Thursday, October 25, 2012

Killing Floor Halloween 2012: Hillbilly Horror

The folks at Tripwire Interactive recently launched a Halloween event for Killing Floor, their popular co-op zombie shooter. Unlike last year's Halloween event, which was sort of underwhelming because it featured entirely recycled content, this year's introduces entirely new content including completely original specimen skins, a whole new map, eight new weapons, new character skins, and new achievements. Rather than go with more traditional Halloween imagery, TWI have instead elected to poke fun at redneck culture by having you fight mutated hillbillies around a series of trashy mountain homes complete with beer can wind chimes and flame-etched cars.

After the last two weapon updates, I kind of felt like new weapons were the last thing Killing Floor needed, but these new weapons actually feel new and different -- I'm actually excited about working many of these new weapons into my regular arsenal. I'm much less excited about the new map and specimen skins, for various reasons, but the one thing that's got me somewhat annoyed is that TWI are charging money for four of the new weapons. Something they said they'd never do. More of my thoughts on the Hillbilly Horror Event in the full article.

The new map -- Hillbilly Horror

I don't really know what to think about this map. I can't tell whether it's an inspired, original concept for Killing Floor, or whether it's just a more-cluttered variation of existing maps. Basically, it feels like playing a match of Mountain Pass where you're confined solely to the central mountain area, but with a whole bunch of trash and stuff scattered everywhere. Some of the thematic setpieces of the map are clever and cause me to identify with the setting (like the beer can wind chime and the advertisement on the side of the barn), but it just feels too messy for me to get a clear feeling for it. Maybe that's the point.

Like other recent maps, it feels like TWI may be trying just a little too hard to prevent players from camping in convenient, straightforward spots. It's a good thing they're trying to do this, because certain maps get to be really boring because of how simple the camping turns out to be, but like with Hellride, this map feels just a little too chaotic because things are almost always coming at you from four or five different directions. In my dozen-or-so matches, we've always resorted to kiting -- a strategy and playstyle that I don't really enjoy. Hopefully the community will be able to settle down on a few acceptable camping spots soon (the spawn point seems decent, and the side of the barn with a welded door might also work), but for now it's almost unbearable to play with all the unfamiliarity.

The new specimen skins

I don't like these hillbilly skins all that much. The default skins were already genetically-mutated humans; these are still genetically-mutated humans, but with clothes thrown on top of them. In that regard, they're really not much different, or at least, not as radical of a change as other skins have been in the past. I really like that the clots (the most common specimen) have different colored hats and different tattoos on their chests, since that adds a little extra variety to the mix. Something seems really screwy with the hit detection on the new crawler skin, and I don't like the gorefast's new muffled sound effect when he hits you, because I often don't even realize it's a gorefast killing me until it's too late.

Killing Floor Halloween 2012 Hillbilly Horror skins

The new weapons

The biggest addition with the Halloween event is the inclusion of eight new weapons; two for the commando, two for the firebug, two for the berserker, one for the support specialist, and one for the medic. Four of these weapons are completely free, available to everyone who owns or purchases a copy of Killing Floor: the MKB42, the Nail Gun (aka Vlad the Impaler), the Dragon's Breath Trenchgun, and the Medic Grenade. The other four are part of a Community Weapons DLC pack containing the Scythe, the Buzzsaw Bow, the Flare Gun, and the Thompson Tommy Gun. 

The MKB42

For the commando, the MKB42 offers yet another minor statistical variation for his arsenal. Modeled after the German assault rifle, this weapon seems to do the same damage as the AK47, but with less recoil and a slightly faster rate of fire. It also features pretty decent sights, meaning it might be a nice replacement for the AK47.

The Dragon's Breath Trenchgun

For the firebug, the Trenchgun functions like a shotgun that also sets enemies on fire. Compared to a lvl 6 support using a Shotgun, the Trenchgun does about the same amount of damage, reloads a lot faster, and holds more max ammo. Against a line of trash, it kills the first one and sets the second on fire. Pretty sweet all around. 

The Nail Gun, aka Vlad the Impaler

For the support specialist, the Nail Gun does slightly more damage than the Shotgun and it fires the same amount pellets, but in a much wider spread. Pellets ricochet off up to two surfaces, hitting everything in their path. It feels more like a novelty item, a gimmick that might not actually be that useful in a real match, especially because of the wide spread. 

The Medic Grenade

For the medic, the Medic Grenade turns the medic's normal fragmenting grenades into healing grenades. The lobbed grenade explodes after about a second, causing an area of effect within the green mist that heals all allies. These things are pretty strong, capable of bringing an ally back from near death to full health, but I worry about the medic losing one of his few offensive capabilities. 

The Thompson "Tommy Gun"

For the commando, the Tommy Gun does less damage than the AK47, but it weighs one less kilogram at 5kg, a trait only shared by the SCAR. The sights obscure your vision more than any other assault rifle, but it has virtually zero recoil, which helps pull off rapid headshots with precision. Looks/sounds cool.

The Scythe

For the berserker, the Scythe is a strong melee weapon comparable to the Claymore. Both weapons now deal damage across the full arc of its swing, meaning you can hit multiple enemies with a single attack. The Scythe is so much more effective for taking out scrakes than any other melee weapon; it only takes three alt-fire headshots to decap a scrake instead of the usual five, and alt-fire bodyshots do enough damage to stunlock the scrake. Certainly seems a little overpowered.

The Buzzsaw Bow

For the berserker, the Buzzsaw Bow is a crossbow that shoots razor blades. They ricochet off surfaces, penetrate enemies, and spent ammo can be retrieved. It does as much damage as a Crossbow in the hands of a sharpshooter, but it only holds 16 shots. Pretty interesting, but the low ammo count makes me hesitant to rely on it too much.

