The announcement of Killer Instinct’s revival was met with a mixed response. There were many that were pleased to see Microsoft Studios were finally listening to their demands, but many more who were ready to pick fault with the change of visual design and the fact that, despite Rare still being part of the first-party stable, it is an entirely new developer behind this third bloodline entry in the series. With the final version now available however, none of this really matters, as Killer Instinct is here to prove that the Xbox One can cater for a genre that had been underrepresented for many years.
It was the revival of the genre brought on by Street Fighter IV that undoubtedly gave Microsoft Studios the push it needed to take Killer Instinct audiences seriously, but also the fact that the established conventions lend themselves to the free-to-play model so very well. Characters, arenas, gameplay modes and other incidental accessories can easily be divided into purchase tiers, and Killer Instinct does exactly this: offering players but just character for free and asking them to pay for additional characters separately, be it through individual transactions or an overall package. It’s an interesting concept for sure, and while Microsoft Studios haven’t been the first to do it – Tecmo Koei Europe has taken already that honour with Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate: Core Fighters – Killer Instinct is most certainly an experiment for future free-to-play experiences on Xbox One.
It’s not a bad one, either. The packages are generous enough that you can still purchase the full videogame for less that a retail release, and though it doesn’t feature as many characters and gameplay modes as you might expect the promise of more to come is tantalising, to say the least. Hopes are high that these late additions won’t break the delicate balancing act, as right now Killer Instinct is just as addictive a combo-structure experience as it always was.
Killer Instinct’s auto opener system returns, allowing players to initiate two- or three-hit combos with relative ease and then combine several of these with basic blows between. More complex combos are available through the inclusion of special moves and opener variation, but all the while the player has to keep an eye on their combo meter to make sure they time their final blow before it’s overcharged as failing to do so could potentially leave them vulnerable to an easy counter. Of course, adding in a greater amount of hits will raise to damage dealt by subsequent blows and adding in stronger attacks will of course raise this further. The skill is balancing connecting blows and high damage attacks within that combo meter limit.
When on the defensive the player is given one opportunity to initiate a combo breaker, giving them the upperhand with a counter combo. However, should you input the incorrect command or miss the appropriate timing window you’re left vulnerable to whatever damage the opponent can dish out. The system is far from perfect, but it does lead to some intense battles as players of similar skill meet to juggle not only their own movesets but also their retaliations to each other.
Killer Instinct on Xbox One offers further renovations to the fighting system of the original Rare developed titles, but most notable will be that which comes after the fight. The players still fight with two energy bars regardless of the time at which either player gets knocked down, each fighter still has block and counter-stall moves, and all of the returning characters are instantly recognisable as modernised versions of their 1990s counterparts; however, Killer Instinct no longer offers a finishing move system. No kills, no humiliation, no knocking them off the roof off a fifteen story building onto a pink Cadillac.
While Killer Instinct does achieve a level of visual quality far beyond the capabilities of previous-generation hardware, it’s not the best looking title on the Xbox One. It’s more than comfortable in it’s character model and background presentation, the stilted animation of beat-‘em-up template based designer is far more obvious because of this. The particle effects are fantastic – from Jago’s fireball impact to Glacius’ shattering ice – but these effects are clearly representative of better things to come.
Killer Instinct isn’t about to redefine the beat-‘em-up genre in the same way as Street Fighter IV and the reboot of Mortal Kombat managed to do, nor is as progressive as Dead or Alive 5, but nonetheless it is an enjoyable skill-based experience. It’s free-to-play model will likely open the door to many and the opportunity to bring in further characters down the line is a wonderful premise to build a community with, if worrying that the balance could be disrupted. As it stands, Killer Instinct is an enjoyable beat-‘em-up for a console on which it currently stands alone in the genre, and for that reason alone will be worth investing in for many.