About a month ago I received this shifty-looking email:

There were more than enough red flags to just delete it, but I agreed despite not knowing who they were. I’m glad I wasn’t my normally-apprehensive self, because it turned out to be Tripwire and now I’m signed up to playtest the much-maligned Versus Mode in the near future. I’m looking forward to getting to weigh in on a mode that I’d really like to succeed. And I thought I could take some time and write an article on my current thoughts of Killing Floor 2‘s Versus mode and what problems it currently faces.

Cause let’s be honest, right now Versus mode is ass.

At the moment, KF2’s Versus borrows heavily from Left 4 Dead 2. The Zed players are forced to spawn as whatever the AI Director demands, and the humans score points by surviving through waves. At the end of the map, the teams switch sides and whichever team survived the longest wins (with damage-dealt as the tiebreaker if needed.) Herein lies the first problem; I don’t think the random-Zed-spawning is healthy for the game. In Left 4 Dead 2, the Infected players were playing the lieutenants of the zombie army, each one of them brought a powerful playstyle to the table and the team was restricted to one of each Special at any given time. Compare that to Killing Floor 2 where almost every Zed plays exactly the same. The Alpha Clot, Crawler, Stalker, Gorefast, and Gorefiend all run towards the players, hopefully deal some melee damage, and then probably die. If the player could select which one to play as, the overall firepower of the Zed team would barely change, but it would give the player the opportunity to specialize or practice with a specific unit. I remember getting to play Husk once, which was such a rare event that I played extremely passively, too scared of the thought of dying and becoming a Crawler for the 500th time to actually help my team as the only ranged Zed in the game. I think a system like the one in Battlefront II would be perfect, in order to limit the number of Scrakes and Fleshpounds while still giving the Zed players choice of unit:

There are a few more problems plaguing Versus mode, and a big one is the camping-centric playstyle that the current maps encourage. Most successful human teams select a location and resolutely stay there for the remainder of the match. These tried-and-true holdout zones are picked because they force the Zeds to funnel through chokepoints into open areas, maximizing the humans’ ability to demolish the Zed forces before they can hope to accomplish anything. Honestly, the major problem is how effective the humans are at doing their job. The perk trees are extremely powerful and Level 25 characters are extremely difficult to counter when playing their role to optimal ability. One suggestion I’ve heard for fixing this is to restrict all humans to Survivalist, which would severely lower the number of abilities the humans could bring to the table. I’m not sure if I’m on board with something so strict, but I admit it would probably make the rounds much closer and both teams would have more fun.

The medic weapons’ infinite healing in general makes it really hard to balance both teams. It’s hard to feel like your attacks are doing anything as a Zed, unlike Left 4 Dead 2 where medkits and pills are finite.

The way Left 4 Dead 2 solves this holdout problem is twofold; its maps required the Survivors press onward to score, allowing the Zeds to create ambushes, and it gave the Infected team spearhead classes designed to crack the Survivor’s frontline and punish Survivor teams who stayed too close to each other. Boomers could climb onto roofs and drop themselves onto the Survivor team (something Bloats can’t do because KF2 has no three-dimensional mechanics), Chargers and Spitters could scatter a Survivor team and give their team a chance to capitalize on the confusion. Right now I think the Zeds are missing any sort of class that can do this. The closest thing they have are boss classes like the Fleshpounds (who nevertheless die too quickly to most level 25 classes), Husks with ranged fire attacks (almost completely countered by Medics) and Sirens who can screamlock a single Survivor player caught out of position (but if the Survivors stick together, she won’t live long enough for it to matter). If Objective Mode ever comes out, it might work better at solving the hold-out problem by forcing the Survivor team to repeatedly relocate to new locations.

You also get the exact opposite problem when there’s only one human left; said player is inevitably a Medic or Berzerker who uses his speed bonus to kite the last few zeds indefinitely. Your only real option is to split your forces and pin them in a hallway, but I’ve never seen this pulled off successfully; they’re usually slippery enough to emerge alive and with a few more kills. But at the end of the day, I think a lot of problems would be solved by letting the Zed players pick their class. Once we start getting players who have mastered certain Zeds and can combo with each other to create holes for the AI swarms, and not have to worry about dying and respawning as something useless like a Stalker, we can worry more about the effectiveness of the Zeds.