The Flare Gun

For the firebug, the Flare Gun functions much like the 44 revolver. It seems to deal the same amount of bullet damage as the 44, but it also sets targets on fire for that extra bit of damage, making it a really nice sidearm for the firebug. Even in the hands of a lvl 6 sharpshooter, the Flare Gun holds its own against a fully-perked 44 revolver. 

So those are the new weapons. This may be the best weapon update yet, because it introduces the most amount of truly new and different weapons to the mix, whereas most other weapons that have been added over the years are just the same guns with a new model and slightly different stats. (I mean, just look at the commando; he has seven weapons, but they're all basically the same thing). I especially like the new firebug weapons; they add much-needed versatility to that perk and make it a far more alluring choice to play. It may become my new favorite perk. 

But at the same time, I'm kind of miffed that TWI are asking money for the Community Weapons DLC pack. The weapons were all made by modders, and the DLC is a way for TWI to support the modding community since the proceeds go to the modders, but I still think it's wrong to charge money for critically game-changing content. For the longest time, TWI has said they would never charge for things like this -- only cosmetic items like character skins, which have no impact on the actual gameplay. This DLC pack would be fine if they were purely cosmetic variations, but they're not. There are plenty of other ways for TWI to financially reward modders while featuring their weapons in the official game without asking their customers to pay extra money for critically game-altering content.

Having paid-for DLC weapons like this has the potential to cause unintentional problems within the community. Some of the new weapons in the DLC are arguably superior to their freebie counterparts (like the Scythe/Claymore), and other weapons like the Buzzsaw Bow and the Flare Gun offer a lot of extra versatility to perks that otherwise wouldn't have those kinds of playstyles without those weapons. If certain weapons in the DLC pack prove more effective for winning a match, it's possible players without the DLC may be ostracized because they can't contribute as much to the team as someone who owns the DLC pack.

The new "Reaper" skin, unlocked by completing achievements

Fortunately, people who own the DLC pack can buy weapons at the in-game trader and give them to other players, which means the weapons aren't totally exclusive to the people who paid for the DLC. This will help ease some of the problems, but it can still be an inconvenient hassle to ask another player to buy a gun for you, since he has to drop his own weapons to make room in his inventory (someone might accidentally or mischievously steal his weapons), people might not be willing or able to switch perks for an entire round to get the discount on the weapon, and money might be too tight to afford the weapon at base price in a HOE match. Especially if you die and lose the weapon, then you have to go through that process all over.

So I'm not really happy about this, and worry that TWI may have opened the door for more nickle-and-diming in the future. The signs were already coming when they started charging $4.99 for "premium" character skins which only contained a single skin, when they used to sell four skins in packs for $1.99. It was somewhat acceptable with the Ash Harding skin, because they had to record whole new female voice-overs for that skin, and it wasn't so bad for Harold Lott since it was a reference to a music video that (likely) inspired the writing and voice acting of the game. But the new Chickenator skin costing $4.99 seems to have crossed the line.

Other gameplay changes

When the M99 Anti-Material Rifle was introduced in the Summer Sideshow Event as part of the official IJC pack, it was outrageously overpowered. It killed scrakes in one shot, fleshpounds in 2, and had an insanely fast rate of fire / reload speed, allowed you to cancel its reload, and stunned scrakes with a bodyshot. It made HOE matches way too easy and nullified certain playstyles altogether, so the community asked for it to be nerfed. Three months later, the M99 has been nerfed, but not in what I would consider an ideal way.

From what I can tell, the M99 appears to have the exact same stats as it did before -- it still one-shots scrakes and two-shots FPs, its reload can still be canceled, it still stuns scrakes on bodyshot, and when used off-perk it still stuns scrakes and kills them in two shots. If anything, the reload speed might be a tiny bit slower, but that's about all I can guess. Other than that, the only other change TWI made to the M99 was to raise the cost of its ammo by 1250%. It now costs £6250 to replenish its ammo from empty to full. Even demolitions experts, "the most expensive perk" only has to pay about £2500 between rounds restocking on pipebombs and rockets/grenades.

Hillbilly Horror: A toxic lake with the Horzine plant in the distance

It seems like TWI may have succeeded in making the M99 less popular, but I worry that they've made it almost unusable. The idea was that, if there was an M99 on the team, everyone would have to chip in to help the M99 user afford ammo, thus minimizing the amount of M99 users and promoting an extra degree of teamwork, much like how teams usually have to help the demo finance his heavy artillery. Raising the cost of ammo was a good idea, but I think they raised it way too much, to the point that the weapon might now be obsolete, relegated to a situational gimmick weapon. I feel they could've achieved the same thing by slowing down its reload speed, removing the ability to cancel reloads, and raising the cost of ammo by 400-500%. 

Also, I might be crazy or it might just be something with the Halloween variety of specimen, but I swear TWI may finally have fixed the siren's death scream. Whether it was a glitch or an intended effect, you'd sometimes kill the siren, only for her to let out a scream one second after her lifeless corpse hits the ground, damaging you and potentially killing you if you were low on health. It was obnoxious, and I've encountered several occasions when I expected it to happen, and instead nothing happened.

In Conclusion

I'm enjoying the Halloween 2012 event a lot more than last year's event, but the hillbilly horrors theme doesn't really scream "Halloween" to me. It doesn't really feel like a Halloween event. Still, it's cool to see entirely new skins (even if they're not quite as cool as previous holiday variants) and another free new map. The new weapons are really the best part of the update, because they finally make the firebug feel like a rounded, worthwhile class to play. I just don't think it's appropriate to ask players to spend money for the Community Weapons DLC.

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