Platform: PC - HTC Vive (Reviewed), PC - Oculus Rift
Killing Floor: Incursion is one of the strangest VR titles I’ve ever played. It’s not quite a horror game, not quite a VR shooter, and only loosely connected to the Killing Floor genre by the universe they share. It’s not terrible, but it is clunky, and it’s unlikely that even with the included Horde mode that players that loved any of the other Killing Floor games will find themselves similarly addicted.
That said, Killing Floor: Incursion still runs well, and offers a short but quality campaign and a decent horde mode mini game as a cherry on top, but there’s no way the amount of content is worth the $40 price tag or the frustration from the controls.
Into the Machine
There’s no doubt that Killing Floor: Incursion looks nice, the visuals bring all the gore to the party you would expect from Tripwire Interactive, and there’s a wacky Borderlands 2 style sense of humor throughout the whole experience that comes as a welcome relief to the tenser moments of the game.
Don’t expect it to look as good as something like DOOM VFR or Raw Data, but Zed heads explode appropriately, and the first level looks remarkably reminiscent of scenes from Resident Evil 7, which is more than passable for even a AAA title these days. Plus, you can rip a Zed’s arms off and beat it to death with your handy new appendages, which is something that’s always fun in VR.
That said, there were plenty of visual glitches to be found on pretty much every level. Zeds would occasionally start to spawn in right next to me, realize I was there, and then disappear like the game was trying to figure out where it would be appropriate and fair to materialize a horde of enemies to rip me to shreds. I’m okay with enemies spawning out of thin air as a rule of thumb, because every game does it in one form or another, but it felt odd to see these monsters flicker in then disappear when the game noticed my presence.
Along that same parallel, the Zeds weren’t nearly as well animated or as intelligent as you might expect. Considering they looked like direct ports from Killing Floor 2, they all move in the exact same lurching motion, and they consistently made a bee line for the nearest player rather than trying to move in any creative fashion. As a result, Incursion’s numerous boss battles became extremely reminiscent of the zombie trains you might see in a modern CoD zombie survival game. Albeit with a lot more screaming on my part at the movement system that preferred gliding me along at a crawl rather than even a light jog.
Tension you can cut with a Fire Axe
Of course, even with these visual issues Killing Floor: Incursion manages to balance zany shoot ‘em up action with a ridiculously tense atmosphere that made me sweat in more ways than one. The first level alone is a terrifying experience that scared me in a way that I haven’t felt since the early days of my horror game career.
Navigating the small farm house and the surrounding camps as I searched out viral fragments while shooting zeds to progress the story was terrifying in its own way. The light from my tiny flashlight never seemed like enough to cover every angle I needed to watch, and enemies had a disturbing ability to appear in areas I thought were clear. Which was a great example of using enemy spawns (when they worked) to add to the overall tension and unease of the player’s experience. Shooting feels smooth and easy to pull off, and as a result you can usually bang out kills reflexively, but the tension and audio engineering keep you constantly on edge no matter how good you are at splattering Zed brains all over the walls.
This was especially tense and stressful as I struggled to master the controls, which when combined with the highly restrictive movement system dropped a lodestone in my gut the way only a quality horror title can. This element of the tension lightened up as I got better at managing my inventory, ammo, and the melee weapons I had on hand, but it was a level of fear that normally makes me pause a horror game to go flick on the lights to remind myself there’s still light in the world. With VR, there are no lights to flick on, you’re there until you either rip off the headset or finish the level.
As a result, I had to take a lot of breaks to finish the game, not because of the motion sickness that normally plagues extended VR play sessions, but because I was actively afraid and often panicked during the early hours of my time with the title. As I mentioned earlier, these issues softened out as I got a bit better with the controls, but it never really went away.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like Incursion really knows what niche it wants to fill in the VR landscape, which makes it feel distinctly undecided and more like a proof-of-concept VR game than a full-length $40 experience.
