Killer Instinct Xbox One Review
Publisher: Microsoft Developer: Double Helix Genre: Fighting Players: 1-2 Age Rating: 16+
Other console/handheld formats: N/A
Most fighting games are unforgiving, seemingly not wanting the less adept players to master their many intricacies, leaving them accessible to only the most devoted and those that already have an understanding of the many systems that typically form the foundations of the genre, though over recent years, some fighting game developers have made steps to break down the barriers and ease less skilled players in, Xbox One launch title Killer Instinct is one such gentler game.
The dojo mode is an excellent and extensive training tool that is not only a valuable fountain of knowledge for Killer Instinct, but also the fighting game genre at large, detailing the games more unique aspects such as openers, autos, linkers and enders as well as widespread mechanics like crossovers, cancelling, frame data and such and just generally giving players a gentle push along the road to mastery. It’s a mindset that more fighting games really need to adopt to make them friendlier to those without the knowledge, but who are looking to bring new strategic dimensions to their game.
The free to play business model that Microsoft has used for the game has caused much controversy. The base version doesn’t cost you anything, though you’ll only get one of the six characters (currently Jago, though these will be rotated, allowing you to eventually try out all of the characters) Additional fighters can be purchased for £4, while you can get the £15.99 combo breaker pack, featuring all of the current characters and the 2 upcoming characters for £16. The Ultra edition meanwhile will get you all eight characters, costumes, accessories and KI Classic, which is a bit paltry given its £31.99 price.
The projectile attacks might well suggest a game that plays like Street Fighter, but Killer Instinct is a substantially more combo orientated game that allows you to assemble some tremendously lengthy combo strings, making it faithful to past entries in the series. The fighting is fast and fluid, with some lavish particle effects and such that reminds you that you’re playing a game on a next generation console, and an enthusiastic announcer complements the action perfectly. Shadow moves allows you to use enhanced versions of special moves, while ultra combos are a bit like a less gory version of Mortal Kombat’s fatalities; a way to close a match in style. The instinct meter meanwhile will fill when you take damage and execute a combo breaker (more on these later), and once full you can use Instinct mode, which grants each character a unique ability and allows you to cancel moves.
Combos function a bit differently to many other games in the genre. They must be initiated with openers, which are certain special moves for each character. These are followed by an Auto-Double, which execute two attacks immediately one after the other. Then comes Linkers, which are special moves incorporated into the combos to extend them and this process can be repeated to craft some lengthy and devastating combination of attacks. Combos are best concluded with enders, special moves pulled off with the usual motions for each respective move, as well as the heavy punch or heavy kick buttons. Some big combos are surprisingly easy to pull off, allowing even novices to execute an impressive looking string of moves with relative ease.
Those on the defensive to such combos can execute combo breakers, which just as the name suggests allow you to break out of combos by pressing the appropriate two punch and kick buttons of the same strength of any moves in the combo. Pressing the wrong buttons will punish you, putting you in a lockout state, where you’re temporarily not able to use breakers, leaving you vulnerable to further brutality, though combo breakers themselves are able to be cancelled out with counter breakers, which allows for some wonderfully back and forth tussling.
The character roster is made up of just six characters at this point in time. The original characters are all there such as Jago, who with his uppercut and fireball is a bit like Street Fighter’s Ryu and Ken, Glacius with his icy attacks is an effective ranged character, whilst Thunder is more at home in close combat, Sabrewulf might well appear to be weak, but his impressive speed makes up for this weakness, Orchid excels at aerial combinations and finally the only new character, Sadira has a double jump and can confound her opponents with web based attacks.
As far as modes go, Killer Instinct is bare bones compared to others in the genre and what’s there isn’t very inspired either. There’s a versus mode and a survival mode, but no arcade mode, as yet. The online multiplayer on the other hand while admirably smooth for the most part, doesn’t even have lobbies where you can watch others in action, which is dated to say the very least.
Killer Instinct is a mechanically great revival of a long dormant fighting game that is accessible, but with enough layers to sate the appetite of skilled players. It’s just a shame that it’s held back somewhat by a current lack of content, leaving it feeling like it’s a game that is waiting to be further expanded before it can become something truly special.