1994 was an interesting year for me. I moved up to “big school”, watched the X-Files for the first time, and was met with the brutal and crushing realization that while I was capable of spamming the pad in Street Fighter 2 and achieving something resembling a victory I was in fact dreadful at fighting games, and not just a little dreadful either. You see, Killer Instinct had just hit the SNES and anyone who was anyone was spending their evenings round at their closest new-best-friend-who-conveniently-had-the-games’ house. In my case these evenings involved me getting completely, mercilessly destroyed.
Fast forward a worrying amount of years and we come to the visually stunning latest installment in the Killer Instinct franchise, which comes to us in the form of an Xbox One launch title and perhaps one of the most unusual pricing models seen on a home console so far. Billed by some as “the most generous demo in the world” the free version of Killer Instinct comes with all the game modes currently available (Vs, Survival, Training and Dojo) and access to one singular character, currently Jago, but this is going to rotate on a monthly basis. Further characters are purchasable at £3.99 each, £16.99 for the Combo Breaker pack, which contains all 6 currently available characters and access to two future characters, or £31.99 for the Ultra Edition that contains everything the Combo Breaker pack does, along with some alternate costumes and a copy of the original Killer Instinct game. It’s an interesting method of selling a game, doubly so as they’ve confirmed that the upcoming single player story mode along with all future enhancements and modes will be available to everyone, including those using the single character free edition.
Considering my historical inability to achieve anything even remotely resembling a victory in the SNES Killer Instinct title, upon loading the game I headed straight to the Dojo option. Here the game walks you through the absolute basics, right from explaining the concept of moving forwards and backwards though to stringing together the ludicrously long combos for which the series is famed. By lesson 10 I was more than capable of pulling off some reasonably impressive combos, once I’d realized that a 34 hit combo doesn’t actually involve 34 button presses. Instead the combo system is based around a system of openers, usually a two button sequence to set up the combo, followed by autos, whereby simply pressing punch or kick quickly following an opener launches into a long multiple hit attack sequence. You then can either end your combo with a finisher or push your luck by slotting in a linker, enabling you to follow through with another auto and attempt to keep going until your opponent is nothing more than a smear on the floor. To illustrate that it really is so easy to look impressive that even a trained monkey could do it, I’ve embedded an Xbox One Game DVR clip of me below – that entire combo sequence used only 6 button presses!
Of course you can’t just tap six buttons and sit back with a beer as your character pummels the opponent. The game has reached a new level in tactics with the additions of combo breakers. These moves do exactly what the name implies, enabling you to interrupt an opponent’s carefully planned combo and retaliate with one of your own. No longer do you have to sit there sighing, watching helplessly as your health bar diminishes in correlation to your opponent’s combo. Aside from the combos, the game has some real strategic depth; of the 6 currently available characters no two play alike and each one has their own strengths and weaknesses against other characters. The possible exception is Saberwulf who seems very beginner-friendly and pops up in online matches with a greater frequency than Jago, the current free character.
While the AI itself is reasonable, a good fighting game lives or dies based on its online performance and community. It’s here where Killer Instinct has absolutely astounded me. There is always a match waiting for you within a matter of seconds. Admittedly some people tend to get a little, um, enthusiastic, on the voice chat during a match, but not once in over a week have I ever had to wait at all for an opponent. I guess that’s one of the advantages of giving out a free version of a game. Online performance is astounding, and unlike the recent Soul Calibur games or Street Fighter 4 there is no discernible lag at all – of the dozens of poundings I’ve taken online every single one has felt just like I was getting pounded by someone sat in the room with me.
Its kind of tough to convey in a review why everyone should give this title a shot; it’s certainly one of the strongest Xbox One launch titles next to Forza Motorsport 5, but people are spending their cash more and more wisely nowadays and taking a risk on the resurrection of a decade-old franchise can be a difficult decision. Thankfully as you can get access to a fully featured version of the game for free the decision becomes a heck of a lot easier. If you’ve got an Xbox One you really need to give the free version a play, chances are you’ll end up springing for at least one extra character. Probably Saberwulf!
MLG Rating: 8/10 Format: Xbox One Release Date: 22/11/2013
Disclosure: Ady Carter purchased Killer Instinct for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 9 days on a Xbox One. The package reviewed was the Combo Breaker pack. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.