The tense moments of creeping through a set of abandoned tunnels or fog-filled forests are offset by Killing Floor style boss battles and obviously constructed arena battle areas covered in supplies and explosive barrels that devolve into frustrating fights with the controls. They’re panicked, but not nearly as atmospheric or tense as the rest of the game.
It ultimately feels like the developers really wanted to make a horror game set in the Killing Floor universe but didn’t want to disappoint fans looking for an arcade-like action game, and as a result they just kind of mashed the two together into a poorly constructed 5-hour adventure.
It’s a struggle that’s mirrored in the overall plot of the game, which has two factions warring for control of a Zed training simulation where your character is currently trapped. You’re forced to work to repair the simulation as the main antagonist hints repeatedly that not all is as it seems.
As a result, the whole game feels like it’s just puzzle pieces from vastly different games slapped together by a distinctly divided set of developers.
One side of the development team obviously wanted a survival horror experience, which I strongly urge them to pursue, because as a horror fan that part of the game was fantastic. The other side was looking to make an action survival game, which is the Killing Floor trademark, and that would adapt well to VR if they would have taken the time to deliver a true Killing Floor game.
Yet mashing together the two forced Tripwire to pick and choose what features they brought to the table, which ultimately made the game feel like it lacked any significant identity one direction or the other and caused the overall experience to flop.
I enjoy Killing Floor 2 for the classes, the progression, and the arcade style adventures with crazy bosses on maps that are straight out of a mad scientist’s handbook. Killing Floor: Incursion has none of that, so aside from a few recognizable enemies there’s nothing that really made it feel like a Killing Floor title aside from the name.
Unfortunately, Killing Floor: Incursion’s identity crisis is only the tip of iceberg compared to the controls for the Vive version of the game, which along with the movement system were a constant source of frustration as I tried to smash, slash, and shoot my way to the final boss fight in Paris.
Granted, movement by itself feels smooth and easy to understand, and as an added bonus you can pick and choose whether you want to lock yourself to a teleport mechanic or if you want to switch to a mode that allows you to use both on the fly. Both systems feel smooth and comfortable and I never really had more than a twinge of nausea as I played through the title.
Unfortunately, movement is also bound to an almost unreasonably strict limitation on the distance you can teleport, and how often you can move at anything more than a sedate stroll through the simulation. Once you’ve teleported a few times in quick succession or sprinted any farther than ten or twenty meters in a battle the entire system slows down to a crawl and you’re forced to move at a snail’s pace unless you stop and let the system recharge.
This can get incredibly frustrating when you have an army of Zeds and a massive Scrake inches behind you with no such limitations, and I found myself often just inching along for 70 percent of a boss fight while I cursed out a system that forced me to move slower than I could physically walk. It’s not a bad idea overall, because let’s face it, teleporting in VR can be pretty unbalanced, but Tripwire tightened the noose a little bit too much, which makes boss battles in particular feel more frustrating than fun.
Additionally, it’s painstakingly obvious that whoever designed the HTC Vive port for the game has never actually spent any time using a Vive wand. It makes sense, considering the game was originally released exclusively for the Oculus Rift and their Touch controllers, but it’s painful nonetheless.
I say this, because Tripwire decided to bind the controls to pick up and grab items to the side paddles on the controllers, which means any time you accidentally brush one of the buttons (which is often) you immediately drop whatever gun, knife, or axe you were holding.
The weapons will return to their holsters after about 5-10 seconds, but in the meantime, you’re forced to either go for another weapon or start bashing wildly at enemies with your bare hands. Often, I found myself punching Zeds because I had literally dropped all my weapons on the ground.
Imagine trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse where every surface is leaking movie-style popcorn butter and you’ll understand what I was going through. Fun fact, this is the first time in my VR career that I almost broke a controller by slamming it on the floor, all because I was trying to punch a Crawler to death after dropping my weapons for the 12th time that night.
It’s a frustrating experience, and not at all what you want to see in a $40 VR title, so I recommend giving this game a pass on the Vive unless they release a control scheme update.