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Thursday, November 21, 2013

I'm More of a Team Player than You'd Think

The buzzing of the overhead lights is a persistent bug in my ear, and rather a bit of a distraction. My two mates share a nervous glance, and check their gear. DJ Scully adjusts that ridiculous balaclava and checks the tank on the flamethrower he salvaged from the last outbreak site, and Foster strings a crossbow bolt with shaking fingers. Two of our number dead in the last encounter, one before that. Who knows how many elsewhere in London falling every minute, torn to shreds and eaten by these cannibalistic monstrosities. I thumb a few shells into my shotgun and check the sights.

And then they're on us. Scully and I working as one: him setting the little fleshy ones ablaze, weakening their stretched flesh as the buckshot tears gaping holes in them two and three at a time. They keep coming, and we keep mowing them down, almost in a bloody trance, a dance of carnage. Then my heart drops, and the spell is broken, as I hear the roar of a chainsaw and a sick chuckle just underneath it. One of the big, nasty ones has gotten loose. A Scrake. Chainsaw for a hand, and looking for all the world like Hell's own surgeon general. Foster takes one look and cracks. He loses it and sprays the Scrake down with flames. It laughs from behind that stained surgical mask and charges him. The chainsaw bites deep and comes out the other side. Foster's screaming through his gas mask until he goes limp. The monster lowers his arm, shaking him off the chainsaw. We make eye contact, and I swear my heart stops.

The air rushes past my ear with a loud, low THWUP as the crossbow bolt connects, splitting the Scrake's head open. He drops to his knees, the chainsaw chewing its way through two of the little ones before choking to a stop. I nod at Foster, slip another few shells in, and bring the shotgun up again.

"F-MINUS SO FAR, FREAKS! TRY HARDER!"


     So sometime in the last week, the latest Call of Duty game came out, and I completely cannot be arsed to worry about it. 100,000 12 year olds are questioning the virtue of each others mums and each others sexualities as they quickscope and noscope and other such abuses of perfectly good marksman's rifles. The series has become so popular that in some circles it's not even considered gaming anymore, it's become its own thing. So I'm not going to spend any more time on that topic. I think there's enough I could probably write another entire essay reflecting on the good times I've had earlier on in the series.

     Instead, I'm going to offer a different point of view on online shooters and a recommendation. I really hate competitive shooters. Sometimes I'm really good at them, sometimes I'm really bad at them, but after an hour or two I'm just not having fun anymore. Even the ones that I know are really good, like Team Fortress 2, just get old and frustrating quickly for me. Cooperative modes, though, that's what I really enjoy. Be it a cooperative campaign like Left 4 Dead or Borderlands, or a horde mode like Mass Effect 3's or the Transformers: Cybertron series are just loads of fun for me.




     The one I'm going to recommend today has probably gotten more hours out of me than any multiplayer game to date. Killing Floor, from Tripwire Interactive, is a PC-exclusive game built on an aging version of the Unreal Engine, on a shoestring budget, with little to no publicity. What it does have is a lot of imagination, a dedicated development team, and a lot of love crafted into it. The guys making this game are the type to go to a gun range and know a weapon inside and out before crafting a digital representation of it.

     Killing Floor was released way back in 2009 as on official version of a much older mod for Unreal Tournament 2004. The development team has periodically released more content by way of maps, characters, and weapons, each time making sure not to release something that would split the community like the map packs that Call of Duty releases for almost as much as this game costs at full price. And the community has rewarded them. Over 3 years later (which is an eternity in multiplayer games), the community is still strong and surprisingly friendly. For the most part, new players are even welcome, as long as they're willing to learn how to overcome that early learning curve.

     It's a deceptively simple formula. You pick a character, join a server, select a specialization (perk), and kill monsters. Between each wave you hit up a trader who sells you weapons, armor, and ammo, and after the final wave you face a big, badass monster. The storyline is one sentence long. Horzine's medical experiments have gone horribly wrong and overrun London. Slow moving hordes of disgusting creatures come at you relentlessly until they're all dead or you've been overrun. It sounds dumb. It sounds simple. It sounds shallow and not terribly immersive but Steam tells me I've done this for 614 hours, and I picked this game up on sale for $5 I can't remember how long ago.

     Next time you think about jumping into one of those big, crowded, hostile online environments full of screaming teenagers, take a step back and try something different. You might find a long-term investment in a game like this. Gunnies especially will enjoy this, as you'll be hard-pressed to find a game that has better gunplay (without going into Tripwire's other major release, WWII sim Red Orchestra 2).

Killing Floor is available on Steam, and for shamefully cheap during their upcoming holiday sales.

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