leaving my friends behind to fend for themselves.

Overwhelmed by my new found virtual freedom, it took me a while to get around to actually playing Killing Floor. It wasn’t until their recent and so called ‘Twisted Christmas Event’ that I thought to try their game again. The project started out in life as a fan made modification for Unreal Tournament 2004. And it didn’t take long before the guys responsible were hired by a professional developer (Tripwire Interactive) where they made a stand-alone, retail version of their game. These simple beginnings are still evident when you start the game, there’s little (nothing) in the way of a story and after you pick a server from the list, the only objective is for you and your teammates to survive against multiple waves of  ‘specimens’ (all Christmas themed for the duration of the event). Developed in an ill fated military experiment, these specimens provide a perfect excuse to just kill some stuff for a blissfully simple thirty minutes. This is where Killing Floor works best, ‘killing stuff’ has a pretty god damned good feel to it. It’s not necessarily like Battlefield 3, where hours were poured into a sound design that actually accounts for the super sonic crack that accompanies firing a weapon, or the arcing trajectory of a bullet that comes with gravity, but the weapons in Killing Floor do feel just right. The sounds are simple, yet they pack a good punch. All the inner workings of the weapons are also nice and exaggerated, which makes for a most pleasing kind of firearm pornography when ‘zed time’ is activated. Zed time is a global slowing down of time (like in the 2001 classic Max Payne) that activates at random moments for all participating players. Once it does, you can take your time to line up a shot, see that big rack slide back, follow the shell casing as it ejects and watch some monster’s head explode with a nice wet ‘thwack’, showering gore over you and the other players.

I know what you’re thinking, this guy must be insane, right? Wrong. Apart from the cathartic workings of aestheticized depictions of violence, there’s a perfectly good reason why games have developed like this. Any interaction a player can have with a video game is limited by the input devices through which the player is connected to said game. In most cases, these are mouse, keyboard and controller. You can imagine how, considering the entire spectrum of humanity’s capacity for motion and minute manipulation, you’re going to come up a little short when all you’ve got to work with is a limited number of buttons. That’s why the first person shooter is, by far, the most popular genre in video games. The act of running around and shooting things is simple enough to be translated to current control schemes, yet the games that result from this, retain the kinetic energy most humans would look for in a video game. As an added bonus, this ‘virtual murder’ is perfectly suited to function as a set of rules that govern the game. It’s both harmless and allows players to compete in the virtual arena. Though in the case of Killing Floor, players work together against a common enemy instead of each other. It’s similar to Valve’s Left 4 Dead, however, rather than being funneled through a narrow corridor, the players are free to move around fairly large maps. They’re more in control of the ‘battlefield’. I definitely wouldn’t say the game is easy, but combined with the game’s slower pace, I’d say Killing Floor provides a very soothing alternative to L4D‘s screaming hordes.

If you’re interested in trying the game, it’s best to see if it comes up as a ‘daily deal’ on the Steam Sale that’s going on right now. Remember the warning though.